The Michael Marks
Environmental Poet of the Year prize
When we announced this new prize, we said:
With this prize, we would like to highlight that the work of poets writing during the climate crisis is of importance… Whether a poet lives in an urban or rural area, they may write about the effects that people—either individuals, or humans as a species—are having upon their environment. On the other hand, they may instead write about the effects that the changing environment is having upon those people… The judges will look for poetry that creates insights into the environment and the place of the human within it. They hope to find poetry that a broad readership could enjoy.’
Although there is only one overall winner, the judges keenly felt that four further portfolios, out of the 232 entered, deserved recognition and should be commended. During the final judging meeting, these portfolios, alongside that of the winner, formed a focus for the discussions.
The judges said…
“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), some through particular rhyme schemes. Others 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.”
Judges’ comments on Commended portfolios
Who Killed the Carolina Parakeet
by Dilys Rose
There are six poems in Who Killed the Carolina Parakeet, of which the longest is the title poem which recounts the extinction of a parrot that lived in the USA whilst recalling the nursery rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin. In Cock Robin, the miscreants and mourners are all animal species but here they are human actors, all taking a share of the responsibility for the extinction and all ruing their part in this loss of a unique, and rather beautiful, species – ‘we’ll mourn our Carolina Parakeet’ as maybe we will have to mourn many other lost species in future. The last poem, ‘Wake of Vultures’, takes some of the least-loved birds but makes out the case that they are exquisitely adapted to their niche of carrion clearers but notes that even the ‘acid bath’ of the vulture gut won’t protect them from the pesticides and lead that we have added to their environment, and questions how we will cope without them (and other species?).
Not Suitable for Motors
by Kate Bingham
Not Suitable for Motors consists of varied poems which range from the falling into disrepair of a lane to a traffic-blocking protest in central London, and from thoughts inspired by an environmental lecture to one of weather – or is it climate? The lane that once was maintained but now is not suitable for motors sends a message to us all of change and the road sign seems to spell out a warning much deeper than simply the state of a country lane. One of the poems, titled ‘Poem Recycled from Notes on a Lecture by Naomi Klein’, explores why we don’t act more decisively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contains many memorable lines such as ‘science states we face an unsafe future, though we seem to be OK, which makes it hard to change the way we think’ and ‘IPCC forecasts, less OK each year, don’t slow global demand for power’.
A Greener Song
by Simon Fletcher
A Greener Song squarely addresses the broad subject of climate change and the human role in it, but does so through narrowly focused topics and with accurate details about the environment. Poetic form plays an important role in this work, with many of the poems rhyming. There is a central theme that we have the choice to determine the values by which we live: that our actions towards the environment are constantly setting the stakes for our own existence. A combination of honesty and uncertainty at times emerges: ‘I’m not sure what’s on the cards / it’s raining, dull, I need to think’. The final, title poem ‘A Greener Song’ offers hope, expressing the power of familial love and the will to persevere. There are nuances of light and darkness, good and evil, a motive of greyness contrasted with a ‘brighter greener page’.
by Megan Jenkins
Environmental Musings impressed the judges for the orchestrated rhythms, rhymes and vivid but direct imagery within in the poems. This is accessible, instantly understandable poetry, yet it manages to convey deeply serious messages about the environment. A ‘Diesel guzzling superstar’ sits close to ‘Hashtag ‘plant-based diet’’. There is a deep understanding of nature in these poems, with accurate observations of the effects of the climate change on nature. This poet knows well that ‘The flames took all the nesting chicks, / The woodcock, quail and grouse’. We found these poems particularly successful in challenging often-contradictory human behaviours that continue to drive climate change. It is a portfolio of exciting, fierce but polished poetry, which universally appealed to the judges.