Akros Publications, 2005 -  £4.95


THE ORIGINS OF THIS PAMPHLET are out of the ordinary. Shades of Green is a selection from a larger set, composed inside a two-month period in response to a request from the Scottish Poetry Library “in a link with Robin Harper, MSP, of the Scottish Green Party”. So the contents are ‘green’ in a consciously political sense, grouped under eight headings, several of which sound like ministerial portfolios: transport, tourism, oil, health, housing, pollution, the sea, trees. There are several stripes of green (as appropriate) on the front cover, and a lovely photograph of a tree-lined lane on the back. The pamphlet is not, however, on unbleached or recycled paper.

On first flicking through the pages, I felt a little anxious, I confess, that the tone might be too ‘preachy’ for me. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment (honestly); it’s just the poems all have sub-titles and several have clear ‘messages’, and some of the messages seem to me to be worthy but also prosy: “Does ‘choice’ mean we can choose/ how to live or only the colour of/ some new machine?” Such questions are not unfamiliar: “Toxic waste contaminates/ even the unborn foetus/ but what is human life/ compared with share-holder status?”

Then I came across ‘My Chest Hurts’ which is a very personal poem. It has nothing, so far as I can see, to do with ‘green’ issues. It does turn on personal grief; it does share a human crisis. The poet, having lost her husband, mother and job inside a year, experiences pain in her chest. She consults the doctor, who can “find nothing wrong” with her heart:


          I go home with the hurt in my chest

          which is not my heart.

          I have it still

          when I walk fast uphill.


The poem moved me: I liked its simplicity, its sincerity and its form. I thought perhaps I might like only the personal poems in the pamphlet—that the environmental ones might simply leave me cold. However, it was not so clear cut. Though a poem called ‘Plastic bags’ (subtitled ‘the planet eats plastic’) did little for me, I found myself curiously intrigued by a very odd poem indeed called ‘Eco-House Speaks’. Here a special kind of home has its say:


                                                Our kitchens

          are partly garden or so it feels: herbs

          growing, vegetables cooking, salads

          appearing, grains and pulses heaped

          in abundance; slow food, good food, languid

          home-made wine, home made bread

          with its own metabolic cycle.


“Languid” wine? I like this house. And the pamphlet ends greenly and lyrically upbeat. The poet, beside an ancient wishing tree in Argyll, its bark studded with coins, shares her “heart’s entreaty”. Among other things, she wishes for her poems “to share a story/ for my children’s children’s true destiny”—and indeed, perhaps they do just that:


          The wind was keening the tree was silent

          clouds were luminous shoots were greening

          blossoms were budding from every coin

Helena Nelson