In my exploration of different ways of writing about our relationship with the environment, I embarked on a search for poems about rivers. First and foremost, my interest was in poems describing New Zealand rivers, but then I stumbled across a poem by English poet Roy Fisher. Entitled “Birmingham River”, it is the story of the rivers (the River Tame and the River Rea) that run through the highly industrialised city of Birmingham.
This poem is an environmental history. It is the powerful and sad story of rivers that have been taken from the people who were connected with them, abused, exploited, and forgotten. (A story repeated in many parts of the world.)
I have only copied a short extract here as I am sure I am not supposed to reproduce in full due to copyright reasons, but would highly recommend a visit to the Poetry Archive to read the poem. There is also audio of the poet reading it. I also found fascinating insights into these rivers on The River Management Blog
At Birmingham, the River Tame (the river that “mothered the Black Country but all but vanished beneath it”) merges with the River Rea:
… a slow, petty river with no memory of an ancient
name; a river called Rea, meaning river,
and misspelt at that. Before they merge
they’re both steered straight, in channels
that force them clear of the gasworks. And the Tame
gets marched out of town in the policed calm
than hangs under the long legs of the M6.
These living rivers turgidly watered the fields, gave
drink; drove low-powered mills, shoved
the Soho Works into motion, collected waste
and foul waters….