Pens of the Earth: Southsea but Plastic-free

Image courtesy of Pens of the Earth.

by Alison Habens

When the archaeologists of the future find
the layers of flip-flop yoghurt pots our people left behind
will they wonder what we wanted, how we got it, who we knew
suntan bottle, ice cream tub, tin of Irn Bru

When a space age Time Team get down to the seam
of tampon applicators, Lego, tangled fishing lines
will they wonder what we wanted, how we got it, who we knew
plastic straw, bag of fossilized dog poo

When the archaeologists who care about way back
excavate those walls of disposable nappy sacks
will they wonder who we wanted, how we got them, why we knew
coffee cup lids, bubble wrap, burst balloons

Dig the trenches, reinvent this city on the beach
prize the bones out, dust each treasure off
what we wanted,
crisp packet, sandwich wrapper,
how we got it,
firework debris, Frisbee
who we knew
car tyre, sanitary towel

When the university of the present age
writes a plastic-eating enzyme on its academic page
When the students and the lecturers clock out of classes
To protest on the Guildhall steps, strike at the heart of
single-use mindlessness, throw-away thoughtlessness
When we act like anti-archaeologists
leaving no trace of the past
Portsmouth’s future not based on washed-up nurdles but our noddles
cleaning our own waste off the shingle,
our own BBQ off the common

Southsea but plastic-free
pumped with what we wanted, pleased with how we got it, proud of who we knew


(With many thanks to Eileen Phyall, Sue Shipp, Claire Seek and SC for the rubbish)

Alison’s inspiration: ‘The poem was inspired by the Pens of the Earth project, our discussions at the launch, and the subsequent collaboration between local environmental activists and creative practitioners. It allowed me to channel personal instincts into a more direct and active statement of my position and intent, particularly around the issue of plastic pollution.’


Pens of the Earth is about environmental tales from a positive Portsmouth – encouraging writers to celebrate existing environmental initiatives, and to imagine what might be.

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