Friday, 6.15 pm, at the Resurgence 50th anniversary gathering at Worcester College, Oxford. A genial audience gathers in the café-bookshop – after a full day steeped in interconnectedness and transactional values – to hear their Poet-in-Residence. Me. We are stirred and shaken, tired but touched by wonder and mystery.

The green and the good have spoken to us. Chris Smith, former chair of the Environment Agency, has read us Wordsworth. Jonathon Porritt has urged us to connect to place, and has spoken of apocalyptic optimism and the biotic community. At the behest of Vandana Shiva we’ve looked beyond symptoms to processes and causes. We’ve asked ourselves what constitutes true wealth.

We’ve learnt from Satish Kumar that beneath our feet each and every earthworm shifts about six tons of soil per week. Tim Smit from the Eden Project has amazed us with the tale of two fields in Dorking, reportedly the only two on the British Isles as yet untouched by plough or pesticide. They have mycorrhizal networks to die for, and their pristine untarnished microbial structure is different from, richer than, that of other fields. It is – wait for it – the same as ours.

We are, says Tim, genuine earthlings.

Tim has also spoken to us of the power of the hive in identifying undiscovered galaxies in the Galaxy Zoo, and the pioneering scientist Bruce Lipton has alerted us to epigenetics and evolution: we are moving inexorably towards a shared identity as Humanity.

After my first few poems I remind everyone of this. I need to call on the hive mind. I’ve promised as Poet-in-Residence to create an of-the-moment crowd-sourced poem to reflect the One Earth, One Humanity, One Future theme of the event. So I put it to everyone that we (they) write a poem. They don’t seem overly enthusiastic, but nor do they leave.

I ask for thematic suggestions, explaining that abstract nouns need not apply – it must be something we can either put in a jiffy bag, rest a wheelbarrow on or poke with a yellow stick. I’m pretty strict.

The final shortlist: Nut, Seed, Soil, Earthling and Fungi. The hive must choose – via decibel democracy – and their loudest cheer is clear and unequivocal. It is for Soil. I salute the wisdom of the crowd and read them my Slug poem in celebration.

Over the next 24 hours ‘Soil’ lines accumulate in the wicker basket on the Network of Wellbeing stall. On Sunday morning I lay them on a table. Is it just me, or does that read rather well? I trust myself, I trust the hive mind and the chance fall of lines, and tape it together as it lies – thereby breaking the one rule for a crowd-sourced poem: the poem should not, when fully extended, be longer than the poet reading it.

(for all)


(more than) Mulch Ado About Nothing

Where would we be without soil?
Realm of roots and mycorrhiza, dark world of interaction
Realm of roots twisting and turning in the dark, reaching out
The soil is alive
The birth of life
Unfold your mystery, multiple one!
Sand, clay, loam, peat, scrumptious soil
Humus, crumbly, dark and friable
For your caring and sharing and nurture we toil
Last night I slept soundly on the question (thank goodness for permaculture) – and now know where the answer lies
Soil fresh and warm
Soil! I return to you the food I’ve eaten
Soil full of treats, of myriad eats
Crumbly, smeary, muddy, rotting
Dark brown harbourer of mushrooms’ rotting intelligence
A stench of wholesome earth
Oh Earthling, be kind and grab your time and plant it in the soil
Rich, dark, velvet, mysterious
We, being Earthlings, need soil not oil; worms not firms; sentient beings, not has-beens!
Mycorrhizal earthlinks – soil’s soul
Water, sun, soil and toil – not oil
Houmus, hummus, great for sum-of-us, sew, grow, reap, mow, can’t get you out from under my nails
Squidgy clods, soggy, boggy
Wondrous in your fertile grubbiness
Dirt, sod, disgusting, mud on the carpet, I love it, my soul, my soul, my life
Leaves to coal to heat
Soil can be full of shit – or else divine fertiliser
I think soil is brown and crumbly but I bet if I dig deeper it is also orange and dusty
Sticky ochre, I like it
Hands feel great when immersed in soil
…so do minds
I dig in my digits and scrabble them around: Yum!
A particle fell to earth and became soiled
Moonlight and tides slip over soil
Soil is gritty and grainy, dirty and stainy
Sifting through my fingers
Soil – I’d never call you dirt as I think that this might hurt
your feelings
Dear USA Cousins I really hurt
when you refer to soil as dirt
Detritivore haven
With mycorrhizal views
Supporting fungal interference through the real world wide web
Upholding me as step by step I tread
Don’t go and soil yourself now, soil!
The white men of the 1% looked down from a great height
and didn’t see the soil, but rather roads, runways, offices & electric light…
For all your toil don’t spoil the soil
Adjust your sets for heaven’s sake – microbes calling – mycorrhizals dancing – take off your eye masks – what a treat would come your way
Don’t spoil the soil. You’ll foil the toil
of all who shuffle round this mortal coil
Please, please, NEVER BOIL
Because soil, after all, is under all of us
Quiet, dark, still, full of teeming life
Soil let’s not spoil
All that you are
Loads of living bits
All from a star
Soil not oil
Esso I’ll be pleased if you leave Earth’s oil under the soil
The Earth is our Mother – we must love and protect her back
Thank you for recycling me; I will rest in peace
Earthlings toil the soil – why?
The soil improves with toil
Toil on the soil or the whole Earth will spoil
Last week this worm shifted 6 tons of soil.
No biggie. You’re welcome.
Individual granules thirsty to become one worm-churned, trickle-quenched slime
Thanks for every potato, raspberry & plum & for my soft bed yet to come
The yews
inform us with prehistoric news
Gratitude to soil which protects life from harm
Earth – our sunlight island embracing all
Soil of the sun and stars, where will you be?
Clean it from under your nails and off vegetable skin,
But keep it clean from poisons for the planet to win
May there be no impediment
To the enrichment of your sediment
Let me lie in the soil – soft, warm, dark and sexy
Soil you taste so good

Matt Harvey’s most recent book of poetry is The Element in the Room.