by Em Strang
It’s winter on the edge of Dartmoor. A steady downhill slope into rain and wind and sleeping flora. No green growth. It’s the ideal time to get a bunch of Dark Mountain writers, thinkers and storytellers together to take stock of the year that’s almost over and to write, think and tell our way into a deeper relationship with ourselves, with each other and with the nonhuman. This, I think, is at the heart of Dark Mountain’s aim: to find, create and share stories for troubled times; stories that explore the human and nonhuman alike; stories which, even though some DM writers talk about working from a more ecocentric perspective, privilege neither one nor the other. DM is interested in levelling the playing field (humbling the human at a time when humility seems so out of fashion), rather than locating some kind of idealistic centre, if there even is a centre to locate.
These are not stories about pulling down windfarms or marching against shale gas extraction, although all of us share varying degrees of despair about the rapacious onward march of our capitalist, nonsensical western world that supports such ‘projects’. These are stories in wolf’s clothing; stories which embody a covert politics of potential; stories which have abandoned false hopes of turning the tide of unsustainable progress and which stand on the threshold of potential: where do we go from here? What does it mean to be a human animal in the 21st century west? There are no definitive answers and no certainties, save the desire to live in a world where we humans understand that ecology is interrelationship, not union and not resource.
If this all sounds a bit touchy-feely, that’s because in a fundamental way it is: Dark Mountain writing is about getting in touch with self and other, about feeling a way in the dark, living as we are at a time of toxic blooms (inside and out). It’s very much about rejecting the nonsensical in favour of the sensorial. It’s difficult to pin down what this means in so-called ‘real’ terms, but it has something to do with finding the wild (inside and out) and taking time away from the computer to walk in the woods instead (if there are any left where you live). Not the nice, clean, harmonious, non-existent wild ‘out there’, but the mutable, unpredictable, unruly wild that is everywhere (to greater or lesser degrees). Perhaps the reason I can’t pin down what I mean in words, is because it can’t be captured in language, only hinted at, only inched towards. DM writers are under no illusions that becoming more sensorially aware will make everything OK, only that it’s seems preferable and more honourable (and perhaps more human(e)) to live a life in which we consider this kind of awareness worthwhile.
The woods on the edge of Dartmoor were wet and dim, the earth covered in leaves and broken twigs. Birdsong competed with nearby traffic noise and gunshots. Martin Shaw of The Westcountry School of Myth told the story of Ivan and the Firebird over the course of three days. Paul Kingsnorth, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, asked us what it was that civilisation had erased from our human maps. We wrote and talked and ate. Many of us went home riding the back of the grey wolf, pen in one hand, coarse scruff of the neck in the other.
As 2012 draws to a close, Dark Mountain is launching its third volume of essays, poems, stories and art in Edinburgh, Friday December 7th, 8pm at Forest Cafe, Lauriston Place. Come along and hear contributors read from their work. There’ll also be music from Mairi Campbell and Hailey Beavis. Free entry.
If you’re interested in attending a Dark Mountain writing workshop, I’m co-running one in April 2013 with fellow poet, Susan Richardson at Wiston Lodge in the Scottish Borders. It’s billed as a weekend poetry workshop, but you don’t have to be a poet to come along. We’re going to be talking animals, human and nonhuman. We’ll be making masks and building fires and walking up Tinto Hill. If you want feedback on your writing or inspiration for new work, come and join us. More details here.