We are delighted to announce the winner of the Michael Marks Environmental Poet of the Year prize, 2022-2023
Linda France, with her portfolio Letters to Katłįà
Prize: a pamphlet to launch at the British Library during the annual Michael Marks Awards Event, £1,000, and further activities arranged in collaboration with Wordsworth Grasmere and the Awards’ other partners in 2023.
Reading over 200 portfolios was both an exciting and a daunting prospect, and one which enabled us to encounter a huge range of approaches to conveying in verse one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change, how it is affecting each of us, and what to do about it. Some poets examined their concerns in form (haibun, sonnet, sestina), others through particular rhyme schemes. Other used prose poetry, performance poems, narrative poetry or the lyric. Several poets made reference to John Clare and David Attenborough. Yet more examined the declining swift population or the plight of polar bears and pangolins.
The poets who reached the longlist, and then the shortlist, were those best able to convey their ideas and views through deft use of line breaks and unique imagery. These were narratives spoken by a convincing set of voices which conveyed an urgency in well-crafted lines. For these reasons, they were the poems that most stayed with us.
At the outset, we were unsure of what to expect in judging this new prize. After much reading and two judging meetings, all of the judges were not only impressed by the powerful response of poets to this crucial subject, we were also left with lasting personal impressions that have made us all think hard. That is what poetry can do.
What distinguished the winning portfolio, Letters to Katlia was the poise and authority with which its author engaged with the impacts of climate change not only on the speaker but on all those with whom the speaker is connected. Although writing to an addressee in Canada, the poet is firmly rooted in the territory of their own garden, which over the course of several months becomes the locus for the observation of the consequences of storms and heatwaves. This results in a sense of companionship with the smallest of creatures, spiders sharing in what the poet endearingly refers to as ‘spiderwork’. When the speaker holds up a Christmas bauble in the shape of a miniature globe, a series of reflections unfold that take the reader out of their immediate environment to step into a broader canvas. Although there are heart-breaking moments in the letters, including the speaker’s sons’ decision not to have children for fear of the kind of world they might grow up in, the portfolio is riven with moments of wonder, and ends with the hope that small scale actions and interventions can combine to create significant steps forward.
Letters to Katłįà will be on sale for the first time at the annual Michael Marks awards event a the British Library: Friday 9th December, 6:30pm for a 7:15pm start. Further copies can be bought after this from the British Library and Wordsworth Grasmere.
Linda France will read from her winning pamphlet at the event
Tickets for the in-person event are free but must be booked through Eventbrite.
An online broadcast will also be available. Please check here for details about this in the coming days, sign up for our newsletter, or follow our social media for updates.