Skindancing - Susan Richardson's poetry for the ecological age

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 22nd April 2015

Maddy meets Susan Richardson, poet and performer, and is captivated by her deft and original poetry.

I recently met Susan Richardson, poet, performer, educator, who lives in Wales but was visiting my local town to recite. She is currently poet in residence for the Marine Conservation Society and has undertaken journeys in the fragile Arctic lands. She is fascinated by metamorphosis, of animals becoming human and of humans becoming animal, and by ancient stories of our cultural North, of shamanic practices and what this process of altered perception can teach us about our humanity and our relationship with the other kingdoms. She is also funny and she has the gift of language, weaving sounds and rhythms beyond our homo sapien ears.

Susan read from her new collection, Skindancing. She told us stories of falling in love with Silvertip, a name for a grizzly bear of northwest North America that have a grizzled appearance from the silver tips on the guard hairs; of a housewife transforming into a penguin; an ancient Nordic legend of filicide that populates the oceans deep; of the princess cursed by a witch that will be turned into a white doe should her skin be touched by sunlight... Guess what, having been locked up in a castle all her life she loves being wild in the woods instead of marrying the prince!

Though my hands have hooved,

they're now attuned to fungus-rib and moss.

My teeth are flossed heatherly,

I splursh through burns

and I've learned to ask the sun to fondle-flank after twenty-one dark cursed years..."

I was entertained, captivated, impressed. I bought her latest collection, filled with arresting black and white drawings by Pat Gregory. I wish I had bought all three books. I loved her work and the sparkling way she performs. What a talent, and in a rather dingy upper room of a pub in Petersfield for an entry fee of just £5.00. These poets work hard for their art.

There are some wonderful women poets in Britain, like Susan Richardson and Helen Moore, who are giving voice to our dysfunctional relationship to the natural world and how we may step outside ourselves and our historical time to heal the wounds we have collectively wrought. They are funny, original, visceral, and linguistically deft. Their poetry speaks of sensitivity and power, and is from a consciousness bigger, more acute, and from the edge. They would have probably been burnt at the stake centuries ago.

The other day I read an eco-poem, 'Keep It In The Ground', by our current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. It is woefully dreadful, a barren cry of ecological despoilment with none of the mythical insight, vision or transformation that Helen and Susan have under every pore of their skin. The Establishment is yet to recognise the sizzle of these younger women eco-poets. I am hoping that talent will outstrip convention and that eco-poetry will soon be better understood and respected. I believe eco-poetry plays a vital role in our cultural development and will help us in our collective transition, out of a world that is destroying itself and into what Helen Moore calls, the Ecozoa.

For more about Susan Richardson and her books, see her website.

Helen Moore and her collection , Ecozoa, can be found here.

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