Poetry & Climate Change

2 Mont Blanc, Journey of the Private Moon in the Arctic Magdalena fjord, Leonid Tishkov 2010
Mont Blanc, Journey of the Private Moon in the Arctic Magdalena fjord, Leonid Tishkov 2010

Tell the air to hold me in the rushing heart of it
And keep its paths straight
Away from home let there be a land that
Flows with fish and flies
And let it taste like it tasted at home

from ‘The Arctic Tern’s Prayer’ by Mary-Anne Clarke, winner in the second Cape Farewell challenge

Between 2013 and 2016, The Poetry Society worked with Cape Farewell, an international not-for-profit organisation set up to instigate a cultural response to climate change. Together we created the Switch: Youth Poetics programme, which resulted in some remarkable poetry from young writers, and a number of short films.

Our Young Poets Network is central to the collaboration with Cape Farewell – click here to try out some of the poetry challenges on the YPN website if you would like to attempt your own poems relating to climate change.

In addition to our Cape Farewell partnership, we have collaborated with lots of different organisations to challenge young people to write about climate change in new ways:

Turn Up The Volume

Turn Up The Volume was a challenge with Oxfam, written by poet Harry Man. Thinking about global inequality and climate change, Harry asked young writers to pen poems of protest to aid action against climate change. Prompts included videos and photos from Oxfam, poems by Roger McGough and John Agard, as well as essential facts and figures. Get inspired by the prompts and read the winning poems here.

I am the Universe: Writing environmental catastrophe

I am the Universe was a challenge written and judged by Helen Mort in partnership with the British Romantic Writing and Environmental Catastrophe project. Young people were prompted by startling images from the archive, and poems by poets of the Romantic era. You can find the prompts to inspire your own writing here. The winners were stunning and read at a conference at the University of Leeds in 2017. Read the anthology of winning poems here, and below, including a commissioned poem on climate change by Helen Mort called ‘The Library of Ice’.

Melting Ice

Melting Ice challenged young poets to write in response to the changing faces of our polar regions. It was developed in partnership with the National Maritime Museum, where we also ran a free poetry inspiration day with poets Rachel Long and Mario Petrucci in 2017. Visit the challenge page to take full advantage of its prompts! The winning poets come from the whole range of YPN entrants – from a New Zealand-based 7-year-old’s heart-breaking tale of a ‘girl who was made of bricks’, to 23-year-old Zainab Ismail’s interrogation of choice and destiny. Read the anthology of winning poems here, and below.