|John Bolland is a writer, artist and musician. He lives the North East of Scotland. His short fiction and poetry have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. His first full poetry collection – Fallen Stock – was published by Red Squirrel in 2019. He has been a prize winner in the Fish International Short Story Competition and runner-up in the Royal Society for Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Prize.
A member of the STEM Poets group and a graduate of Glasgow University’s M.Litt., he has collaborated in residencies ranging from an Aberdeen PR agency to St. Andrew’s Universities Theology department.
Originally trained as a chemist, John has focussed exclusively on his writing and other creative projects since 2014 after a long, parallel career in the oil & gas industry. His work explores the experience of working in the extractive industries and the issues of inter-generational responsibilities that arise from this experience. He is currently finalising a new poetry collection and performance piece – Pibroch – which explores parallels between the Climate Emergency and the Piper Alpha disaster (1988) and has recently completed a novel, Threads, set in Angola, Scotland and the USA which explores themes of extractivism and neo-colonialism.
Blur Times combines film-poems created as part of my spoken-word project – Pibroch – with a series of geocouplets reflecting on the nature and experience of time.
Pibroch is a poetry collection and spoken word performance which explores parallels between the (current) Climate Emergency and the Piper Alpha disaster which occurred in the North Sea in 1988.
As a former oil & gas worker and activist with Extinction Rebellion, I was struck by the parallels and empathic disconnect between these two narratives. I perceived a mutual failure in compassion as oil and gas interests continued to pursue catastrophic projects whilst some climate activists did not seem to empathise with the experience of workers in these industries who were, in the case of Piper Alpha literally, trapped on a burning platform. We are all, currently, trapped on this burning platform – and, as in 1988, we are continuing to pump hydrocarbons into the flames.
In the course of awareness raising and activism during 2019, however, I was also aware of a parallel ‘fatalistic’ strand of responses to the Climate Emergency: a scientifically correct view that, in the long durée of geological time, this fluctuation in global atmospheric composition and, thereby, temperature was neither unprecedented nor extreme. As an oil & gas colleague once assured me (repeatedly): ‘At the end of the day, we’re all just a thin black line in a cliff.’ In responding to the Geological Society’s call for submissions, I was aware (as a trained physical scientist with a lifelong interest in geology) of these parallel truths: the urgency and vitality of life and the resilience and continuity of biophysical processes.
This seems to me to demand a critical exploration of the experience and significance of time itself – questions of both its granularity – in moments, seasons, lifetimes, generations, kalpas – and its direction. The geocouplets in Blur Times attempt to challenge the vital urgency of the film-poems with an objective relativity. Elements of contemporary quantum gravitational theory suggest that time is not a variable in the fundamental equations which describe being and theoretical physicists, such as Carlo Rovelli, have suggested, tentatively, that it is the sensitivity of ‘life’ to entropy – the driver of ‘times arrow’ – which creates the delusion of time. This physical challenge to both the anthropocentric and the geological narrative prompts, I believe, serious ethical questions about the ‘discounting’ of the value of ‘future’ experience in personal and political decision-making: for example, my life and my great-great grandchild’s life are, in a sense, co-present. Perhaps time, for us, exists because of entropic blurring. This theme, the bedrock of physical reality and the fluidity of experience remains a continuing inspiration in my work.
Publication of Pibroch by Red Squirrel Press is expected in 2021.