We invited eight poets to collaborate with eight scientists and conservationists from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. Here are the results.
There it goes, all day long. Knocking into the waves of itself. Does it hurt? Are there knots of bloom-blood shoaling through its fathoms like revenant fish? Are there atmospheres in the ocean – vacuums from the killing lick of heat that sway like a vast and mountainous nought? The ocean of emptiness of hope and history where fisherman and birds no longer feast. The last boy lobs a stone on the shining water but it’s swallowed like a gong, a hollow ommm.
I was grateful to Dr James Pearce-Higgins for giving up his valuable time so he could explain to me his invaluable work. His fascination with migratory birds freshened my imagination with information that implied multiculturalism. He explained how it is natural for birds to travel great distances; he gave the example of cuckoos. Recent technology has allowed cuckoos to be closely tracked as they travel around the world. I was astonished to learn that cuckoos travel to the Congo, whether they’re born in Britain, China or Afghanistan; these birds, without the aid of nurture, end up in exactly the same region for about nine months of the year.
I tried to write a poem about cuckoos but that became as difficult as, say, trying to rhyme love with above. So many poets have written about cuckoos, most notably the 13th century lyric, Sumer is Icumen in, also known as Cuckoo Song. Perhaps the best approach to climate change is to celebrate the world yet poets have always done this. Instead, I found my imagination, that old trickster, create a bleak prophecy, of our seas inhabiting the condition of the Dead Sea.
Daljit Nagra was born and raised in London and Sheffield to Sikh Punjabi parents. His most recent collection is British Museum (Faber, 2017).