Friday, December 01, 2017

Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)

Cladonia rangiferina

[Image source: . Photo by Konrad Wothe.]

This species is called grålav ("grey lichen") in Swedish, but more commonly known as renlav ("reindeer lichen"), though the latter is a collective term that also covers some other slightly less ubiquitous Cladonia species. It's the winter food of reindeer, who hoof it out from beneath deep snow in the boreal forests.

In the days before sealed double glazing, northern Swedes used to place a layer of grålav in the gap between the inner and outer panes to keep it condensation-free through the winter. (

A post to mark the publication, yesterday, of Drew Milne's In Darkest Capital: Collected Poems  (Carcanet). I have always had a strong aversion to Collecteds in paper format, as being too bulky for the high-intensity portable immersion that I feel poetry requires, but in Kindle format they suddenly make a bit more sense. Drew thus becomes the second person, alongside Sir Walter Scott, whose collecteds are on my smartphone. Turns out they're both Dunediners.  

In other respects it's possible to tell the difference. There has never been the slightest mystery what Drew's poems are about: his radically disenchanted Cambridge Marxist punky perspective on the corrosive destructiveness of the capital-driven world. In Drew's case there's also a strongly ecological side to all this, none too optimistic, and his interest in lichens fits in round about here. (That's about as infantile a way of putting it as I can come up with right now.)

For now let's do the predictably obvious, and instead of delving into the earlier work  (I'm keen to re-encounter "Foul Papers" and "the Trojan light", among others) head straight to the very end of the book and the newish sequence Lichens for Marxists. (The volume of published poetry about lichens has just risen sharply.) 


some for trophies some to flag
in canvas imperial some to lie
blinded by prospects of relics
scarce quick to a lichen trail
subsisting through the poo-jok
welcome to anthropogenic gases
our polluting breath one cloud
after another sung oft & aloft
tracers to cap data in cuilkuq
and beyond this arctic haze by
any other misnomer would smell
as rank in source signature of
Eurasian air the name spelling
car lungs into the troposphere
and albedo as the polar scalps
warm to softly falling sulphur
& carbons settling on cladonia
rangiferina misnamed cryptogam
or reindeer ...

..wilds spent to a chemical sink
the sheet like flows so turbid
so given over to written scree

I chopped a little bit out, just so it doesn't feel like I'm completely undercutting yesterday's publication. 


Arctic haze is the phenomenon of a visible reddish-brown springtime haze in the atmosphere at high latitudes in the Arctic due to anthropogenic air pollution. A major distinguishing factor of Arctic haze is the ability of its chemical ingredients to persist in the atmosphere for an extended period of time compared to other pollutants. ...  Arctic haze was first noticed in 1750 when the Industrial Revolution began. Explorers and whalers could not figure out where the foggy layer was coming from. "Poo-jok" was the term the Inuit used for it. [Source:]

Above, the illustration that accompanied the first publication of the poem, which was here:
(The pamphlet tied in with an event at the Polar Museum (Scott Polar Research Institute) in Cambridge in 2014-2015.)

For more on the lichen poems, see this commentary by Stephen Collis:

I was struck by Stephen's structural analogy :

"The poem is “beautiful,” I think, the way lichen might be said to be beautiful: it reveals startling pattern, a turbid interweaving over a surface (the solid substrate here being climate science — “anthropogenic gases,” “poo-jok” ....) ..."

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