Poetry to transform our relationship with a polluted river

Red River, Cornwall

Credit: Dr John Wedgwood Clarke

Creative writing used to engage communities with what has been described as the most ‘unnatural’ or ‘modified’ river in the UK.

Dr John Wedgwood Clarke of the University of Exeter is working to enhance our understanding of the complex impact of human activity on the ecology of the Red River in West Cornwall, in collaboration with:

  • schools
  • community action groups
  • artists
  • scientists
  • curators
  • geographers.

The river, although small in physical scale, is rich in stories and archival evidence of human relationships with nature. It has been heavily impacted by the Cornish tin-mining industry and offers an exciting site through which to question what is:

  • wild and natural
  • beautiful and ugly
  • rubbish and valuable.

The 18-month research fellowship, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, explores how creative writing can transform our relationship to a polluted, post-industrial river and aims to use poetry as a medium to inspire behaviour change.

Dr John Wedgwood says that:

It is the stories we discover and invent about our relationship to places we visit and revisit that encourage us to look after them better. Through the use of poetry, the project hopes to move people to better care for this historic river.

He adds that:

Lockdown has intensified the relationship between people and nature. It has become apparent to many people that places within walking distance are now more important than ever. Our regular walks from our doorsteps have revealed small differences that have taken on greater importance. Trips to the compost bin, moss on a wall, listening to birdsong have all become intimate opportunities to connect with our local environments.

The fellowship will result in a book length poem and a sound installation. The findings will be presented at conferences and literary events in art galleries and heritage sites. The project will also produce a ‘Parliament of Waste’ event to debate the environmental impact of pollution and waste on health and wellbeing, bringing together:

  • local people
  • politicians
  • artists
  • experts.

Last updated: 15 April 2021

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