Firebird and Phoebe Anna Traquair

Away from the general election in the UK, last week the governor of California declared a state of emergency. California is enduring a brutal drought and heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 40°C and multiple wildfires causing widespread destruction. In the north of the state, one fire has resulted in the evacuation of nearly 30,000 residents. Meanwhile – and still early in the summer season – the US government has had to issue heat alerts to more than 129 million people across the nation. 

Climate change is happening now and it’s creating an era of heat, drought and fire that has never before been experienced by humans. How might we respond? Is there any kind of response that could be adequate?

Artists, whichever form they adhere to, try to look beneath the surface of things. They are meaning-makers, even (or perhaps especially) in times of trauma and change. In her new collection of poetry, Firebird (Shearsman, 2024), Em Strang explores directly this time of fire, confronting its destructive reality, but also its potential as creative and spiritual metaphor. The following poem, taken from her collection, is inspired by the art of Meinrad Craighead who created a series of paintings in response to a devastating fire in 2004 on the banks of the Rio Grande in New Mexico where she lived.


We let out the last air of us.

Above the burning hot scarlet we’re running, 

sloping between night clouds,

leaving behind our bodies as offerings.


We don’t know what we’re doing

without paws, heads, muzzles or legs.


We leave as though there’s nothing

we need to take leave of. 


We become seamless

in the way blood is seamless.


Nobody hears our souls lifting up, 

their robust silence,

the way they float and rest,


         float and rest

like brave lilies on an open pond, 

up and out

beyond anything like life, 

deep into mountains that are not mountains, 

to a sandhill that is not a sandhill

in the middle of which is a red bridge that is not a bridge.


We cross the red bridge or the bridge crosses us

and, like strange birds in a new cosmos,

we pass over, giving back whatever gifts we have. 


It is extravagantly dark here, until it is light.

Em Strang will launch Firebird at the Song School, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Edinburgh, this Wednesday (10th July) at 7.00pm. The venue is also home to a series of stunning murals created by Phoebe Anna Traquair, a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement – a different kind of art from a different era. This is a rare opportunity to spend time in the company of the murals, and to hear from a poet whose work achieves the same transcendental quality that is present in Traquair’s artwork.

Firebird is available from

To join Em for the launch, reserve tickets via Eventbrite here

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