Tuesday Poem: No Oil

No Oil

Bad news from the north
and the queues growing longer.
Late winter, I remember,
when the shipments ceased.

There was still oil for some
which showed
where power intersected with need:
The rich.
Ministerial limousines.

The rest of us walking,
riding bikes, taking trains,
as our grandparents had:
valuing land
for what it can grow.

A Great Leap Forwards
in reverse
our faith now
in the wisdom of the old.

The world to the north
turns to poison
a battle
of each against all.

Here we cling on
in the ruins of a false economy
doing to others
being done unto
looking back with angry eyes
on a century of waste.

Tim says: I wrote this poem, which appears in my collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, in 2005 or thereabouts, and it doesn’t seem any less relevant today. “No Oil” is an exaggeration, of course, but as the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico – and its predecessors in many other, less well-publicised places – make clear, oil is becoming harder and more expensive to extract.

Concerns about the peaking and subsequent decline of world oil supply were once easy to dismiss as the ravings of wild-eyes alarmists. But when Lloyds of London and senior figures within the International Energy Agency are raising those same concerns, it may be time for even a government as blithely unaware as the one New Zealand currently possesses to start taking the issue seriously.

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens cover

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12 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: No Oil

  1. Nice, Tim, and prescient.Paul Virilio argues that the Greens inaugurate a new eschatology. Your poem locates the issue where it really belongs.

  2. Yes Yes YesLast night I dreamed of wading through crude sludge in the Niger Delta, oil on my mind and your poem and comments gathering my scattered thoughts so well (as you do quite often).Thanks

  3. Thanks for your comments, John, Meliors, and Kathleen.John, Paul Virilio is a new name to me – I have started drilling for information… (Metaphor deliberately mixed.)Meliors, thank you! The 20th century floated on an apparently endless slick of oil – I see the approaching end of that slick as a blessing, albeit a blessing in heavy disguise.Kathleen, I think a positive future without (much) oil is possible, but whether we have the capacity to achieve it is another question.

  4. I definitely like the hit-where-it-hurts approach of the second stanza. Oh yes. And I'm still reeling from the \”I'd like my life back\” whine of the BP CEO. The \”power intersects with need\” line holds an ocean of relevance.

  5. Thanks for all your comments!On a slightly different tack, I'm involved in several political issues, primarily environmental, but I rarely write overtly political poetry, because I find it hard to make it work. (I'm setting aside here the argument that all art is political, at least in what it chooses to include and exclude.)Do you write poetry which sets out to be political, and if so, do you find that a hard thing to do? Do you like reading and hearing political poetry?

  6. A great example of a political poem that works is 'Casualty' by Seamus Heaney – I think the personal and the political have to be interwoven for a political poem to work – a blatant political poem will probably alienate the listener, but they can be drawn through subtle invitation into the (argument/debate/idea) through a story like Casualty, or for that matter his 'Bog Queen'. I almost think you could inject a little humour into your oil poem to hit home, a small undercurrent of irony.. as it is such a 'big' topic.

  7. Thanks, Maggie! \”Ministerial limousines\” was my modest shot of irony for this poem – perhaps the lesson here is to avoid writing a political poem when one is pissed off about the issue in question?

  8. Ah, but I always like your poems, Tim. But true, being pissed off, over emotional, even overly attached can render a poem in the wrong light – I love the villanelle for the very reason that if you take a highly charged topic, or emotional response and use the villanelle, it will contain, condense, control and somehow illuminate the topic… what about an oil crisis villanelle Tim?

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