It’s not easy being green: A year of trying to be environmentally friendly’ a discussion with Caroline Burrows (Versecycle)

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Tonight’s feature for the Sunday Tribune is a short interview with Caroline Burrows (Versecycle).

I first met Caroline for my Podcast series Spoken Label, and this short feature was completed just after Caroline’s completion on the project ‘It’s not easy being green: A year of trying to be environmentally friendly’ where she wrote a poem a day for a year covering her attempts to be environmentally friendly.

As a fellow writer myself, I am a firm believer we must take on new challenges constantly to stop our work from going round in circles. Whether I would have the courage to do what Caroline has done as you’ll discover I generally don’t know but she has nothing but my respect for attempting such a project.

Andy N:

Can you tell people first of all, Caroline where the idea for the Not Easy Being Green verses came from?

Caroline Burrows (Versecycle):

The initial idea for writing ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Year of Trying to be Environmentally Friendly’ stemmed from my wanting to live a greener lifestyle but discovering that for every eco success there seemed to also be plenty of failures.  I believe, hopefully, that the majority of us regard the environment as an important issue in theory, but most of us, myself included, are failing in reality.  I wanted to question the why and how of this.

I had just completed an MA in Creative Writing, in which I’d mainly focussed on prose.  However, I had also been writing poetry in my spare moments.  I believe poetry has an immediacy to it, with certain branches having an ability to communicate a message quickly and clearly.  I thought one way to ensure I thought more about the eco choices I was making would be to document them as a regular practice and habit, hence the writing of a verse a day.  Therefore, after finishing my MA, I applied for a poetry scholarship as I couldn’t afford to do another MA myself, with a proposal and manifesto, written as a sonnet, of my intention to document the positive, negative or indifferent results of my endeavour to be fed back into the content of my poetry.

An additional way to keep myself on track was by stating that I would post my work daily on various social media platforms, more for myself rather than whether or not I had any followers.  There was only one scholarship available and I didn’t get it, but because I really believed in my proposal, I thought ‘I’m just going to do it myself anyway,’ and so began writing, posting Verse 1 on 16th September 2019, and finishing 366 verses later on 18th September 2020.

Andy N:

Can you tell us next how this has developed over the year you’ve done it, and did it change over time?

Caroline Burrows (Versecycle):

When I began the project, I presumed the topic of documenting being environmentally-friendly would be challenging enough. However, as is the case with creative projects, other factors have permeated the poetry, making the verses include elements on a personal micro level, as well as out to a more macro external level, which I summed up in my final verse.

Since the 16th September 2019 to the present, these have included: an anti-depressant dosage medication change which resulted in a serious acute depressive episode; the death of two very loved people whom I regarded as mentors: my granddad, and my friend and old writing tutor who always encouraged me to write; getting into and out of a relationship that was very unhealthy for me; and of course the Covid-19 pandemic.  Looking back, I’m quite shocked at everything that has happened over the course of a year, and amazed that I was able to keep writing my verses despite everything else that was going on, while trying to maintain a thread of being environmentally friendly throughout, sometimes very loosely.  Conversely, having documented a year in this way, it has also allowed me to really take notice of events and patterns in my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, which will hopefully lead to me understanding my internal and external worlds for the better.

Verse 1

I’ve switched to using loose-leaf tea,

‘Cos teabags sealed with glue leak micro-plastics in the sea.

But my lycra leggings are made from polystyrene,

And leach the same when in the washing machine.

I need to try harder; it’s not easy being green.

16th September 2019.    #ItsNotEasyBeingGreen

Verse 366

I started these verses to try being eco-friendly,

I didn’t realise they’d become like my diary:

As well as being greener, I got an MA;

Dated a Mr. Wrong; Had a break-down; Friends showed me better ways;

Two very special people died; No-one predicted a pandemic.

All this nearly made me forget about Bloody Brexit.

It’s not easy being green; But maybe being greener was the easy bit.

18th September 2020.    #ItsNotEasyBeingGreen

At first, I was posting static images of text on different plain backgrounds on Twitter and Instagram, and recording an audio version with the images which I posted on YouTube daily.  However, the time it took to create each individual for YouTube became counter-productive so I soon ceased that strand.  Instead, I had previously left Facebook as I found it difficult to police the time I wasted on there, but decided to return to it with the intention of only posting poetry.  My first career way back in my twenties was as a graphic designer, so I started to incorporate photos into my images, and over time, I developed a uniform profile and logo using the name ‘VerseCycle’ (a lot of my other poetry is cycling themed) across the different platforms.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the first strict lockdown began just as I was beginning to recover from an acute depressive episode and struggling to regain stability.  One thing that is actively discouraged when suffering from depression is isolation, which was in strict contrast to what was being enforced during lockdown.  Therefore, in order to help my recovery, I decided to expand the project by returning to YouTube, but this time by incorporating social engagement by asking people to record and send a verse each to be compiled into groups of ten verses on YouTube.  Not only did this help keep me connected with the much needed support of friends while I was unwell, but it also transformed the project from a local individual concept into one which has featured local, national, and international video contributions, and which continues to do so. extending the project further.

A lot has happened in a short period of time, and revisiting some of the verses when sending them out to guest readers has at times been emotional.  Sometimes, I have adapted the verses due to reflecting more on how I feel about events in hindsight, or due to depending on who is recording them.  I also inform new video readers that the verses are not only about being environmentally friendly, but also reflect my life and emotional state at the time, and the response has always been incredibly supportive.  The project in this way keeps adapting and changing, and my main goal is to stay true to what I am feeling at the moment, and see where that leads the project.  It will be interesting to see where I am personally, and where the world is at once the video verses are all compiled, which I estimate will be another six months at least.

What I’ve found remarkable is that while it may only seem like a small personal project, the result of having determinedly/obsessively stuck with it has resulted in me: learning more about how to be more eco friendly; developing my poetry skills; utilising my graphic design and video making skills; improved my mental health through writing which improved my well-being, and developed existing and new friendships through collaborating on the video project.  On a professional level, the videos have been included in the Warrington Contemporary Arts Centre Festival 2020, and also contributed towards me gaining a video poetry commission which I recently completed for Bristol Festival of Ideas called #Poetry Helps: Suicide Awareness and Prevention, a topic which after my unwellness in spring, is very close to my heart, and something which was very rewarding for me to give something back to.

The project has also confirmed my belief to write about what I feel strongly about in my heart, whether it be eco/cycling/mental health/heartbreak and love: written in poetry and prose. Inadvertently, in seeing this project through to the end, it has led to the added bonus of new poetry doors opening for me which I have begun to walk through, but the greatest value from the project which is of much higher value than any monetary worth has come from the deeper connections I have made with my natural environment, and with the people who have supported my project through its various and continued morphing incarnations.

Andy N:

When this is done, is this something you can see yourself doing again in the future?

Caroline Burrows Versecycle:

When I finished the final verse, I thought I was glad that it was over so that I could rest and return to other prose and poetry projects.  However, not even a full week had gone by,  and I started missing the daily practice of writing a daily verse.  Reflecting on what that practice gave me over the year, was incredibly rewarding for both my mind and soul.  As a result, despite relishing not writing for a few days, my brain has started brewing up a new idea.  It may not be for as long as a year this time, but I think @VerseCycle will be making some regular postings very, very soon.

More about Caroline can be found at: (youtube)

VerseCycle (twitter)

VerseCycle (facebook)

Andy N is the author of four full length poetry collections - the most recent being the Streets were all we could see. He is also the host / creator of 'Spoken Label' - a author / writer chat series as well as Podcast series such as Reading in Bed, Comics Unity, Wrestle-Up and the Koll, Andy N and Amanda show. He also ambient music under the name of Ocean in a Bottle. His official blog is Occasionally he does sleep.