By Deb A.
William Stanley Merwin died on March 15, 2019. He was 91. Merwin was a poet whose life and works lend themselves well to elegant variation. He was a conservationist—not only in his poetry, which often bemoaned the destruction of the natural world, but also in his personal life; he and his wife restored 19 acres of land in Hawaii ("His poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve," noted Dan Chiasson in the New Yorker) and founded the Merwin Conservancy. He was a literary translator who took up the practice on the advice of Ezra Pound as a way of improving his own writing. He was a practising Buddhist and an anti-war activist; he was a conscientious objector in World War II, and he rejected his 1971 Pulitzer Prize (for The Carrier of Ladders), requesting that the prize money be donated to a peace activist and the draft resistance movement. As well as being a Pulitzer Prize winner (twice: He also won in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius), he was a U.S. Poet Laureate and the recipient of nearly every other award available to American poets. Merwin was a prolific writer, publishing over 20 books of poetry—which, in his signature style, offer little in the way of punctuation—and nearly as many books of translation, as well as several plays, memoirs, and other books. His last original collection of poems, Garden Time, was published in 2016, 64 years after his first, A Mask for Janus (1952).
For the Anniversary of My Death
By W. S. Merwin (The Second Four Books of Poems, 1993)
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
By Deb A.
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity. As we teeter on the edge of disaster, actions should be speaking louder than words. But the sad truth is that the overwhelming evidence for climate change has not moved us beyond discussion and, shockingly, debate; even the most dire numbers apparently are not enough to make us feel the urgency. Fortunately, some talented artists are using their craft to inspire us to take action.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet from the Marshall Islands who is sounding the alarm about the devastating effects that global warming is already having on her native land. She has addressed the UN and is the cofounder of Jo-Jikum, an environmental NGO.
"Climate change at work": For his Climate Signals installation (September 1–November 6), artist Justin Brice Guariglia—who has flown on earth science missions with NASA—has erected 10 solar-powered highway signs around New York City. Their flashing messages are geared toward provoking conversation and encouraging action on climate change.
Artist Mary Mattingly has a long history of creating sculptural ecosystems that highlight environmental issues. In 2009 she created the barge-mounted Waterpod to highlight rising sea levels. Artists lived, worked, and held events on the self-contained eco-habitat. Her most recent piece, Swale, is a floating food forest.
Olafur Eliasson, conceptual artist and creator of Little Sun, worked with geologist Minik Rosing to create Ice Watch in 2015. The project harvested 80 tonnes of ice from Greenland and deposited them to melt in Paris during the United Nations Climate Conference there.
Eve Mosher worked with experts and the local communities of five cities in the United Kingdom and the United States for HighWaterLine, a public art initiative that drew a blue chalk line around sites that are likely to flood due to climate change.
Dear Climate is an art project led by artists Marina Zurkow and Oliver Kellhammer and writer Una Chaudhuri. Along with exhibitions and events, Dear Climate offers audio meditations to "retool your inner climate" and posters to print out and mount wherever you see fit.
Collections and resources
In 2015, Carol Anne Duffy curated 20 original poems on climate change for The Guardian. Actors including Jeremy Irons, Ruth Wilson, and Michael Sheen read the poems aloud for maximum impact.
For its T Agitprop series, The New York Times collected works from a dozen contemporary artists on the theme of climate change.
The Poetry Foundation has pulled together a collection of environmental poetry from the past seven decades, "from early practitioners ... to ecopoets."
Artists and Climate Change (and its own list of resources) is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of art and ecology.
By Deb A.
Happy Canada Day! Just two days ago a new slew of recipients of the Order of Canada were announced. The many-tiered award was established on Canada's centennial 51 years ago to recognise "outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation." Here are the individuals who were appointed to the Order of Canada for their contributions to Canadian art and literature:
Canada's first female astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar was recognised not only for her work in space medicine research, but also for promoting environmental sustainability—in particular through photography and writing. Her fifth photo essay book will be published soon.
Journalist and author Lise Bissonnette received an Order of Canada for her work as a journalist and author, as well as for her pivotal leadership role at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
American-born sculptor-painter Eli Bornstein became a Canadian citizen in 1972. He was honoured by the Order of Canada for his groundbreaking structurist reliefs and his contributions to art theory as the founder of journal The Structurist.
Hédi Bouraoui is a poet, novelist, and essayist. He received the Order of Canada for his various writings and his theories on cultural boundaries and identities.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Exile Quarterly Barry Callaghan has been lauded as a preeminent man of letters. The poet, writer, and painter was named to the Order of Canada for promoting Canadian literature at home and abroad.
Writer, artist, and art critic Gary Michael Dault has been writing about Canadian art for decades; he currently writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail. His commitment to celebrating visual artists was a key factor in his inclusion on this year's list.
Anyone who has ever read I Want My Hat Back to their child will appreciate that illustrator and author Jon Klassen was named to the Order of Canada this year for his work as an illustrator and author of children's literature.
He is the artist and graphic designer responsible for the CBC's iconic 1974 logo: Burton Kramer received his honour for his extensive and influential contributions to the field of graphic design.
Scott Thornley's contributions to "the advancement of our collective appreciation of art, culture, science, and education through his unique graphic and verbal designs" were recognised this year—a sure boon for his consultancy, STC.
Novelist and essayist Aritha van Herk's work has shone an international spotlight on the western Canadian experience; her books, essays, and other writing have been translated into ten languages.
Elizabeth Hillman Waterston is Professor Emeritus of the University of Guelph. She is a founding editor of Canadian Children's Literature, an authority on Lucy Maud Montgomery, and the author of several books. She was named to the Order of Canada for her role in developing the academic field of Canadian literature, and for her years of mentoring Canadian authors.
By Deb A.
This Earth Day we join NASA in looking back at a single iconic photograph: Pale Blue Dot, taken in 1990 from Voyager 1.
While it still looks the same from this vantage point, that single speck now contains more microplastics than there are stars in the galaxy.
Here's how the Earth Day Network is working to ensure that our pale blue dot doesn't get choked by plastics.
By Deb A.
You've seen the poster: a familiar blue-red-beige stencil style that shows a Muslim woman wearing an American flag as her hijab. It, along with two others by Shepard Fairey and one each by Jessica Sabogal and Ernesto Yerena, is part of the We The People campaign, which was launched to "ignite a national dialogue about American identity and values through public art and story sharing." Behind the effort is an organisation that calls itself an "art machine for social change": The Amplifier Foundation.
Headed by photographer Aaron Huey, The Amplifier Foundation funds collaborations between grassroots movements and contemporary artists in order to amplify their voices. Its stated goal is "to flip artists into activists and observers into participants." Alongside the We The People campaign, it has funded efforts to liberate Native American activist Leonard Peltier, to collect art for the Women's March on Washington, to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to protest the high incarceration rate of black men in the United States.
The Amplifier Foundation's images are available free for download, but if you want the stickers--or simply to support social justice through art--get ready to donate.
All images via The Amplifier Foundation.
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