I think there’s something appropriate about beginning the year with a review of a collection that focuses on the most important issue of our lifetime: the climate crisis. Peter Clive’s the end of the age of fire is a passionate plea for the reader to understand the precariousness of the situation that we find ourselves in, to acknowledge how we have arrived at this point, to appraise our own contribution to the imminent apocalypse, and to prompt us to take individual responsibility. As he writes in Decade: ‘Nothing is without consequence anymore. / The Earth is an ark of the damned/ adrift upon a sea of fire/ and we have ten years to save it.’
Unusually for me, I’m going to focus almost exclusively on a single remarkable poem from this collection: the title poem, the end of the age of fire. This is because it both encapsulates the main themes of the collection and exemplifies so many of the strengths of Clive’s writing. It is one of several long poems that includes Leviathan, Solstice and The eighteenth green. In this case, the poem is split into twenty stanzas and extends over nineteen pages. It is a narrative poem that is part history, part prophecy, and part polemic. Drawing on impressive historical, scientific, classical and religious knowledge, Clive tells the story of humankind’s relationship with nature and offers the reader telling insights into how and why we have arrived at the situation we find ourselves in.
At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?
Underpinning all the poems in this collection is a sense of the poet’s anger and frustration. It is there in the opening line of the end of the age of fire in the derogatory metaphor with which he describes us: ‘We were grave robbers,/ disinterring the dead of all past ages.’ Could there be a more shockingly appropriate image to capture our effect upon our environment, one that conveys the horror of the situation, the harmful disrespect for nature and the shame we should feel for what we have done? I don’t think so. It is also there in later images such as those through which Earth is portrayed as a victim: for example, ‘we mounted (her) like gluttonous infants’. The combination of the verb, ‘mounted’, and the adjective, ‘gluttonous’, conveys powerfully the poet’s distaste and disgust. These same feelings are experienced in the cadence of the litanies, listing the effects of our destructiveness: ‘when we try to emulate him (God), / our own announcements – beacons/ lit across the forty thousand generations of the age of fire/ – take the form of tower blocks burning in the night/ nuclear detonations turning the desert to glass,/ concentration camp chimneys,/ ramparts of glaciers collapsing into the sea,/ the desperate peregrinations of animals deprived of habitat,/ extinctions, and the irreversible bequest of methane/ from thawing permafrost and warming ocean sediments.’ The reader may feel he or she is being harangued by the poet and appropriately so; the time for reasoned argument, Clive suggests, has run out (14); we need to be told in no uncertain terms!
the end of the age of fire is a call to action. It is uncompromising and at times uncomfortable to read, for we cannot afford to be like the character in his poem, Tired,who says, ‘Let the spivs and charlatans have their way. I surrender./ I’m just too tired’. It is an emotionally engaging collection that shakes us out of any collective complacency or defeatism. This is a time for poets like, Peter Clive.
Peter Clive lives on the southside of Glasgow, Scotland with his wife and their three children. He is a scientist who has worked in the renewable energy sector for nearly two decades. He has published two collections of poetry, the end of the age of fire and stowaway. His poems have been published by Dove Tales (Association of Scottish Artists for Peace), Culture Matters, Writers’ Café Magazine, The Rush, Slant, Dodging the Rain, Causeway / Cabhsair, Cadaverous, Reflections, Riggwelter, qmunicreate, Picaroon, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Aerodrome, The Curlew, Bonnie’s Crew, Poets’ Republic, The Blue Nib, The Eildon Tree, Underfoot Poetry, Runcible Spoon, Razur Cuts, Dreich Magazine, Naugatuck River Review, and have been included in several anthologies. As well as poetry, he enjoys composing music for the piano and spending time on the Isle of Lewis and in St Andrews with family. He holds a Ph.D. in experimental nuclear physics. Follow him on Twitter: @MoFloMoJo and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.clive.
To purchase a copy of of the end of the age of fire click here.
Next week adrop in by my poetry chum, Paul Brookes.
AVAILABLE NOW ‘UNMUTED‘ by Nigel Kent!
Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.
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One thought on “Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive”
Blindingly good review sir, on a subject very close to my heart, you may remember my Mono No Aware, so I will obviously buy a copy of this collection.
I haven’t written a word for a long time and have pulled out of Hedgehog – on the friendliest of terms with Mark mind – due to ongoing health issues. You might give my apologies to the ladies at OUPoets as I won’t be rejoining etc.
I donated a good number of copies of Mono to some of the climate change charities and organisations (with Mark’s cognisance) to either give out gratis or sell to raise funds for just the same reason that you refer to in your review – to educate readers about just how bad climate change is about to get.
Would like to send a copy of Mono to Peter with my compliments if you have any contact details for him. If not I guess I can send it via his publishers etc. Interesting that he enjoys St Andrews, it has been a ‘spiritual home’ of sorts to my wife Jean and myself for all of our 42yrs of married life.
I hope you and yours are well Nigel and wish you continuing success with your own writing sir.
My very best wishes, Brian.