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Healing flow on World Wetlands Day with Tania Haberland and ecopoetry    
Fri, 28 January 2022



Since its inception, the AVBOB Poetry Project has supported grieving people by offering the resources of reading and writing poetry. Words that speak to our experience of being adrift in the waters of mourning help to create a tiny raft of meaning that enables us to survive bereavement instead of drowning in it. On World Wetlands Day (2 February), we explore this precious, but threatened, natural resource through the eyes of award-winning poet, Tania Haberland.
 
On World Wetlands Day, we investigate what it means to grieve non-human losses. How do we feel about creatures going extinct, erased coastlines, plant species endangered and polluted rivers? What do we feel about the marshes, swamps, pans and vleilande that would provide “green lungs” for city dwellers had they not been erased by uncontrolled mining, burning and development?
 
Wetlands ensure the survival of a host of creatures and interlinked phenomena, vitally protecting us through flood control, soil nutrition and food security; drought relief, water storage and purification; erosion control and climate change mitigation. These are just a few benefits of healthy wetlands. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa has lost approximately 50% of its original wetland area and a further 48% of wetland ecosystem types are critically endangered.
 
As water bodies in the Western Cape endure ongoing sewage spills and the Highveld water system's degradation continues, the AVBOB Poetry Project turns to ecopoetry for comfort and consolation. Ecological disasters are akin to personal tragedy – they trigger desolation and heartfelt despair. Ecopoetry enables humanity to shelter and centre in sacred rituals that promote grieving and healing, facilitating our attempts to reconnect with and restore the earth.
 
International grief expert and psychotherapist, Francis Weller, examines the impact of losses in the natural world on the human psyche. In The Wild Edge of Sorrow he writes: “Whether or not we consciously recognise it, the daily diminishment of species, habitats, and cultures is noted in our psyches. Much of the grief we carry is not personal, but shared, communal.”
 
Weller further states, “It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses. What if this is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeping through us? We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wider self. It is essential that we stop and recognise these losses. It is good manners to respond with sorrow, outrage, and apology at these places touched by so much loss.”
 
Tania Haberland is a poet and singer, artist and teacher who won the 2010 Ingrid Jonker Prize. Currently undertaking a PhD in Ecopoetry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, her oeuvre actively acknowledges environmental loss. 
 
“‘Eco’ comes from the Greek word oikos, meaning home. So I ask myself, how can we co-create a sense of belonging and joyful meaning with the earth, our home, in this era of the Anthropocene? Ecopoetry attempts to heal the relationship between the human and the more-than-human world. It is also a cry of sadness, frustration and anger at the destruction entangling our species. It begets important questions as it honours and remembers the beauty of our home and all its inhabitants, human, other and more,” says Tania.
 
Tania continues, “Ecopoetry gives us a fresh view on how to write about our deepest humanity. Poets offer a voice to the voiceless, giving us a way of seeing this world other than as an endless free resource to be used and abused. Our planet offers us solace for our broken hearts, dreams and lives. Like so many bodies of water, including our own, wetlands are at risk of further destruction, illness and disease.”
 
For writers wanting to explore this form, she recommends an intuitive approach. “Try simply listening to your own heart, body and guts as a starting point… and then listen to the heart, body and guts of our land and waters. From that listening, allow the words to appear, spill, flow, surge, cascade, and rain down drop by drop.”
 
Art, literature and education interplay and interweave in our social space. Tania's art represents a multidisciplinary interaction between writing, music and movement, using ancient tools of drawing and song and contemporary digital technology. Her art responds to real-time crises – in person and online. For example, she organised a fund- and awareness-raising event for SOS Mauritius in response to the ecocide of the Wakashio oil spill.
 
Tania crosses borders and boundaries and so does her project, The Technology of Tenderness. “Originally it flowed between Mauritius, Milan and Cape Town, but now it adapts itself to wherever I live or travel, exploring the increasing disunity between humans and nature in site-specific ways. Water is a muse that stimulates our senses, and humans flow into this greater entity as a very tiny part of it,” she says. 
 
Tania's research and ecopoetic productions utilise the marriage of poetry, video, dance, music and photography to explore, create and promote healing tools of ritual and song. As a poet-artivist she conducts ecopoetic rituals online and in nature. Check out her multimedia piece Poetic Shelter, which was curated while she was an artist in residence at PassaPorta literary house in February 2021. The piece Forest Breath was created with a troupe of six artists. Poetics of Reverie with Carine Iriarte is an ongoing poetry-in-music project.
 
Working with other artists is at the heart of the ecopoetic movement where collaboration drives and expands collective consciousness-raising and communal creativity. “I am always searching for new ideas and techniques, and I love collaborating. I never know precisely how to bring poetry into this world, but I follow my gut.”
 
Tania encourages poets entering the AVBOB Poetry Competition to investigate ecopoetry as an exciting path for extending their poetic skills. “Why not co-create elegies, laments as well as songs of joy for the earth as our mother and our home with fellow musicians, artists or photographers? Check out the links in this article for ideas to stimulate your own imagination and share via your social media,” Tania suggests. 
 
She urges writers to become ‘artivists’ in their communities, sharing actions and creations in real and tangible ways. Tania concludes, “As citizens of this earth, we must take small (and sometimes big!) actions on a regular basis towards a more sustainable life within this world we inhabit.”
 
The AVBOB Poetry Competition opens again on 1 August 2022. The AVBOB Poetry Project offers a free-to-access poetry library and resources section. Visit www.avbobpoetry.co.za to explore poems and informative articles by expert poets and poetry teachers.
 



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