Book Review: We Saw It All Happen // Julian Bishop

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Julian Bishop is a former TV journalist and now active poet, with his work appearing in magazines and journals. His debut eco-poetry collection We Saw It All Happen was released on the 13th of January 2023 and is certainly one to add to your reading list.

In this collection, Bishop takes us through a full course meal of poems that discuss nature, animals, environmental conditions and most importantly, climate change and the harm inflicted upon the natural world. This collection weaves through three parts: ‘Starters’, ‘Mains’ and ‘Afters’ to illuminate the dangers of our environmental destruction and what could happen if we continue to ignore it.

The collection begins with ‘For Starters’, which takes the concept of food and uses it to discuss the effects of the environment on sea creatures. The ending asks us the question, ‘were the ready meals a one-off special / or a taste of things to come?’ which leaves us with the thought of ‘what is to come’ of our climate crisis, a thought-provoking way to begin the collection.

In the preface, Bishop discusses not only how he spent seven years working on We Saw It All Happen, when ‘daily headlines brought more evidence of climate change and our increasing disconnection with nature’, but also his use of the ‘I’ in his poetry. Many of his poems are in third person or the collective ‘we’, rather than using ‘I’. He explains how he has tried to offer ‘a form of poetic reportage rather than personal hand-wringing.’ This works suitably here because many of the topics he discusses are universal, on the subject of nature and the suffering of animals. Writing his poems through this lens allows Bishop to construct a powerful collection that manages to find ways to explore ‘gloomy’ subject matters in a way that is both meticulous and playful with the form and poetic voice.

‘Sulawesi Warty Pigs’ was a particular favourite from the collection. The poem is written through the perspective of one of the pigs, now extinct due to habitat destruction. Bishop uses the second person pronoun ‘you’ to direct a proposed anger to us – humans. It asks powerful questions such as:

“Maybe you saw an opportunity – after all, those squalid animals were plentiful?”

Bishop questions society from the animal’s perspective and this works beautifully to get the message across that we are selfishly destroying our animals and planet.

Another poem that uses a multitude of questions is ‘To The Man Who Poisoned 420 Eagles In A Year’ which directs the questions again to society – demanding we take responsibility for the deterioration of the natural world.

At points in the collection, Bishop fragments the language, such as in ‘Snow Leopard’, whereby he implements long spaces between words, spreading them across the page to accentuate the most affecting and crucial words in the line: ‘close up pictures        the shots           reveal firepit eyes’. ‘Off The Map’ also does this beautifully. This collection is adorned with strong emotive imagery and erupting language of beauty, sadness and trauma.

Bishop has certainly achieved his aim, to convey that ‘nature can and will fight back, if given the chance’. His poems are both powerful and poignant, formatted beautifully to captivate us with every word, leaving readers to ponder on what we can all do to create a better world. This collection shocked, enraged and saddened me. We all need to read more eco-poetry to further understand the devastating destruction of our planet. Julian Bishop’s We Saw It All Happen is the perfect collection to start with.

Words by Cara-Louise Scott

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