We are delighted to announce the Environmental Poet of the Year, 2023-2024
with her portfolio A Thousand Miles from the Sea
Prize: a pamphlet to launch at the British Library during the annual Michael Marks Awards Night on Wedsnesday December 13th, a residential trip to Greece in association with the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, £1,000, and further activities arranged in collaboration with Wordsworth Grasmere and the Awards’ other partners in 2023 and 2024.
“All three of us thought A Thousand Miles From The Sea a rare and remarkable collection of poems which shows a great capacity for empathy and an impressive command of form. These are tightly-controlled pieces which examine every aspect of whaling, from the human perspective and in the voice of the whale. It is a wholly original pamphlet, packed with brilliant images, visceral and raw, tender and heartfelt. Weather doesn’t just act upon land, it ‘gobbles colour from the walls’. A whale is ‘the colour of ages’. It is impossible to read these poems and not be moved by them.
Both when we were reading individually and during our discussions, we kept returning to this portfolio. We were drawn to its powerful focus on a single subject, which is brought to life through the poet’s use of precise details, their compassion, variety of approach and the obviously extensive research that has gone into this portfolio. We all learnt from these poems, regardless of our previous level of knowledge of the topic, and this aspect too came out in our discussions. We questioned whether the title Environmental Poet of the Year ought to be given based on a collection of poems that focus on just one subject; we decided that absolutely, poetry that has the capacity to haunt each of us, and even to bring us to tears, has the impact that this prize is all about. Importantly, this portfolio carries a message not only of our destructive human behaviours and effects upon the planet, but also of hope. We can change. A Thousand Years from the Sea is remarkable, beautiful, and we can only urge you to read it”.
A note from judge John Aitchison
“I found this portfolio of poems both ambitious and deeply moving.
I have filmed wildlife for television where these poems are set, far away in the whaling grounds of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic. I cried at what people had done there, on the cold shores of the whaling stations at Stromness and Grytviken.
The destruction of the great whales marks one of the lowest points in our relationship with nature. These poems capture the awful ingenuity of our species, inventing ever more powerful tools until we could hunt and dismember the largest animals that have ever lived. The poems bring home the awful banality of their reduction into food for wartime and Lent, into candles and oil to light streets and churches, into soap and margarine.
The poet understands that different priorities drove our behaviour then, and that priorities and people can change; ‘Ah am gone on the Husvik boat’ recognises that whaling was seen as a worthy adventure, and that many men needed the work, but that some changed their minds when they experienced the dreadful reality of slaughtering such great beings.
We must now change how we behave towards all of nature, but dwelling only on the worst that our species has done is not enough to achieve this change; we also need hope and for that we must believe we have agency.
After years of campaigning, the Leith Harbour whaling station on South Georgia was closed in the year I was born. Almost every country has renounced the hunting of whales and their numbers are slowly recovering, but whale oil was replaced by cheap, abundant fossils fuels which have seeped into every corner of our lives. Burning coal, oil and gas is changing the climate and the oceans, driving the great whales back towards extinction, along with so much else.
Now we must bring all our ingenuity to this newest and largest challenge. We must find the same hope and agency that brought an end to the killing of whales. Poetry like A Thousand Miles from the Sea can help us learn from our mistakes. It can help us change”.
‘A Thousand Miles from the Sea’ will launch at the annual Michael Marks Awards Night at the British Library on Wednesday 13th December. Jane Burn will read from the pamphlet, in person at the British Library, and it will go on sale on the night.
An online broadcast will also be available. Please sign up for our newsletter, or follow our social media for updates.