DIRT - Alice Willitts

GUEST BLOG, Live Canon poet, Alice Willitts on collaboration and plantable books

Collaboration is my poetry soil. It’s also the future. I’ve grown through writing collectively and collaboration is at the heart of my gardening where the ‘yes, and..’ attitude of co-authoring is most beautifully visible. With the poet and founder of Dialect, JLM Morton, I’m launching a Dialect imprint called DIRT that will bring other pairs of poets together to write collaboratively, inspired by climate science. More than that, DIRT will be a home from which we can commission a broad range of voices to write together and listen to each other, writers who welcome the erosion of ego and the refreshing joy that arises from saying, join me.

“Oh love, we’re all ecopoets now!” a friend said last year. Are we though? I still feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on the me, me, me in poetry, in politics, in general. I’ve long been interested in an entangled community of writing that might allow us to digest the difficulties of being part of the world the way it is right now. I’m interested in old growth feeding new growth, in established poets nourishing and being nourished by emerging voices. These collaborative relationships are essential to a healthy ecosystem. In the garden, as in the forest, the unseen fungal and bacterial networks in healthy soil are recognised as crucial to resilience. We are not so different to the plants!

At the moment DIRT is an idea, a seed, but I’m confident that DIRT is going to be a place for renewal. When I think of the difference between soil and dirt, dirt is the dust that’s left when healthy soil is stripped of its rich microbial life by our heavy practices of farming and manufacturing, when it is deprived of light and air and water by concrete or tarmac, when it is exposed on hillsides after forest clearing or mining and so on. My instinct is to make a balancing, so if DIRT poetry was a compost, the recipe might look something like this, 2 parts poet, 1 part climate science, 2 parts wilful optimism, 4 parts community.

Part of the idea is to produce the most low-carbon publication of the highest quality poetry we can. The principle idea is to print without glue, using vegetable inks, on compostable paper, using green energy. The dream is to print on compostable paper that contains flower seeds so that the publications will be planted. Yes, planted, as in plantable poetry. That’s the ‘carbon offsetting itself’ model we’re aiming for. In the tradition of land artists making work that vanishes back into the place it was made from, we’d like our DIRT poems to literally go back into the ground they were written for and sprout new life. Ephemeral brilliance that we cannot hold onto, so it’s not a ‘thing’ to own, is key to the thinking behind DIRT. I guess even better would be to stop making printed publications and return to poetry of mouth that is passed from body to body on recall, but I wouldn’t wish to undermine my plantable poetry idea. [laughs]

Do we have a wish list of poets we’d like to pair? How long have you got! [laughs] Yes of course we do. And no doubt half of them will think we’re mad and won’t want anything to do with our plantable masterpieces. Others though will help us grow into a community who believe that a joined up effort to put nature at the heart of our writing and production is worthwhile.

Our evolving plan is to crowdfund a pilot, build a community of supporters and maybe apply for funding to grow. To find out more and help us financially please click over to our Kickstarter . If you can also share the page with at least two other people you think might be able to chip in, that’s a great way to support us https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirtpoetry/dirt-3

With your help we may model a radical, collective poetry that literally grows. Together we will contribute to making collaboration more structural and it will become the future we want to see in poetry. Join us!


Alice Willitts collection ‘With Love,’ asks us unflinchingly to consider what love poetry means in a time of ecological collapse. ‘Think Think: an ecopoetic practice’ examining the radical poetics of composite ecopoet kin’d & kin’d is published by Elephant Press. Alice co-edited Magma 78: Collaborations. alicewillittspoet.uk

JLM Morton is a poet, author of 'Lake 32' and 'Sentient' (Yew Tree Press) and founder of Dialect, a rural writer development network providing immersive learning, sharing and publication opportunities. jlmmorton.com / dialect.org.uk