Partners in poetry: Huck Magazine and On the Edge

We’ve got a lot in common with Huck Magazine. It’s one of the reasons we chose to work with them on Odes to Nature, a novel word-and-sound project involving three highly successful spoken word and folk music artists. On the Edge’s Sarah Bewick chatted with TCO’s (the publisher of Huck) Lab & Sustainability Director, Chloe Dyson, about our first nature content partnership, the environment, and the creative process of making Odes.

fuzzy seed on a tree

SB: What was different about collaborating with On the Edge?

CD: It was a dream brief for us and a real joy to have that opportunity where you're approached by a collaborator. I think we responded to the brief in just the way On the Edge hoped. On the Edge came to us because of our track record, what we do with our magazines, how we show up in the world, the kinds of voices we platform, our creativity and aesthetic. But equally, our journalistic approach, and the authenticity that comes with that.

SB: Who chose Suli Breaks, Amani Saeed, and Sam Lee?

CD: It was a collaborative effort. Through our network we looked for the best talent. We wanted to find people who weren't necessarily your usual suspects when it comes to nature. We wanted to have the voice of nature from people who are deep in it and others who are further away, and a spread of diversity, gender, and different creative styles. Sam is most closely connected, but that doesn't mean that his remit isn't as big in terms of bringing new people into the outdoors and helping people experience it in new ways. With the other artists, they are fantastic poets, and we gave them the brief and then [waited to] see what came back. It’s important to emphasise that we gave the artists full creative licence. What they wrote is what they've performed.

Suli Breaks performing spoken word poetry live in nature
Huck x OTE | Featuring

Suli Breaks

Suli Breaks

Suli Breaks

01 / 03
Armani Saeed performing spoken word poetry live
Huck x OTE | Featuring

Amani Saeed

Amani Saeed

Amani Saeed

02 / 03
A UK wetlands filled with autumnal reeds
Huck x OTE | Featuring

Sam Lee

Sam Lee

Sam Lee

03 / 03

SB: Suli and Amani's pieces are original, but Sam sings an old song. Does that make it easier for him?

CD: Sam Lee is a song collector, and he is reigniting long-held traditions of storytelling and song that carry through our connection to the land. Every one of these songs, when he performs it, is his rendition. So, it is an original performance, he’s the one who is giving new life to these old songs. And let's be honest, all of us take inspiration from all sorts of things. Often we’ll be influenced by words that we hear in a book or on the radio or through conversation. That's the art of being creative.

SB: Can you talk about the look and performance of the Odes?

CD: We've been inspired to bring a Wes Anderson aesthetic to nature. To completely shift how you’re experiencing it and give that symmetrical, but slightly surreal, quirky feel to smaller details. We worked with them [Suli, Amani, and Sam] on the performance aspects and the beat – that sits as the ‘bed’ underneath each of the tracks because that's how we were bringing the more unique aesthetic and sound to the final pieces – to elevate the words and take them into that real nature ‘studio’.

SB: Suli’s piece is powerful, his dissection of our modern lives. Which of the performances speak to you?

CD: Direct, isn’t it? You know what? Amani's piece speaks to me just as much. They each do, in their own ways. Amani for her vulnerability and honesty and I feel like there's a fierceness, but also an acknowledgement of being afraid. Not knowing. I'm very drawn to that. And she also speaks to a lot of depth and connections through her family history. There are so many layers in that performance. I think also what is so important is that […] it's their words. Each of them will speak to different communities in different ways. And depending on who you are, you'll be drawn to different aspects in each of the performances. That's the strength of the series. I hope people will watch all three to really get that because Sam provides a spaciousness and a respite that so many of us are seeking.

SB: Why do people get so passionate about the environment?

CD: It depends on who you're talking to and what bits of the environment you're talking about. The thing is, we are all part of nature. We've just lost our way and for some reason we think that we're separate from it, much to our despair because we've got quite lost and lonely as a species. That's why we're in this massive existential crisis. So, for us to start to see the more-than-human world as equal, for the value that it brings – for our health, for our breath, for our mental health, for living prosperity, for the future, for imagination, for innovation, for technology. If we could look to nature for inspiration in every aspect of life, I think that it would change everything - the way we felt, worked, and lived.

SB: Can you describe the work you did on sound and visuals?

CD: The team went above and beyond because the sound was a huge part, which also came through visually in each of the pieces. There was a constant conversation between Hendrick (director), Rob Owen (sound) and Dave Silva (editor) and batting back and forth, and it was a different way of working. We were composing a track at the same time as producing a film! We had to break free of a more linear process where you would get to picture lock and then do sound later. The sound was as important a part of the storytelling. The partnership between the editor and the sound engineer was really important. […] You know, the creative process, it’s constantly evolving. I think it's much more like nature in its evolution than the way we have organised things into structures and processes in our separate human world. It was bringing that aspect.

SB: How is the focus on nature in Odes new?

CD: The voices in their communities, who they speak to, and giving nature a voice within those communities. The brief was to talk about nature in your own way. And how can you make that relevant to the people who are inspired by you – who already follow what you make, what you do, what you say? And because what you say through spoken word is so powerful, we would love you to say something about where you’re at with nature. Maybe that is the new bit? (For Amani Saeed’s personal take on what’s new in Odes, listen to her interview with Dotty McLeod). And […] I don't think this is talked about enough, but sustainability is a cultural concept. It's about the interplay between people, nature, and the economy. The more people you include in that conversation, the wider the definition becomes. What sustainability or nature means to one person is very different to the next. I feel so passionately about this because for me, every barrier that I've faced in terms of nature reconnection and getting people to care as much about nature as they do about commercial achievement, comes down to culture. And systems change as culture changes. Because we are the system, essentially, and until we realise that, things aren't going to change. It’s just the same: we are nature. We need to speak on its behalf.

SB: Would you be open to more projects with On the Edge?

CD: Yes, we’d love to do more! There are so many ways we could evolve the series. The potential list of artists is already there. There are so many people we would love to work with. Really what we want to do through this partnership is to listen, we've done enough talking and telling and it's time we got out of the way. Give new voices the platform on behalf of nature. Who's doing the PR for nature these days? On the Edge! That is fantastic. And that's exactly the kind of thing we need to do more of. The On the Edge partnership with Huck is so powerful because On the Edge are (sic) doing for species what Huck are doing in culture. Looking at those stories on the fringes, on the edges, that we need to surface and bring back into the mainstream. That’s when we start to create the change we need to see.

Phil Young is passionate about the outdoors. The founder of The Outsiders Project talks to On the Edge about helping people of colour connect with nature.