Words, when written with conviction that comes from experience, have the power to inspire – no matter how grave the truth they convey. A book written by a VCUarts Qatar faculty member does that.
‘Facing Aridity’ is a collection of poems on the effects of climate change written by Diana Woodcock, an Associate Professor of English in the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences at VCUarts Qatar The book, a finalist for the 2020 Prism Prize for Climate Literature, was officially released by Homebound Publications/Wayfarer Books on September 21, 2021.
The poems stem from Woodcock’s personal experiences, specifically her research expeditions and artist residencies in Alaska, the Arctic Circle, the Everglades in the US, and southern Africa and by seventeen years spent living in the Arabian Peninsula. In her book, Woodcock zooms in closely on the negative effects of human activity on the planet before stepping back to admire the perfection that is Mother Nature, and ponder new paths forward to a more hopeful future.
The faculty member who has been teaching composition, creative writing, and environmental literature at VCUarts Qatar since 2004, explains how poetry can, at times, help readers relate to a scenario, better than prose.
“I found myself so often troubled by news reports and stories highlighting the latest climate or environmental crisis that I finally had to turn to writing as my way to cope with the anxiety,” Woodcock says. “Some people turn to yoga or meditation; I turn to the act of creating poetry.”
And she further explains, “I feel that poetry cuts right to the heart of the matter, and by doing so helps the reader relate on a more emotional and spiritual level. Poetry can help to humanize the issue and inspire hope and action because it has a way of personalizing the effects of climate change on both the individual and on society as a whole. Poetry reminds us of our shared humanity.”
In addition to her expeditions, she’s worked as a counselor with delinquent youth, and spend nearly eight years living in Tibet, Macau, and on the Thai-Cambodian border teaching and working with refugees.
Woodcock’s love for the natural world is evident in the thesis she submitted for her Ph.D from Lancaster University; it focused on the role of poetry in the search for an environmental ethic. And in Qatar, she continues to maintain the tempo of literary activism.
In anticipation of, and inspired by, the opening of Qatar’s UNESCO-sponsored Qur’anic Botanic Garden (QBG), Woodcock worked on a poetry manuscript that features the ecology and flora of Qatar, which is in the throes of a major environmental calamity. The purpose of her book is closely linked to the aim of QBG, which is to maintain a living collection of Qatar’s 270-plus indigenous plants and to showcase the 52 mentioned more than once in the Qur’an for scientific and educational purposes.
Woodcock hopes her work – which is funded through a Virginia Commonwealth University Presidential Research Quest Fund Award – will contribute to a greater appreciation of and commitment to protecting the unique environment of the Arabian Peninsula. Additionally, the VCUarts Qatar faculty member became a regular attendee at QBG meetings, often encouraging her students to visit QBG and familiarize themselves with its mission.
The VCUarts Qatar faculty member’s literary activism has garnered several recognitions, worldwide. She has been the winner of the Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize for Women, Raw Art Review Poet-in-Residence contest, Poetry Society of Virginia, the Daniel Varoujan Award, and the Creekwalker Prize for Poetry. Woodcock’s works have also made it to the final lists of the Sexton Prize for Poetry, Paraclete Poetry Prize, and the Richard Snyder Publication Prize, to name but a few.