Bangers, Bears & tentacles!
Three mind-bending poems by an atom, nautilus and tardigrade
Ed Gillespie is here to bend your mind. Imagine chatting with a superhot primordial atom at the opening of a new bar. Or getting weary life lessons from a wizened nautiloid. Or hearing from a tardigrade why – unlike James Bond – this is No Time To Die
In TOPIA series, Call of the Wild, nature talks. Can you listen?
Otter-ogling Ed Gillespie is a futurist, author, and a self-professed “recovering sustainability consultant”. He’s also one third of Jon Richardson & The Futurenauts. As part of our new series Call of the Wild – and to tie in beautifully and weirdly with TOPIA Season 01: The Big Bang – Ed has written a collection of original poems that give nature a voice.
Hear from Ed in a quick Q&A after we hear from an atom, a nautilus and a tardigrade in a cosmic trio of poems that brings together organic geometry, black holes and mossy piglets in a way we didn’t think was possible.
— At the start
I am the atom primeval More hot and dense Than any Instagram influencer The peculiarity of my singularity Still puzzles cosmologists with regularity Fourteen billion years ago In a moment before time I was ready to blow My expansion creating space Not filling it The even distribution of atomic shoals Meant not disappearing up my own Black Holes
Awash on a celestial sea of infinite possibilities A relentless recession-less tide Of ever increasing circles In which the intergalactic plankton of early stars and galaxies whirl Held by the gravities of matters and energies Mostly dark Listen mate This ain’t no steady state My primary principle is cosmological My uniform conception Limited to your perception By particle horizons both past and future Obscuring what lies behind and beyond We can only chase time so far Whichever direction we try to run in
I am vastly cooler now with age My light-peppered heavens Hold more stars than every grain of sand on every beach on Earth Are more numerous than the synapses in your brain As you try to comprehend my enormity I am here to bend your mind And all this in total silence No Hollywood explosions No boom and bust Just the thrusting out of all that is From a single point of what once was Because…
This is the way the Universe begins
This is the way the Universe begins
This is the way the Universe begins
Not with a whimper but a BANG
— The Nautilus View
What would I tell you O naked apes From my ancient perspective Of five hundred million years? That all your heartfelt tears and fears Are but ephemeral drops In my deep blue ocean of time My almost golden-spiralled shell Spins out like a galaxies arms Invoking Nature’s architecture In creating myself a new prefecture Of iridescent domicile A new chamber Fibonacci style You have to follow the Rules you see? Or artful organic geometry Where every contrived bit is fit For form and function and fitting in It’s what unlocks with one true key The vaults of my longevity I’ve watched whole families come and go Through evolution’s ebb and flow The secret of sustained endurance? Stay quick-stepping within the dance You humans over-complicate things Like not-so-humble would-be Kings So take it from this Nautiloid Life’s pass can end up null and void When you fail to carefully note It’s in one boat that we all float Not sink, nor swim, nor uber-omnipotency The truth’s in neutral buoyancy
— Tiny Resilience
Lions and tigers and bears! Lions and tigers and bears! But when all the cats and ursids are gone The Tardigrades will be marching on Does a Water Bear care? When you remove its air? Or make it thirsty? Or fit to bursty? Without water or in excess Not really It’s happy More or less You can blast them with ionic radiation Give them a trip on a space station Deprive them of food for a decade or more The Tardigrades will choose to snore From frozen mountains To ocean deep Their resistance comes from sleep A lesson in there if your world is broke? You can have too much time as ‘woke’ Here come the slowsteppers! They’ve always been with us Enduring any mass extinctions A record of quite rare distinction There’s no denying These ‘mossy piglets’ They can probably even survive On Twiglets So if a comet comes a calling And we won’t ‘look up’ to see it falling Rest assured the future’s saved But only if you’re a Tardigrade
— Quick Q&A: Ed Gillespie
Hi Ed, firstly, why poetry?
Poetry is essence. It cuts through complexity down to the bones of meaning. At it’s best it’s an artful economy of language that leaves us fish-mouthing in awe and wonder, love and grief, joy and pain. It can deliver truths with greater speed and regularity than even edge-of-space-dick-waving-cock-rocket Jeff B’s Amazon can abandon parcels on your doorstep for your neighbours to steal. Poetry is mind-bending, heart-rending and relationship-mending. A good poem stops us dead in our tracks, then starts us thinking about life, and most of all it makes us feel something powerful; humility, transcendence, connection, resonance, empathy… sometimes just a little discombobulated.
What do you want readers to glean from your poems?
My poetry aims to be provocatively playful. It comes from a place of deep reverence, but hopefully isn’t afraid to be a bit winky, maybe even occasionally wanky, in a self-aware fashion. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, leavening the heavy with levity. My charming Futurenauts compadre Mark Stevenson describes it as “throwing a few themes at a rhyming dictionary”! I hope it’s a bit more than that? Poetry is for succour not for suckers.
What’s the role of the artist in today’s society?
Poetry isn’t always beautiful or comfortable. The role of the artist is to hold up dark cathartic mirrors to challenge society’s narcissistic reflections. Scant words illuminate our imaginations, leaving lingering imagery to haunt our thoughts and perceptions. Great poems stay with us, repeating the mantras of their deeper meanings till they are truly inveigled into our souls.
What are your top tips for others who wish to be creative?
We are all poets. The seeds of word-play that can stretch horizons and bump up against cant with candour lie dormant within all of us. The great American poet William Stafford, when asked how he wrote so powerfully, replied: “It’s simple. I write a poem every day. And every now and then I write a really good one.” So-called creative discipline is not a constraint, it’s a practice. We could all benefit from Stafford’s approach. Start your day with a poem. Read one or two for inspiration. Then put pen to the blank page. For five minutes. And see what emerges. Poetry will have surprises for you.
What’s so good about this?
Poetry can change us and change the way we see the world, which is why historic authoritarians line poets and artists up against the wall first – a brutal acknowledgement of creativity’s power to challenge white-knuckled control and dogma. Poetry threatens dominance, and beckons us on towards somewhere better.
Meet the writer
Ed Gillespie is a futurist, poet and recovering sustainability consultant, as well the podcast co-host of Jon Richardson & The Futurenauts and The Great Humbling. As a Greenpeace UK board director, serial green entrepreneur and co-founder of change agency Futerra, Ed has been involved in numerous environmental campaigns. The slow traveller, marine biology MSc and regular Guardian and BBC contributor wrote Only Planet about his flight-free circumnavigation of the world. He lives in Norfolk (and welcomes guests!) at ‘The Mill of Impermanence’ with his four-year-old daughter Cléophée, ogling Kingfishers, and otter-bothering. Follow his musings on @frucool. Like poetry? Inspired by the daily practice of American poet William Stafford, Ed wrote this collection of poetry in Spring 2020: Songs of Love in Lockdown.