Towards a Fabulanarchist Poetics

Community. Without it we’re little more than flat-faced apes without the clothes we need to warm our now largely furless backs. 

The expansion of community, its contraction, its meddling, and its help, are the formal constraints by which our rhyme schemes are composed. It is the people we know, the people we love, and also many people we’ll likely never meet. It is the taxes we pay and the politicians we vote for. It stretches behind all of us back into prehistory and forward into whatever time our societies have left.

We’re not the only creatures who enjoy the interactions of community. 

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben has revealed details of how a forest’s social network makes every flourishing of its saplings possible. Together, trees create an ecosystem that can moderate temperature, store water and generate humidity, thus improving the life of all the trees within it, helping feed each other, protecting each other from the elements, even communicating using mycorrhizal networks.

I have no idea what a mycorrhizal network is. I think it’s something to do with fungus. What I do feel is a good idea is helping each other out when we can. Like trees do. And like honeybees do, too.

In Honeybee Democracy, Thomas Seeley argues that the way honeybees make decisions – the group’s utilisation of individuals with shared interests; a reliance on mutual respect; any leader’s influence being minimised; debate relied upon; diverse solutions sought and the majority counted on for dependable resolutions – could all be things that might work for our species.

Again, I’d only be guessing, but I can’t help feeling they make for good suggestions.

There are clearly dangers lying ahead in driving down any road that does not heed the message that we work better together than apart. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a warning sign flashing brightly. In it, she depicted the dangers of thinking we always need to dominate, the dangers of thinking we never need to work with nature.

Aldous Huxley, having read Carson’s book, observed that in the loss of songbirds, butterflies and flowers (as a result of chemical pesticides doing away with the humble caterpillar), we may well have done away with ‘half the subject-matter of English poetry.’ 

And then Peter. Peter Kropotkin. He, in a series of nineteenth-century essays collected in the book Mutual Aid, also argued that we are often better off when being nice to each other. That cooperation, as much as some Malthusian scrabble for food, could accurately predict a species’ evolutionary wellbeing. But it’s here that we reach a quote from those essays that has particularly influenced my work:

“The epic poems, the inscriptions on monuments, the treaties of peace – nearly all historical documents bear the same character; they deal with breaches of peace, not with peace itself. So that even the best-intentioned historian unconsciously draws a distorted picture of the times he endeavours to depict.”

Writing poetry about breaches of peace, be they personal, political, or ecological, is of the utmost importance and utterly necessary. But I quite wanted to try and focus on the gentle and friendlier parts of a life. 

I like the idea of composing poems that examine what happens when things turn out a bit lovely. Poems that interrogate that which occurs when everyone has worked together, knowingly or not, to help us arrive on the sand of life’s summer holiday. We arrive there to find that not only has someone spread out a towel for us, but there’s also not a cloud in the wide blue sky.

The poems in The Fabulanarchist Luxury Uprising hope to be this. 

And, better yet, there’s no need for sunscreen.

See you on the beach?

Order The Fabulanarchist Luxury Uprising by Jack Houston here.

[Cover image is ‘State Insect – Honey Bee‘ accessed via Flickr Commons, from the Missouri State Archives.]

Jack Houston is a writer and public librarian from London. His poetry has been shortlisted for the 2017 Basil Bunting and 2018 Keats-Shelley Prizes, and has appeared in publications including Blackbox Manifold, Magma, The Morning Star, The Rialto, Poetry London and Stand. His short fiction was shortlisted for the 2020 Brick Lane Bookshop Prize and the 2020 BBC National Short Story Award. He lives in Hackney with his partner and their three children, two goldfish and a stick insect.
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