Wise Words for the Earth: Geopoetry


Wise Words for the Earth: Geopoetry

An extended edition of this article appears on Victoria Field’s website, The Poetry Practice

The following is a report of the Canterbury and East Kent Wise Words workshops – Fabric of the Earth and Life on Earth – that took place in the Beaney Library during the Canterbury Festival on Saturday, 29th October:

The Wise Words for the Earth workshops were run by Victoria Field – a writer, poetry therapist and researcher who founded Wise Words for Wellbeing in 2012 – and Helen Nattrass – a geologist, engineer, and the current co-ordinator of the weekly Wise Words for Wellbeing workshops in Canterbury Library. Both participated in the Geological Society’s Geopoetry event in London in 2011, and Helen was a speaker at Geopoetry 2020.

The aim of the geopoetry workshops was to engage with the questions of deep time and human creativity, using the material wonders of rocks and fossils alongside poems and creative writing. The intention was to bring mind and body, soul, imagination and emotions into an exploratory space.

Geopoetry is the poetry with the Earth at its centre; and for these workshops, the attendees were all given a variety of rocks and fossils to guide them in their writing.

The workshops were each attended by 11 people, 8 came to both workshops and 3 each attended either morning or afternoon. There was a wide age range (20s-over 90), experience and background. Around half were attendees of local writing groups and others came via the festival or CCCU.

A handling set of rocks and fossils were loaned by the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge. Helen introduced these and gave some background history of rock formations and the geology of Kent in the morning, and of fossils, ephemerality and persistence. Victoria introduced poems by Alyson Hallett, Mary Oliver and P.K. Page and text by Robert Macfarlane, using these as prompts for writing.

The workshops were offered on a donation basis and raised £112.24 for Canterbury & East Kent Wise Words, which offers writing and wellbeing opportunities in the Canterbury area. Thank you to the Library for use of the room and the festival for publicity.

Image description: a discussion about the Jurassic fish

These pieces of creative writing were produced during the workshops:

I FEEL ALIVE WHEN: I swim in the sea. I feel part of earth’s bounty in the ocean, looking around me at the beauty of the indented landscape with its lovely coves and bays, cliffs and rocky shores. The common terns don’t take much notice of me when I float on my back or do a gentle breast- stroke towards them. It is good to watch them diving for small fish not far from the surface of the calm, translucent water.

I feel far more alive, though, when the sea is rough with cresting waves and surf crashing on to the shore.

Wendy Blanchet


long agile legs
eye sockets – you can see
large mouth
traces of webbed toes
bulbous body
space for air or not-air
special lungs
living on land, in water
amphibian filigree skeleton
a swimmer a hopper
rana rana
I can swim and hop
but not as well as you
rana rana

Helen Nattrass

Today I am CLAY. As a child, I would find lumps of yellowish-brown clay in the garden. I soon realized that I could form this different- coloured earth into many shapes, and it would lock together, staying put as a form. Little pots with moss pressed into the surface would form a bowl for a woodland root of primrose for my mother, on Mothering Sunday, or would help to make an Easter Garden cave with the stone rolled away, not to mention the varied array of little animals and birds I could shape with my small hands.

If I were made of clay, I could be bent and moulded to another’s will. I don’t think I would like that at all. Underneath, I am sure I am made of firmer stuff. I would like to think I am rock hard as of granite- obdurate and steadfast. Whenever I have tried to chip away at granite, it was in vain. The crystals are so interlocked and have been so firmly fused together in their creation.

Wendy Blanchet


most precious and rare
perfect crystals, maybe gems
tourmaline zeolites
and mica, muscovite
platy flaky opaque
striated in the horizontal
slowly cooled from the earth’s cauldron
slowly grown in the rich mineral dross
prized and treasured
waiting for the knowing seeker

Helen Nattrass

For more information on the growing movement of geopoetry, we recommend taking a look at the Geology Society’s Why Geopoetry article and the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics website.

By Victoria Field and Helen Nattrass

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