Praxis Magazine Online is honored to present the fourth chapbook in our 2019/2020 Poetry Chapbook Series selected by JK Anowe: Earth Music by Neil Creighton. Read the Foreword from Steve Klepetar here, then download and read: Earth Music by Neil Creighton.
Neil Creighton’s lovely collection, Earth Music, has a sacred feel, as though the music he hears are hymns through which natural beauty and wonder reach the heart. Like a modern Wordsworth, Creighton sees into the very life of things:
I raise my eyes
to vast solemnity,
distant fading stars,
great symbols of eternity,
veiled from sight,
a portal to reach and tear
and reveal a realm of light,
words can never convey…
Those lines, from the second poem in the book, now feel particularly powerful and heartbreaking in light of the horrific fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, which is burning as I write. Unlike the cathedral, built, however brilliantly of wood and stone by human hands, nature’s temple seems eternal, and more than that, seems to point to something beyond material beauty, toward a mystery and a meaning both profound and beyond our grasp. Yet Creighton is well aware of the threat to this beauty, which he writes about in poems like “Interim Report,” in which an advanced alien race tracks the perils of pollution and climate change, linking it to dangerously bad social arrangements that lead to things like poverty, greed, and reliance on primitive energy sources. That shift in perspective forces the reader to view our collective behaviour, our insouciance about our planet, our only home, as infantile, at the very least, if not completely mad. The aliens say they will return in a millennium or two to see if we have lived up to our best potential:
We conclude with the hope that their folly
does not ultimately lead to their extinction.
In another poem, “Can We Not Live Together,” the earth speaks directly to us, breaking the somewhat distanced, ironic tone of “Interim Report:”
I writhe in protest.
I heave and crack.
I send mighty tempests.
I stop the rain.
I send parching heat.
I struggle and strive.
I cry out for help.
Earth music, under Neil Creighton’s attentive scrutiny, blends a sense of almost holy joy with screams of agony and desperation, but never despair. Hope radiates from even the darkest poems. That hope radiates from a glowing optimism, bound up with Creighton’s love for and deep knowledge of the environments of his native Australia. He is a poet who has been out there, in places like Wilpena Pound, that strange, and starkly beautiful natural amphitheater in South Australia:
Lines of low cliff rise abruptly out of arid flatness,
orange in sunlight but purple in shadow.
The scree slopes are dull with stone and desert plant.
There is music here, an uncompromising melody,
abrupt rhythms, discordant tone.
The writing feels muscular and specific, the music harsh as the scree and desert plants.
In one of the most remarkable poems in the collection, Creighton writes about an encounter with a huge diamond python in the Blue Mountains, in New South Wales.
He slithers casually over a backpack,
unhurriedly follows our retreating feet,
unfurling his nine feet of glory.
Large of head, diamond flecked,
he carries the beauty of the night sky
along his thickly muscular length.
Those “retreating feet” are priceless, as the poem captures the snake’s magnificence, its “glory” along with its terrifying aspect, as the puny humans beat their undignified retreat. I thought of Lawrence’s snake and how he missed his chance “with one of the lords of life.” Creighton’s poem describes the encounter as a direct hit, filled with wonder, terror, and yes, a bit of down to earth Australian humor.
Read these poems for their deep sense of the particular, for their eagles and pythons, their seals and lyre birds, for their tough scree and red earth, and for their touching love of beautiful places, with all the devastating awareness of fragility and threat. You will be touched, and left hopeful that consciousness of beauty might just lead to the actions necessary to save it for generations to come.
– Steve Klepetar, 2019