On judging the Environmental Poet of the Year prize
This initiative is a timely one and it’s going to be fascinating to see how poets will choose to engage with the environment and climate crisis. Poetry is a gift of a medium for sifting through a subject and bringing the crucial points to the fore in language that crystallizes what is at stake. And when this is done musically readers or listeners are more likely to remember the key points.
I’m looking forward to seeing work by writers who care about their environment, care about the impact of the climate crisis on their family, on their local community or on a particular country. Be it on a large scale or a small scale, experienced or observed, my wish would be that the poems will give me a sense of hope, even if they are describing heart breaking impacts along the way. It may be that poets would like to show what can be done to increase biodiversity in a three foot square patch of land (their own or across the road), perhaps by looking at the changes in that little patch over a period of years or maybe just one summer; or writers may like to follow the trajectory of a particular species as it navigates its way through the changing landscape and weather; or to outline the tragic consequences for those people and animals whose lives are severely impacted by rising sea levels or crop failure. Maybe there are certain challenges to re-wilding an area that will endear the experience to readers in such a way they will want to have a go themselves.
The properties of the poem (lyric, line breaks, stanzas, images) lend themselves to allowing the portrait painted to stay in the mind long after being read. I’m expecting to both laugh and cry at the journeys and encounters delineated on the page. I hope that the work of the shortlisted writers will show how poetry has the power to create a portable manifesto that looks closely at specific aspects of our environment. I’d like to think that readers will be so struck by the winning poems they will want to take action themselves, however small.