What do poetry and conservation have in common? Both mean different things to different people, both aren’t prioritised in schools – and both can feel inaccessible to young people from underrepresented communities.
London Wildlife Trust is trying to challenge this engagement block by hosting a series of ‘Nature Nurtures’ events that link natural heritage with the creative arts. They hope to encourage young people to volunteer in nature whilst exploring their wellbeing, identity and cultural heritage in London.
‘Nature Nurtures’ focuses on young people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic heritage, young people with special educational needs and disabilities, and those who live in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of London. The day is filled with conservation-based craft sessions to connect attendees to nature, followed by a poetry writing workshop led by writers and facilitators Laura Barker and LiLi K. Bright.
On a sunny January day, I attended a ‘Nature Nurtures’ event, and was immersed in an afternoon of foraging, tree identifying, clay making and pizza eating. After the nature-conservation activities, I chatted to LiLi K. Bright on the process of creativity and how they encourage that in young people.
Emma: How do you find running the sessions?
LiLi: I really enjoy running the sessions. Anyone, when given an opportunity to be creative, can come up with a unique way of seeing the world or something I wouldn’t have thought of, and because they’re young people you get different perspectives. Some of the questions people ask, I think ‘oh, I have never thought about that’.
Emma: It can be challenging to feel creative under pressure, how can sessions such as this take the pressure off?
LiLi: Yes, the most challenging thing is when there feels like there is any pressure. I try to keep that pressure away and be like ‘we’re just here’ and ‘if you want to do some creative things, enjoy them’. I also find it hard if I feel I’m on the spot. There doesn’t have to be an outcome, it doesn’t have to be good – it’s just about enjoying the process.
Under the guidance of LiLi and Laura, attendees wrote on-the-fly nature-inspired poems. Everyone was encouraged to share their verses around the table, an act which drew out discomfort as we succumbed to the vulnerability of sharing our art.
Vulnerability aside, poetry can feel confounding, with its rhythms, rhymes and elusive meanings rendering the form an intimidating pursuit. George Orwell, commenting on the difficulty of popularising poetry, compared it to “getting a dose of medicine down a child’s throat. Poetry is disliked”, Orwell said, “because it is associated with unintelligibility, intellectual pretentiousness and a general feeling of Sunday-on-a-weekday.”
Orwell advocated for the broadcast of poetry, not only because poetry itself deals more in rhythmic verse than written speech, but also to make the art form more accessible and inclusive for a wider audience. Listening to a poem can be a far more passive and enjoyable experience than deciphering each line’s intended pace from the page.
In this Orwellian vein, the poets themselves have recorded the fruits of their ‘Nature Nurtures’ labour:
“A Seed is Planted” by Jaclyn Estrin
New beginnings, a seed is planted
Ticket in hand
Input: light, water, nutrients
Join the queue
Branches sprout and trunk grows
Taking small steps forward
Year after year, growing taller and stronger
Handing over a ticket for entry
Sprouting buds, leaves, then flowers
Squeazing through narrow lanes
Sitting for years
And taking my seat
The start of a journey
“Not Ivy” by Izzy Bowles
Come Christmas you may listen to me
but for now I will talk to the wind
My tears roll down green waxy leaves
They trickle with rain as they fall
My skeleton adorned with spikey leaves
Protect my red pearl necklace
Evergreen I cannot start again
I’m like a leopard stuck with its spots.
“Redwood” by Troy O’Donohue
A forest filled with identical beings
As the chosen one
This should feel so freeing
Native nor invasive
Filled to the brim
This is the basis
Oldest and tallest out of all my peers
The end of my reign has never felt so near
Click here to learn more about ‘Nature Nurtures’ and how to get involved. The project is partnered with Spread the Word, Black Girls Hike CIC, and London Youth.
Image via Pixabay. Audio by Katie Porter.