Foyle Young Poet and climate activist Amelia Dye has had the strange experience of one of her poems going viral, thanks to Extinction Rebellion. So how does this young climate activist begin to put the current ecological crisis into poetry? And how can you get involved?
When I first became a climate activist, my activism did not overlap with poetry. I was an activist because I felt scared, angry, and entirely powerless. Later, I saw another young poet in my area perform at a climate strike, and was inspired to start writing on the issue of the climate crisis. Through my poetry I have found that I can turn something that terrifies me to my very core into something beautiful that can, hopefully, inspire others, and that I do not have to feel scared, angry, or entirely powerless. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel that way.
In April 2019 I was part of the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in London. At one point I was standing on a statue and to my surprise I was given a microphone and told to speak. I had on my phone a first draft of an unfinished poem, the only one I’d managed to write about climate change so far, and made a snap decision and read it out. Without my knowing, an environmental film-maker, who is part of the Big Blue Blueprint (an eco-friendly platform), filmed my poem and then turned it into a short film. It was eventually uploaded to the XR Youth Instagram account where it went viral. I only found out when it appeared on my Instagram feed – which was certainly a shock! As of right now it has over 1 million views and counting, which to me is absolutely crazy.
Despite the fact that my first climate change poem ever went viral, I actually find it incredibly difficult to write poetry about environmental issues. It often takes me four or more attempts to start a poem about it, and then hours of editing, even for a small piece. I find that creating poems on the theme of the ecological crisis to be harder than other types of writing, such as speeches. This is possibly because I don’t often write poetry on a certain theme or from prompts, and tend to let poems take me where I feel they want to go, without a set idea in mind. I’m not immune to writer’s block either, which probably doesn’t help!
But I’ve learnt a few things about writing about climate change. If I’m incorporating facts and figures then I’ve found that you need to triple check that these are right – your poem can be torn apart by those criticising you if your evidence is not entirely correct. I also recommend going to protests as I’ve found being in that environment, and allowing myself to be carried by my emotions in that moment, helps me enormously. I become so empowered, so passionate, so angry, so hopeful, that the words flow far more easily. Writing is also something you can do if you cannot attend protests, and if you’re unsure what to do to help make a difference to the climate movement.
There is definitely a sort of power in being young and a writer. Because governments have a responsibility to young people, we are in a prime position to persuade those leading our countries to change. As a writer I hope that I can use my words to encourage more people to start fighting for our planet, and perhaps a few adults who are in positions of power to make a change.
Hope is difficult though. I often write about it in my poems, but it’s very hard to pinpoint why. A lot of the time I feel incredibly hopeless about the climate and ecological crisis, apart from when I am actively doing something to combat it, which is partly why I write. It means that I can always be doing something to help, even while studying for my A levels.
I know fellow activists who have said that they don’t feel they can stop and think about the question of hope as they can’t afford to lose a second, and pondering on the importance of different emotions is not a luxury they have. They feel that they cannot rely on something like hope, but that they have to keep fighting in any way they can.
By being young I have the bright-eyed hope, or as some call it naivety, to believe that we can still save the planet. Many older than me have lost this belief.
Young people are at the heart of the climate movement because they still have so much fight in them. Young people will not give up on the planet. We cannot afford to. We forget that we have vitality in us that can quite literally change the world. We have more power than we will ever know.
So, do you want to make a difference? Just pick up a pen.
Amelia Dye, or Milli to friends, is a writer, activist, and generally creative person from Oxfordshire, and has been writing poetry from a young age. She has performed at Extinction Rebellion protests, climate strikes, and at a Young Poets Takeover. Her poem ‘Shame’ was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018.