- Text by Alex King
Suli Breaks is freezing. Being battered by the wind and rain, the poet, writer and spoken word artist ducks under a gate into a grassy field, deep within the RSPB Fowlmere nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. Pushing forth through the greenery and less-than-ideal weather, Suli eventually finds a magical spot to perform: a tiny clearing surrounded by an ancient forest structure – a nest-like mass of winding tree branches. Waiting for breaks in the weather to record each take, he and the team are getting cold. But there’s no chance of leaving until every bar has been laid down perfectly. For Suli, this is a lesson in appreciation – of nature, of humanity and of life.
Those fortunate enough to have heard Suli Breaks perform know he’s an expressive wordsmith, who never shies away from stinging political critique or deep personal introspection. Today, he’s delivering a piece he wrote that challenges the ignorance that pervades the way many of us approach our relationship with nature. Suli has been collaborating with sound artist Rob Taliesin Owen to record found natural sounds to turn into a beat to lay his verses over. Suli’s passionate call to action is his contribution to the Odes to Nature series, a collaboration between Huck and On the Edge, a non-profit group of storytellers and scientists who use the arts to help reconnect people with nature.
“I think a lot of the ignorance, as it pertains to our relationship with nature, comes from the sense that there's no connective tissue that we experience consistently,” Suli reflects. “In our day-to-day, we're so industrialised, particularly in the Western world. You get on the train, you get in your car and you're looking down at your phone. You hear the birds chirping but you've got your headphones on. You're barely getting time to look up at the sky. We don't get those reminders, those general triggers that keep us in tune with [nature]. So then it becomes an afterthought.”
Suli has built a thriving career with thought-provoking takes that often challenge established thinking or prompt people to move out of their comfort zones. Suli launched himself into the popular consciousness with his performance of "Why I Hate School but Love Education" which went viral in 2012 and clocked up over 10 million views. More recently, Suli delivers talks and spoken word performances that explore artistic inspiration or challenge creatives to be more entrepreneurial.
This afternoon, Suli is gritting his teeth against the cold and rain to deliver a performance that urges us to shake off our complacency towards the natural world and recognise how much we depend upon it. “I think we generally don't appreciate things until we know how it impacts our day-to-day life, particularly when it comes to nature,” Suli explains. “For example, people are told to recycle but they can never really see the intrinsic link between putting something in the recycling bin and your livelihood. Writing this piece, I wanted to draw out those correlations between one thing and another, to make people’s relationship to nature explicit, to give people that personal connection.”
Suli’s piece playfully calls us to connect what we consume with where it comes from – nature:
“Do you ever think about the farm where you grew your lunch?
And what’s salary? What’s currency,
But a fistful of trees that we withdraw from the cash machine monthly?”
Suli is happy to encourage people to push beyond the desire for easy comfort and convenience; parking themselves in front of Netflix, for example. So it’s fitting that, despite the beautiful setting, the weather makes his shoot a challenge. Struggling for his art, Suli proves he’s a man of action, not just words. “About the location and the performance that… all I can say is that it was cold,” Suli reflects. “It was a very meditative setting. I would love to film some more stuff there, just from a creative and cinematic perspective. But I like that when we’re filming and it starts raining, we all had to find a way to make things happen regardless, because nature is spontaneous and unpredictable.”
Suli argues that our relationship with nature is like any kind of relationship: over time, taking things for granted and without putting in some work, that relationship breaks down. Sometimes, you just have to push through a rainstorm and carry on – the effort will be rewarded handsomely. Suli has found his own way to stay connected, grounded and fuel his creative process. “I'm big into meditation, mindfulness and being aware,” Suli explains. “So I go for long walks often and it helps me clear out my thoughts.”
He believes that everyone has to work to find their own connection with nature and keep putting in the work to maintain it – otherwise the consequences for the planet and for ourselves are dire. “The process of going out to nature, actively appreciating what you have around you, like the food we eat, and experiencing that natural connection is really important.” Suli reflects. “I feel like the more we disconnect from [nature], the harder it is to feel human, for lack of a better word.”
Find out more about how On the Edge are using art and storytelling to help us reconnect with nature.
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