In an era marked by environmental crises and social disparities, we are lucky to have artists who wade through reshaping sustainability discourse with their lyrical explorations. Maria Sledmere is a writer whose poetry delves into "dream ecologies," where the natural and imagined intersect. She reflects on the intricate tapestry of poetry and the way it can become a strong medium to advocate for global issues of sustainability. Although, as some might feel, the intersection of poetry and sustainability may not seem immediately apparent, Sledmere not only raises awareness of these pressing issues through her verse but also presents the transformative potential of poetry as a vehicle for social and environmental urgency. 

From her evocative imagery to her poignant reflections on environmental challenges, Sledmere's contributions serve as a beacon of hope in our collective pursuit of a more sustainable and equitable world. Her writings are deliberate and consciously engage with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Gender Equality, Climate Action, and Affordable and Clean Energy

Tell me a little bit about your background and the work you do.

I am a Lecturer in English & Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde and Managing Editor of SPAM Press. For five years I was a member of the art and ecology collective, A+E. My DFA in Creative Writing, from the University of Glasgow, is titled Hypercritique: Towards a Lyric Architecture for the Anthropocene and concerns a performance of im/possibility which acknowledges thought’s enmeshment in the systems and media it tries to glitch. 

My work involves a combination of public engagement, visual art, performance, publishing and teaching. I am keen to find playful, thoughtful and accessible methods for understanding and challenging the conditions of climate emergency which are unequally felt across the world. 

Are there specific UN Sustainability Goals that resonate strongly with you as a poet, and if so, how do you explore them in your work?

The following goals have particular salience: Good Health and Well-being, Gender Equality, Affordable and Clean Energy, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequalities, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. I am concerned with how factors of gender, class and race intersect with ecological politics, especially in issues of climate vulnerability, social reproduction and labour. Ultimately, we have to ask: whose future are we sustaining, why and how? 

An Aura of Plasma Around the Sun by Maria Sledmere. Image courtesy of Maria Sledmere

In your poetry, do you find yourself consciously incorporating elements or themes related to sustainability, or do they emerge more organically in your writing process?

A recent example is Project Somnolence. This takes sleep as the conceptual field for exploring sustainability at the level of daily life. I have also worked on themes of low-carbon pleasure, play and dreaming through A+E Collective projects such as The Dream Turbine and Cauliflower Love Bike. Such collaborations explore sustainability through experimental media and participatory engagement.

“I lived ephemeron of a garbage system, a short-lived damselfly
at the world's beginning.” - Maria Sledmere in 'Visions' from Visions & Feed (2022).

How do you navigate the balance between raising awareness about sustainability matters and maintaining artistic integrity in your poetry?

I don’t see my work as didactic or carrying any particular message, but it is definitely concerned with sociality, care and love — all things relevant to living sustainably! 

Maria at the Civil Twilight Workshop by Kevin Leomo. Image courtesy of Kevin Lomo

Are there particular poets or literary influences that have inspired your approach to writing about sustainability?

Far too many to name, but here are a few: I adore the ferocious clarity of Anne Boyer; the complex, sensuous improvisations of Fred Moten; the dreaming of Hélène Cixous and Jackie Wang; the after apocalypses and loving evangelism of Alexis Pauline Gumbs; the generous playful gorgeousness of Bernadette Mayer; the lush, precise grace of Lisa Robertson; Callie Gardner’s unthinking of Nature; Weyes Blood’s soaring anthropocenic anthems for love and doom; Alli Warren’s attentive care for detail; the genius scholar-poet Daisy Lafarge; the speedy zeal of Tom Raworth; the cruising lyricism of James Schuyler; the visionary, telepathic experiments of Alice Notley; the archival breaks, glitches and refusals of Nat Raha. 

In what ways do you believe poetry can contribute to fostering a greater sense of environmental consciousness and action among readers?

Language matters. It’s how we speak about, see and feel the world. It’s how this ‘we’ is constructed, and often weaponized, as a position. Poetry can train us to be more critical readers and creative agents. It turns us towards a feeling, position, moment, solidarity, dissolve. The negative capabilities of poetry, the way it can think and feel through contradiction and uncertainty, are vital.

Cinders by Maria Sledmere. Image courtesy of Maria Sledmere

Lastly, would you like to briefly share about your recently published work or an upcoming release that supports global sustainability efforts?

My most recent publication is a poetry collection, Cinders (KRUPSKAYA, 2024), which explores ecological latency through issues of gendered labour, theatricality, space and the utopia-dystopia continuums of daily life under late capitalism. Last year I published Woundscape with Osmosis Press, a pamphlet that responds to the artistic and literary work of Alasdair Gray, with an emphasis on community, nature and urban experience. I have also published two recent journal articles concerned with solar imaginaries and ideas of ‘meadowing’ and the commons, which respectively turn to atmospheres, energy and land struggle as the basis for interrogating issues of sustainability through poetry. Both articles are available via open access at Postmodern Culture and The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry.

As long as artists like Maria Sledmere continue to produce their creative expression with the goal of social and environmental welfare, our society can consciously contribute to the idea of a sustainable world, staying inspired and driven to enact positive change through the transformative power of art.

For more on her work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram

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