Tanya Holtland’s debut poetry collection, Requisite, opens with a preface that softly urges the importance of spiritual ecology, which seizes my attention immediately. She advocates for the harmony and healing of nature, and caring for the earth as an extension of ourselves. She stages a lyrical political battleground of environmental crisis and the draining of resources by capitalism and poor business practices. What gives us the right to undo beauty we didn’t create? Throughout her poems, Holtland inspires us to examine the beauty inside and around ourselves, and to do all we can to preserve it.
Although her language is gentle, the pace of her work highlights the unstoppable passage of time, and bids us to think about the damage that can be done to the world in the blink of an eye or a lifetime. The destruction of forests can be slow, trees chopped or struck by lightning; we may not notice changes in our landscape immediately, but it is happening. “I see friends go dark, / quiet with the loss they feel coming,” she writes of the daunting future. We are observers, watching and waiting, whether hopeful or hopeless in the face of what lies ahead. There are some things we have control over, but other things that we cannot (or maybe should not) control.
Can volcanoes keep erupting, or run out of lava? Can oceans go on forever if the waves run out? Science lends us some understanding of the way our world works, but we often don’t listen, and imagining such vast emptiness is terrifying even if it is impossible. Holtland draws attention to all elements and formations, from mountains to ice caps, and treasures them all the same, pushing the grim suggestion that they will not be around forever. The continued existence of everything that is present in the world hinges not entirely, but partially and significantly, on us and our interference.
Holtland gives one particularly resounding statement on accountability: “the thing about believing only in fate — / it saves you the pain / of having to risk the decisions of living.” We need to be held responsible for our actions and inactions. Maybe we are just drifting through our lives, but everything we do has a consequence. The smallest units of resources are consumed or altered by our usage, and we need to understand the ripple effects and chain reactions that we start. We’re the pebbles dropped in the water of the earth.
There is constant anxiety in knowing the future will come but not knowing what it will look like. We race faster towards a plastic, polluted, manufacturing future, unwilling or unable to see that we are not isolated from the world and we really are ruining everything, blinded by our own smoke. Holtland poses the question, “what in us / needs to die first / for the rest to continue living?” Perhaps it is our selfishness and consumerism, our separateness and ignorance, that needs to die.
Each page of “Requisite” holds tension, trepidation, like waiting for a tsunami to crest over the horizon; we know the sun will rise in the morning, but how bright will it be? The earth is never not growing, not changing, and humans are the same. It remains to be seen how our coexistence evolves over the years, and Holtland opens our eyes to the boundless possibilities.
Keep up with Holtland’s own growth on her website https://www.tanyaholtland.com.
(Platypus Press, September 2020)
Bethany Mary has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.