21 November 2019 10:32
The poet laureate's new prize for a collection that focuses on the environment highlights a crisis that can no longer be ignored, plus an exclusive new poem Poet laureate Simon Armitage is to use his laureate's honorarium to create a new poetry prize for environmentally themed poetry, describing the climate crisis as a "background hum that won't go away" when he is writing. The Laurel prize, which will be run by Poetry School, will go to the best collection of poems "with nature and the environment at their heart", with the aim of highlighting "the challenges facing our planet". The first prize, which will be awarded on 23 May 2020 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, will be judged by Armitage, nature writer Robert Macfarlane and the poet Moniza Alvi. "It's come about because of the obvious environmental concerns, and in recognition of this growing body of work in poetry addressing climate change and the climate crisis, sometimes directly and sometimes more indirectly," says Armitage. He points to the boom in non-fiction nature writing, by authors such as Macfarlane and Tim Dee, but says a similar flourishing has "slightly gone unheralded in poetry", despite the work of Alice Oswald, Paul Farley, Kathleen Jamie, John Burnside, Pascale Petit and others.
"I'm not saying that everything they write is pointing in that direction, but it's a strong element to their work," says Armitage. "And you can't write poems about the natural world now unless it's in an environmental context. "Ted Hughes was often seen as being unfashionable for his nature writing and it was something he doggedly persevered with, to the point where he was a campaigner as well at low levels. It's interesting to me that poetry has been able to swing back in the direction of nature; it didn't fit in with a lot of the psychologies of the 60s and 70s and 80s, it wasn't metropolitan, and maybe attached itself to the Romantics – Wordworth and Coleridge and particularly John Clare. The Laurel will come with a first prize of £5,000, a second prize of £2,000 and a third prize of £1,000, and will run for "at least" the decade that Armitage is laureate, says Poetry School, which also organises the Ginkgo prize for the best single ecopoem.
"I've always written poems about the area where I live, and my interests in things like the Antarctic and the Arctic and geography generally, all those subject matters are shaded now by the environmental situation," he says. Simon Armitage is to use his Poet Laureate payments to fund a new "eco-poetry" prize for works that address climate change. The Laurel Prize will be awarded annually for the best collection of environmental or nature poetry. Armitage will support it with the £5,000 honorarium he receives annually from the Queen as Poet Laureate. "When Hughes was being described as a nature writer in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, it was seen as a fairly unfashionable subject. "It's really impossible these days to be a nature writer without that background of climate change." The prize will be run by Poetry School.