Intersecting Poetry And Ecology: LTTS Interviews Curator And Poet Simona Nastac

A few thoughts about my practice in the context of Louder Than the Storm’s online exhibition Intertwine Our Branches on climate intersectionality, which featured my poem ‘return’ animated by artist Raluca Popa.

How did you begin your practice connecting the arts and the environment?

It was more a slope than a cliff, like climate change. Back in 2015 I curated an exhibition that examined the ways in which the commodity and its cycles of production, exchange and consumption activate us. It has been a fascinating subject for me since I moved to London, as I was deeply shocked by the throw-away culture I encountered here.

I grew up in the darkest years of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship in Romania and the scarcity I experienced throughout my childhood had a major impact on my relationship with things: I never buy more than I need, I try not to waste anything, and I mend broken things hoping against hope, exactly like my parents.

While preparing some reading material for the exhibition in 2015, I came across George Monbiot’s articles on capitalism and the environment in the Guardian and suddenly I realised how critical the consequences of the underlying economies of our material existence are for the entire planet and its future. Since then, I have curated four other exhibitions addressing the topic, one in London, inspired by Buddhist spirituality, and three in the mountain resort of Slănic Moldova in Northern Romania, where I go every summer to work for the international artist residency In Context.

It was through this work that I had the chance to meet amazing artists from South Korea, Brazil, India, Iceland and Romania, and to share the same concerns about our global impact as a species, and to learn about different practices of resistance to the decaying capitalism that is destroying our planet’s life-support systems. Just as in every ecosystem living things cross-pollinate each other, there has been a fruitful exchange between my curatorial practice and my writing ever since.

How does nature inspire your work?

Patience. As Lao Tzu wrote so beautifully, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Writing takes time, it is invisible and solitary, requires a high degree of self-discipline. It is, in fact, central to civilisation, self-denial in pursuit of a longer-term goal. Fragility. This is intrinsic to poetry and the arts in general, like a blossoming iris vulnerably opening up to the world, an offering of eloquence, faith, wisdom and hope. Beauty. I think the beauty of an original idea is as accomplished as the beauty of nature; a new word – a fresh seed sown on the ground of poetic creation, and rhythm a response to the recurrent structures and forms in nature, like the Fibonacci sequence in the spirals formed by individual flowers in the composite inflorescences of daisies and sunflowers. Resilience. In Slănic, one of the artists, Agnes Ársælsdóttir, was surprised to see walls and sidewalks invaded by plants, trees, grass and moss growing through gaps and cracks. She was interested in the way the roots absorb water from the deep through the cement layers and discovered that the forest was weaving itself into the fabric of the town, using water pipes to transmit the liquid needed by plants to grow. Inspired by the adaptability of the plants, she created an embroidery with the cotton threads acting like these invisible roots, in concert. It was a symbolic acknowledgement of the resistance of nature against human hubris, but also a subtle analogy for human survival through cooperation in an uncertain future. Although fragile, words, poetry and art have the same strength and this is what we must do, as the late American writer and activist Grace Paley so eloquently put it:

“yes     there will be revolution
then there will be revolution     then
once more     then the earth itself
will turn and turn and cry out     oh I
have been made sick

then you     my little bud
must flower and save it”.

Your interests lay in art, poetry, ecology and social justice, why is it important that we look to these intersections?

Social justice and ecology: if we want to achieve some degree of climate stability, high-income nations will have to shift to post-growth economic principles, which mean shifting from pursuing GDP growth and affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving well-being. As Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand has already been doing since 2019. GDP growth doesn’t improve people’s lives because the vast majority of it goes straight into the pockets of the rich, deepening global inequality.  It is an ideology that benefits a few at the expense of our collective future, as infinite growth is not possible on a planet with finite resources. We must share what we already have more fairly, and invest generously in public goods: health, education, culture. Social justice is the antidote to the growth imperative and key to ameliorating the climate crisis. Art and poetry play a vital role in this. Glenn Gould said that the only advantage artists have is their distance from the world, a distance that through isolation and solitude draws attention to the overlooked, thus allowing the outer and inner worlds to appear in a different light. The arts inspire us to reimagine our world, rebuilt on non-aggressive values and new alliances between different forms of life and knowledge for a better Anthropocene.

How can poetry act as a way to engage people with discussions of hope and positivity around climate change?

I have friends who learned about climate change by reading poetry with their children. I know teenagers and young adults who encountered ecopoetry in video games and hip hop music. Instapoetry is another great way in. Raising awareness is the first step and poetry can do that for the curious and those privileged enough to have time to read and listen. To challenge the climate fatalism is much harder in my view, I struggle with it myself. Thus, we have beautiful work to do. What is broken cannot go back, but forward into something new. We need to turn poetry into music, into powerful protest songs and anthems for change.