Climate change data inundates us. While important to help us understand the crisis, it seemingly presumes that the only way to confront the climate crisis is by thinking about the numbers.

Cover courtesy of Littoral Books

The project of “A Dangerous New World: Maine Voices on the Climate Crisis” is to encounter the climate crisis through poetry and art, inspiring action by connecting with the readers’ hearts and souls.

Editors Meghan Sterling and Kathleen Sullivan “wanted to hear from writers who could transform the difficult scientific data about the earth … into personal narratives and poetry.” They were joined in this effort by Assistant Editor Nancy Heiser, curating 76 poems and essays. Art Editor Margaret Morfit selected 30 works of visual art for the book, which add to the emotional impact of the book and contribute immensely to its beauty.

“A Dangerous New World” is an expressive collage in which loss and grief resonate.

Shirley Glubka’s “the long loop of time” voices these themes: “the world is crying/ blown like a small butterfly/in white circles.” Wesley McNair’s “Benediction” exposes our obliviousness to flowers as symbolic of our insensitivity to the planet: “How could we/have overlooked the beauty/of the tiny, bristled stars/they now carry, or the hope,/among the brown clovers,/of the late bloomers, already living/ the dream of their return?”

The tragic delayed response to climate change is addressed in Helena Lipstadt’s “First Light, June,” as she wonders: “Was it a refusal, a disbelief,/ a failure to grasp, desperate ignorance,/ marrow-saving numbness?” Marina Schauffler protests our continuing failure to act in “Grieving Big Changes,” demanding “Why, even now, can’t we bring ourselves to meaningfully address climate change?”

Kathleen Sullivan’s “Noah’s Ark Redux,” visualizes a cataclysmic denouement to rising sea levels, asking: “Will there be time to bid farewell/one by one, each by each … ?”

In “Out of Place and Time,” Ginny Freeman considers the effects of climate change on all living things: “And trees, that cannot lift their roots and simply move/ Will slowly disappear, and take their reds,/ Their oranges and golds, /With them as they die.”

Wendy Weiger’s “Womb of Ice: The Maine Woods in Winter,” evokes the joy of Maine’s trademark winters and her fear of losing them: “Ice crystallizes in my nostrils as I take my first breath outside the door. The air, free of the humidity of warmer days, is clear and pure. It seems I am breathing champagne.” Yet she worries “Future generations may not know the fierce gifts of winter that bring me such joy. I grieve for their sake.”

Visual artist Andy Rosen’s “Tread,” depicts a submerged deer, forlorn and looking up toward the surface of the water. Michel Droge’s painting “Rising Tides,” portrays a Maine island home almost entirely consumed by encroaching seas. Heidi Daub’s “Those Long Years That Came Before Us,” ominously portrays rising sea levels: a deep blue panorama and a somber mood. Taken together, the visual art conveys a stark impression of sadness and fear as climate change continues to take hold.

While much of “A Dangerous New World” concerns grief and loss, hope also emerges as a theme. In her foreword, Gov. Mills exhorts readers to “confront climate change with unflinching resolve, looking decades down the road – to the fir trees, asters, and chickadees that we hope will be there for our children, grandchildren and all future generations.”

Nancy Heiser’s “Imperfect Summer Day, notes that “Disorder has crept into the landscape….” Her response to this intrusion? “It’s time to get to work.”

Tanya Rucosky’s “Hold Fast Hope,” calls for hope based on the tenacious grit that has always sustained Mainers. “I am not talking about a ‘hope’ full of sunshine, butterflies, and rainbow-colored unicorn farts. I am talking about that grit.” Rucosky writes that Mainers “take care in the face of whatever comes. We do not complain, or bemoan our fate. We just dig in, fix it, and make things right.”

Many contributors express alarm over the effects of climate change on the world to be inherited by our children, and the editors sagely include the work of six youth poets.

A third-grader views the consequences of climate change through the lens of its impact on snow leopards. The voice of an injured Mother Nature recounting the damage done by humans, is expressed by a fourth-grade poet. A fifth-grader recounts experiencing climate change while in ordinarily torrid Arizona, as snow fell against a backdrop of cactus plants on a desperately cold day. A 12-year-old poet envisions a climate-debased future with barely enough water to drink, while a 10-year-old asks the reader to imagine the plight of the polar bear and her cubs foraging for food and habitat. A high school sophomore relates Maine’s natural beauty and its transformative joys while sailing on a sunny day.

“A Dangerous New World” succeeds in awaking a response to the climate crisis by connecting with readers in a way not possible with data alone. The book concludes with a list of ideas for readers to act with urgency, inspired by the work of Maine artists and writers and their novel way to confront climate change.

Dave Canarie is an attorney who lives in South Portland and is an adjunct faculty member at USM.


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