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My reading of the poem: 



It’s a different kind of fiddling while the world burns,
writing poems in the teeth of devouring flames –
not that we don’t care, but that we do. Not, any longer,
that we think fire is beautiful (we know it’s monstrous)
but because, Heaven help us, we still dare to imagine
that poetry might save the world – though it never did,
it only lamented. Or cried defiance. Or raged. Sometimes
it attempted comfort; more often catharsis. But I’m afraid
our words never changed anything: money remains powerone 
slave trade stopped, but there are still (right now!) slaves; peace 
never lasts for long. And so on. Whatever makes us think
anyone is listening to this? How can we possibly suppose
that in times to come our words will be read, understood,
valued? Can we believe there will be any times to come,
for any kind of life form that could read a written language?

And yet I am here, writing, whether or not. Because poetry
has my soul. I always said, ‘Come the apocalypse, I’ll go out
scratching one last poem in the dirt with the nearest stick.’
This is a different kind of apocalypse. Those of us who live
(while we do) surrounded by fires that make Hell seem tame
go about our day-to-day business with very little complaint –
though many tears and huge anger. We simply feel that doom
is reality. Much too much evidence, now, to doubt. Some pray,
but Heaven’s no help – unless to help us enter it by death.
Those of us who still have lives, and homes to live them in,
celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We eat, drink
and make merry. What else should we do? Those who can
are out fighting the fires; those who must are fleeing or dying.
We try not to think too hard about all the lost trees and animals....
We might as well make poems. There’s nothing else we can do.

Written for Brendan's new earthweal site, dedicated to poetry on the climate crisis.

I am also sharing the video as part of a discussion on Video Poetry in my Wild Fridays series at Poets and Storytellers United.

I've made a slight rewrite to a couple of the lines you read here, for the sake of clarity; the video version is earlier.


  1. Why do were persist. "writing poems in the teeth of devouring flames"? I love the way the poem both admits its futility and plays on nonetheless, like the quintet playing "Nearer My God To Thee" as the Titanic sank ... But that's it, isn't it? "Doom is reality," but the music of life camped by that thought still soothes. There is still work to do. Gonna be a rough weekend for fire in southeast Australia, tidings from the Dreamtime for harbors of peace.

    1. Ha, you're very tuned in: I had something in the poem about harbours, but didn't keep those lines. The Titanic, yes, feels like that. And those of us not right in the thick of it being so bloody NORMAL.

  2. I think we are used to writing in hopes of helping raise awareness and consciousness. But we are plunged into crisis so far beyond that that my soul sits stunned and nearly wordless in the face of catastrophe beyond anything we are ready for. The 450 MILLION dead wild creatures is an enormity that breaks my heart. Their suffering. I resonate with "I'll go out scratching one last poem in the dirt with a stick." Because poetry is what we do. It is how we ease our souls, give testimony, bear witness. The Apocalypse has come to your country and you have a climate denier in office who approved fireworks in the midst of the carnage. I had a very hard time with that.

  3. We simply feel that doom
    is reality.

    Your words strike fear in my heart. We are sometimes forced to a place of acceptance of the unacceptable because no alternative presents itself. By picking up your pen and writing, you are educating people in other parts of the world about the 'new normal' which may very well be our reality next!

  4. There are many faces of reality here. Not only doom but also celebration, tears, anger and courage (I always salute the fire-workers where ever they are). Our heart breaks for what's going on around the world. A powerful poem.

  5. I share your frustration about poetry's inability to be an instrument of change - and yet write we must, because not writing would be wrong as well. The Amazon fires (fewer pictures, lesser media coverage after the first rush) and the Australian bush fires and the burning Taiga - are all heartbreaking and once Australia gets past it, I do hope it will realize it is in a unique position to lead the charge against climate change. Stay safe down under all of you humans and animals and trees....

  6. It feels like we are powerless with only our words. But as someone said, poetry is cheaper than whiskey and maybe in the end we can all enact change. I think of Thomas Paine and all the other learned intellects of his day. They did it with the written word. Why can't we?

    1. Well, I'm not often pessimistic, but this time that was what was there to express. (On the other hand, if given a choice between poetry and whiskey, I'd choose both!)

  7. "Some pray,
    but Heaven’s no help – unless to help us enter it by death." Wonderfully apt to both the terrible situation you describe and the feelings of frustration and anger you express here, Rosemary.
    I like to believe there is a use in poetry, because it can speak to both individual and group minds, perhaps. You can only change acts by changing people's minds, after all, and how many tools do we have for that other than words? Nonetheless, I emotionally agree with everything you say here--how no matter how horrible or shocking or disastrous a thing may be, we are unaccountably adept at normalizing it, and ignoring it. That has got to stop, but what it will take to do it, who knows. I doubt it will be poetry, yet every little atom in the arsenal does some sort of work. (I am the one who said "Poetry..because it's cheaper than whiskey," btw--it's on my blog's sidebar along with and has been for ten years. And I thank all who share and appreciate the thought.)

  8. So easy to curl up, in a ball and surrender without a fight. That's something, I have never read in your poetry, Rosemary. I know, Australia is facing bleak conditions with the fires on it's eastern coast and your PM is totally lost, in his lust of resource revenues from your vast coal seams, to the point, he has abandoned any connection to reality, by planning a Christmas vacation to Hawaii, when the countryside burns. What an utter fool. Sadly, unless the Liberal Party tosses Morrison out on his butt, he got 3 more years of being Australia's PM. Goddess have mercy on you.

  9. I think your words reflect reality, in times of challenges, we do what we can and what we must. I grieve to see the footage of the raging fires in Australia and the loss of so many living things, humans, animals and plant life. I hope rain comes soon to assist with the dousing of flames.

  10. Rosemary, this piece is so full of truth. I mean I think all the time what am I even doing? And I feel unable to rise to the enormity of current events. And then I just keep writing. What else can we do? Other than calling our elected officials, showing up for the occasional protest, that kind of thing. Keep writing I guess.
    I am really thinking of you over there, sending love to Australia's people and animals. xo

  11. I thank you all very much for your comments - and ar present cannot even find words for any deeper response. One goes a bit numb.

  12. I love this ... even more impactful listening, watching you. We want more!

  13. Rosemary. I have no words. You've expressed my grief and helplessness in a somber, solemn and realistic manner. I too go about my daily life but it is interrupted by my tears very often. My heart is with Australia.
    Thank you for your beautiful poem and the information on the videos.

    1. You are very welcome, Myrna. And thank you for this heartfelt comment.

  14. The poem is gorgeously written AND read! I love the video with the written word. Poetry, after all, is meant to be heard out loud.

  15. Thanks so much for pointing me to this video, Rosemary. Sorry for the delay. I've been travelling - took off on a birding trip to see the migratory birds that have arrived in droves! I think this was a brilliant idea- and an excellent reading. I enjoyed it very much. Would I dare do it myself - hmm...something to ponder over or secretly try!! But I look forward to more of your videos - works very, very well indeed!

    1. I'm away from home myself for a few more weeks. I'm thinking it might be some time before more videos. But thank you for wanting more. (Smile.)

  16. Oh, your poem and your reading, goodness what a powerful presentation. Thank you so much for both! What else can we do, but write poetry. Poetry is my passion, the voice I wouldn't use if I didn't first speak it in ink. Thank you for your Wild Friday.

    1. I seem to have missed this comment until now. I love, 'the voice I wouldn't use if I didn't first speak it in ink'. I think that may be true of many of us.

  17. There is so much going around us, that at times I do feel helpless. And still I hope that words like these can bring about a change. A change we all need.

    A very powerful poetry.


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