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. Click here to try out some of the Cape Farewell poetry challenges on the YPN website if you would like to attempt your own poems relating to climate change.

Following on from the Cape Farewell partnership, we have collaborated with lots of different organisations to challenge young people to write about climate change in new ways. In 2017, we partnered with Oxfam, the University of Leeds and the National Maritime Museum to generate a year of poetry challenges about the climate crisis. We are committed to running at least one feature or challenge on Young Poets Network every year which addresses environmental issues in some way, so sign up to our newsletter if this is something you’re interested in.

Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis: young poets at COP26

In 2021, we worked with charity People Need Nature for the fourth time on a challenge called Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis. Inspired by the COP26 UK Presidency Theme of Nature, poet Louisa Adjoa Parker challenged young people to imagine natural solutions to the climate crisis through their poetry – and think about how we can help nature, too. Several of the winning poets performed in the Green Zone at COP26 on 6 November 2021 at an event called ‘where were you / when the seas / were warming’ (after one of the commended poems). Five poets performed in person and another five from around the world performed via video, alongside schoolchildren from Damer’s First School in Poundsbury, Dorset who took part in poetry workshops with Louisa, funded by People Need Nature. You can watch the performance above.

Turn Up The Volume

Turn Up The Volume was a 2017 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 in 2017. 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 in 2017. 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.

Young Poets on Climate Change

As part of the 2019 Global Climate Strikes, we ran a series of four features, asking young poets who are also climate activists to reflect on the role of poetry in the climate movement and how to write about the crisis. SLAMbassador Matt Sowerby wrote a powerful piece on metaphors against climate catastrophe; Foyle Young Poet and Young Poets Networker Nadia Lines offered tips on writing about climate change; Foyle Young Poet Amelia Dye wrote about the power of young writers after her poem at an Extinction Rebellion protest went viral; and 11-year-old Cass Lee speaks up about how everyone has the power to make people listen.

The climate crisis and you

This challenge in partnership with the Freud Museum London in 2020 specifically asked young poets about how the climate emergency had affected their mental health. Rather than focusing on the polar ice caps or extinction of species far away, poets were challenged to look to how the crisis had impacted them. The winners performed at the Freud Museum’s digital conference: ‘The Climate Emergency: Psychological Perspectives’ on 30 May 2020 and many of their videoed recordings are available on The Poetry Society’s YouTube channel.

People Need Nature

Over the years, we have partnered with charity People Need Nature on four challenges, with poets Jen Hadfield, Gboyega Odubanjo and Louisa Adjoa Parker asking young writers to pen poems inspired by the wildlife on their doorstep, the weird and wonderful names in nature, the everyday elements of nature we take for granted, and nature solutions to the climate crisis.