Authors Take Action 2023: Climate Poems
April is, among other things, National Poetry Month. And this April, a group I’ve worked with for several years, Authors Take Action, is sponsoring the #ClimatePoemProject to encourage young people to write poetry about nature and caring for the environment.
I write historical novels in verse, such as Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliott) set in Brooklyn in 1982 and the forthcoming Eyes Open, set in Portugal in 1967. So my poetry prompt is going to be based in history.
In this case, it’s a family history. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression, when jobs and money were scarce. She taught me principles like “waste not, want not.” A popular verse during the Great Depression was “Use it up / Wear it out / Make it do / Or do without.” People weren’t so concerned with fossil fuels and the climate then — in fact they considered these non-renewable resources to be plentiful and powerful. They had little idea at the time of the pollution they would cause (at least compared to coal), their finite nature, or their contribution to global climate change. However, people did worry about feeding, clothing, and housing themselves and their families, so they did find ways to conserve scarce resources. For instance, they repaired torn clothing and broken machines or toys instead of throwing them out and buying new ones. Music and dance served to bring communities together and didn’t require purchases of things to keep people entertained. Zetta’s poem “Sugarland” in Moonwalking portrays a community like this — short on money but rich in creativity:
Los Sures is full of music
it pours into the street from passing cars
and open bedroom windows
it rains down on us free as water
from a hydrant on a hot summer’s day
Your prompt is to take an object or idea from the adage “Use it up / Wear it out / Make it do / Or do without” and write a poem. Some things you can write about are:
- a worn-out favorite toy or piece of clothing that still gives joy
- an object that has been repaired/that you have repaired
- something you enjoy that’s free and uses no gas or electricity
- a thing you had to do without and the alternative you found
- something that wasn’t perfect but you made it work anyway
Your poem can describe a single place or thing, or it can be a narrative poem that tells a story. In my poem “Fingers Growing Soft” in Moonwalking, there’s a story. JJ’s father has had to sell his guitar, so JJ finds another way to make music.
There are many perspectives and prompts in the Authors Take Action #ClimatePoemProject this month. Be sure to stop by the Authors Take Action Project Page for ideas from your favorite authors and poetry bloggers.