“I Want to Breathe Sweet Air,” a film poem in three parts, is a terribly beautiful indictment of careless land development and the impact of climate change on the natural environment.
Text of the poem:
I WANT TO BREATHE SWEET AIR (triptych)
Remnants (Part I)
Take me far away from here
to a grass meadow in the Basin.
The same flowers grow in the buffer zone
near the nuclear power plant
as the flowers in my great-grandmother’s farm.
Gallardias and Gauras.
The same birds sing in the Texas oaks;
Lark Sparrows, Warblers, Bunting.
I want to breathe the pure sweet air
rolling down from the rocky hill
and watch gold stratus clouds and cirrus strands
reflected in the reeded lake.
Along the Freeway (Part II)
I want to leave this concrete land.
On the freeway outside Austin
at one point I saw vent pipes
coming out of a hill, and that was landfill.
The landfill surrounded by starter homes.
I looked for trash along the creeks.
But micro stuff doesn’t get filtered out
in the laundry wash. Deep mining digs up the undisturbed.
The machines strip off the soil to thirty feet.
Is there anywhere we haven’t touched?
We thought there was no life in the earth’s deep crust.
The Permian Basin holds the world’s most oil.
By the river (Part III)
We’ve known all this for seventy years.
In Austin behind the Taco restaurant
by Lady Bird Lake the homeless are bedding down.
In the shallows the water foams. There’s plastic bottles,
beer cans, dirty towels and shoes.
I’ve intruded into what substitutes for homes.
Take me far away from here.
I want to breathe cool sweet air
and listen to the Black Throated Blue Warbler’s song
and smell the dry wind from the rocky hill,
and walk through prairie flowers to the lake
and sink my fingers in the mud
and wipe the mud across my face.
Biography of Lucy English, poet and author:
Lucy English was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in London. She studied English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Digital Writing from Bath Spa University. She has three novels published by Fourth Estate: Selfish People (1998), set in contemporary Bristol; Children of Light (1999); and Our Dancing Days (2000), set in a Suffolk commune in the 1970s. She is best known as a performance poet, first winning the Bristol Poetry Slam in 1996 and going on to tour worldwide, performing her poetry at many international festivals. Her first poetry collection, Prayer to Imperfection, was published by Burning Eye Books in March 2014. She coordinated the International Conference in the writing and practice of performance poetry at Bath Spa University and since then ran the first performance poetry module at a UK university. In 2006 she was artistic director of Apples and Snakes Poetry Tour, Exposed. In 2007, she was a finalist in the first BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam.
She has toured Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Taiwan with the British Council, running workshops and performances. She has also run workshops for the Arvon Foundation. In 2010-11 she toured the UK with the acclaimed Arts Council sponsored multimedia poetry show Flash, and in 2014-5 toured with Count Me In. She is one of the organizers of ‘MIX,’ the conferences in digital writing. She is co-creator of the poetry film organization Liberated Words, which curates and screens poetry films. She created the digital poetry film project, “The Book of Hours,” which was shortlisted for the New Media Writing Award and twice longlisted for the Sabotage Awards. Two of the “Book of Hours” films won the first and second prize for the 2018 Atticus Review Videopoem Contest (https://atticusreview.org/winning-entries-of-the-2018-atticus-review-videopoem-contest/), first prize to Kathryn Darnell’s “Things I found in the Hedge” and second prize to “Que Es El Amor” by Eduardo Yague. Many of the https://bookofhours.org films have been selected by poetry film festivals, including O’Bheal, Rabbit Heart, Juteback, Zebra, and Athens. She is currently working on a new novel.