The tower

A poem by Paul Kingsnorth:

These are my words: they are the framing timbers

for ideas. It is ideas which destroy worlds.

See, I have pared the rough edges from an experience

and placed its tapestry, its copperplate,

its half convincing fiction before you.

It is a beautiful thing: dig, you may find

some Truth in it. But the shape

is unnatural, it is words only, and the world’s greatness

will not fit within them however well

they are shaped. All that will fit is

ideas, stacking pleasingly upon each other until

they make a great tower whose shadow is the shape

of a mass grave, a burning forest, the death

of the seas. The day will come again when we will set it

aflame and dance howling around it,

released from words for a short time,

but long enough.

from Kidland and other poems

Paul Kingsnorth’s website: …and his blog

I became interested in Kingsnorth’s work after reading Real England: The Battle Against the Bland before my trip to the UK last summer. I also enjoy his work in Orion magazine. I especially like his quick critique of the “green” movement, excerpted from the article linked in the previous sentence:

If the green movement was born in the early 1970s, then the 1980s, when there were whales to be saved and rainforests to be campaigned for, were its adolescence. Its coming-of-age party was in 1992, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 Earth Summit was a jamboree of promises and commitments: to tackle climate change, to protect forests, to protect biodiversity, and to promote something called “sustainable development,” a new concept that would become, over the next two decades, the most fashionable in global politics and business. The future looked bright for the greens back then. It often does when you’re twenty.

Two decades on, things look rather different. In 2012, the bureaucrats, the activists, and the ministers gathered again in Rio for a stock-taking exercise called Rio+20. It was accompanied by the usual shrill demands for optimism and hope, but there was no disguising the hollowness of the exercise. Every environmental problem identified at the original Earth Summit has gotten worse in the intervening twenty years, often very much worse, and there is no sign of this changing.

The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing. There is no likelihood of the world going their way. In most green circles now, sooner or later, the conversation comes round to the same question: what the hell do we do next?


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