We are delighted to announce the winners of the 4th People Need Nature/Young Poets Network poetry challenge, set by poet Louisa Adjoa-Parker. Louisa asked young poets across the world to write about nature and the climate. This is particularly relevant as we head towards the make or break global climate conference COP26, taking place in a few weeks time in Glasgow.
The challenge “Poems to solve the climate crisis” inspired 118 poets from around the world, to submit 160 poems that tackle the impact of the climate and ecological crisis on nature and people; and how people can work with nature to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.
We are publishing the winning and highly commended poems today, and are also delighted to announce that the winning poets will be travelling (by train) to Glasgow to perform their poems as part of the COP26 conference at noon on the 6th November, as part of The Green Zone.
We will give more details of how to watch the poets perform their poems nearer the time, but if you’re going to COP26 you’ll find them in the Green Zone Tower Base North.
1st Prize An Alternative Geometry of the Universe – Maggie Wang
An Alternative Geometry of the uUniverse
In June, Ba buys cherries, and we run our fingers along the skins,
which gleam like piano keys or the moon after fog.
We eat the cherries on the back porch,
watching the maples turn the last of the sunlight over their leaves.
Above, the clouds are gathering again,
and the birds are tracing fractals along their edges.
After midnight, the wind will tessellate them across the mountains;
on the other side, they will yawn rain into the sea.
Feeling the rain, the salmon will swim upstream to spawn
as the water ices over above them.
The bears will be waiting in welcome by the bank,
past the rapids, where the current seems to still.
A few bees will have followed the bears to the water,
beating the cold in spirals from the air.
On the way, they will have passed an orchard beginning to bloom
and dipped their tongues between the petals as they flew.
In their wake, the sky will have swarmed heavy with pollen
and the scent of sugar thickening into cherries.
2nd A Positively Violent Poem in 5 parts – Jayant Kashyap
(contains strong language)
A Positively Violent Poem in 5 Parts
That day we ruined the swimming pool
everyone was a hypocrite and angry
we pulled out the tiles with bare hands and nails
our knuckles bled quietly into tattoos when
we couldn’t notice that day we planted eighty-
four trees one for everyone present there
because later the trees could oxygenate water
whereas the pipes were pvc and so the chairs and there
was no time for decomposition or conversations
that day we ruined the swimming pool we didn’t
really ruin it only when we left it wasn’t so blue anymore
a bit dry a little muddy that day we left it like nature
We then broke sinks and showers during the night
and placed flowerpots everywhere we could it was
like readying a graveyard for flowers before there were any
like there are instances when rivers part from land
and all one could do is wait and on a wall graffitied
the dead have no use for flowers but this truth is offensive
we tell them plant little flowering shrubs
in their name every once in a while the shrubs equal water
Next morning we were met by a racket of people
wanting to talk discuss having a mind to argue
swear for generations fuck! prepared to fight
kill someone saying son it doesn’t matter who –
or what – you are money is god so we threw five-pound
notes in water see if god couldn’t dissolve
And that evening we cleaned the beach
there were more people with us now than against
we noticed the beach had more plastics and whatnot
and not shells even the castles the kids built near water
weren’t pure sand anymore
sometimes the bottlecaps serve as lighthouse roofs
sometimes the straws as flag posts as catheters
On the third day we then advocated
the use of cups mugs tumblers bottles jugs
buckets tanks even larger containers
then animal lives a whale doesn’t bother about capitalism
racism but it worries about water what we do with it
when it’s not ours to have
we distributed in the midst of light disdain leaflets basically
small chits reading a head full of plastics is of no use to
3rd Prize: Mycelium Under the Canopy – Brooke Nind
Mycelium Under the Canopy
Under the canopy we planted trees and mushrooms—
the mushrooms sang, nutrients pooling
around them, humus darkening in delight.
Under the canopy the trees and mushrooms worked
in tandem, pushing water through the dirt,
Under the canopy the mushrooms bore fruit,
bore our burdens, bore everything.
Under the canopy we cut open our houses,
found mushrooms, rolled them in our palms.
Under the canopy we dug a ditch, clawed
into the earth and found mycelium, dipped
our fingers into cleansed water.
Under the canopy we cried over oil spills,
sent mushrooms to the shore to absorb
the chemical pains of the thickened waters.
Under the canopy we dreamed of mushrooms,
grown thick and fluffy like marshmallows– they latched
onto our worries, decomposing them while we slept.
Sixteen Haiku – Daniel Clark
the statues have gone back
to the other museum
at the end of the garden a pear tree alone
hair tied –
he carves his name into his tree
the last rays
a plaque on a chair in a fire
in delible ink
cops and canapés
promises in jet fumes
swimming in silence
to our non-questions
where were you
when the seas
in a bottle
beyond the trees
message in a bottle in rising seas
a hundred years
the people have gone
back to sleep
Letter to a loving husband – Irma Kiss Barath
Letter to a Loving Husband
Charles, let me tell you what I saw:
in the last leg of our journey,
rats ate the victuals. I had hoped
for stars and jewels, yet here the ship
spat back something hollow and actual.
In our hunger, we gnawed on oars
and barrel planks like teething babies.
On the seventh day, we saw a blot
creased in the distance. From closer
it became an island, of a curious
shifting beauty. Heady visions sprouted
behind our eyes and for the first time
I saw the water clinging to our ship.
Then, strange noseless animals
slapping our ship’s wooden hull,
mussels flapping their shells and birds
noising loudly on the seashore.
But Charles, if you only saw the island’s
burning eels. These toothless creatures,
plunged into a bucket, will make water
boil. Already we have plucked an elver
to heat our humble camp, to light up
the teeming blue beach. It’s true,
since arriving we have burnt nothing,
not a twig.
But the nights are new and fitful,
our hands wet guests in this land
without people. We pray:
Let sweat succeed the
seawater beating the rocks,
Let the sea stay still and low.
I lay here, my back padded in bumps
and open bites, if only to bid you:
Tonight when you lay down your head
smell this salt smell with me
think of the water clubbing itself
and drift like a sea-cleaned pebble
into sleep. Forget the unstoppable
coming silence, the clear
airless waters, free of life.
Think instead of your love
standing here wishful
with her fistful of fish.
Incantation (for a sea change) – Jamie Baty
Incantation (for a sea change)
The earth beneath my feet is speaking,
Calling to me in a language I no longer remember.
The earth that whispers at my feet,
Whose wrinkles form roots and concrete cracks and
Whose curled-up weeping spills in steady sewers of grief.
This earth beneath my garden that squeezes ever newer
Ever brighter miracles
Out through its pores,
That presses cold against my feet in early spring,
And breathes out wild chervil clouds in summer.
That earth, fevered brow pressing out the moulds of the hills,
Sickness slipping through your trepanned skull.
That earth, whose trembling arms are the sea and whose hollow chest
Is the sky in which we rattle like dry beads.
That earth that whispers at my feet –
And moss presses up through the cracks like tongues,
everywhere its fine fur is pouring up to cover
cars bicycles balconies swimming pools around our legs
and all our sounds are muffled by the breathing green
that goes on rising well above our mouths and slows
slows our bodies until blood moves thick as sap
and planes hang there suspended
we have paused
and like a word unsaid we feel the moss restoring
knitting water into ice
stretching roots from lumber
and dyeing leaves a deeper green
until the first snow shows through the moss
and the first branches, the hairs of the first head
until a pulse returns, as before but slower
and a spot of green on a fallen tree
conducts each rising breath.
Walking to the Train Station – Aliyah Begum
Walking to the Train Station
One day, you will notice the bluebird asthma pump,
Hear the birdsong vapour slice through grey fumes
And soothe the inflamed tarmac of these wheezing streets.
It hides in the tree, modest until it decides to sing.
Its plastic sapphire beak harmonises with the white noise
Of your earphones (only one side of which still works).
It dispels the grey haze that exhausts, but today
Its turbine wings clamour for your attention.
You step over the broken glass that shimmers beneath feet,
The drunk confetti outside the pub from last night.
But you miss the magpie sorting through the shards,
Clinking them into different recycling bins, unseen.
You see the mayonnaise outline of the discarded chips,
Ketchup packet exploded onto the pavement crime scene,
But not the goldfinch that wears her high-vis with pride.
She picks up the crisp packets from grass verges,
Before they reach the polluted depths of a local puddle.
You gaze across these pools of mercury,
And finally notice the world looking back.
Upside down and inside out, it pleads with you,
Asks you to take care of these streets you cross,
Your allotment in the garden of this unruly world.
But you don’t listen, distracted by the
Sound of an engine fading further away.
You have missed your train too.
65 Cybele – Sabrina Guo
In the summer
when it pours,
a lake forms
in my backyard,
a jungle monsoon
of miles away.
My boots heavy
in the rain,
I share my sorrow
with calming droplets
and hear my truth,
I was born in Queens,
of which I remember little
except for smoke unfurling
from apartment roofs
before my family moved
to Long Island,
which is hardly an island
at all. It’s not tropical
for one thing, and you don’t need
a boat or a plane
to get there. In Oyster Bay,
it snows in the winter,
cold enough for hot
cocoa and heavy coats.
The blades of my skates
cut into the ice
but they don’t break the surface
as the frozen asteroid
65 Cybele did
four point five billion
years ago, breaking off
a chunk of rock
that then became the moon.
In concert with the sun,
that solar nebula
collapsed by gravity
spread its tendrils
over the earth, melted
the ice that remained
into bodies of water.
But where did the asteroid’s ice
come from in the first place?
I can’t help but ask
when I feel the blades
of my skates tracing lines,
knowing full well
all stories must start
water is made of molecules
are made of atoms
and atoms are made
of neutrons, electrons,
that need each other
to form life.
Everything a process—
with the other.
a united solution – Renée Orleans-Lindsay
a united solution
the solution isn’t ‘go green’.
rather, it’s quite a marshy brown;
all the colours on the spectrum thrust together,
pulled into braided harmony.
might the sagging glaciers of the himalayas, dribbling into the yangtze and the indus,
be nourished with kitschy korean neoprene?
those gutsy, ebullient women divers; grasping cold abalone.
the waning coral reefs
crumbling into chroma before your eyes –
your child’s eyes
might they be galvanised by ghanaian manganese,
buzzing phone-chip’s life and breath?
it’s coalition we need; london’s taxis fuelling lima’s arid faucets,
china’s offal coursing through phones rather than waters,
tit-for-tat, recycling, redistribution –
and if everyone made some contribution
today’s teetering future might be solid, stuck
here’s a prayer for humanity and good luck.
The Ocean Makes Creatures of Us – Yvanna Vien Tica
The Ocean Makes Creatures of Us
I am watching the ocean drown
us in a fit of love. The sand sticks
to the alcove of my knees. There is a mother
dipping the child into the water, laughing.
The child is slipping in the sand,
webbed toes shimmering on a long
silver fin. The mother is crying
from laughing too hard, and looks
at her feet. Then she is crying from watching her child swim
away. I am building a castle in the sand only for the ocean
to wash away it apologetically. There
is a weight stringing across my chest,
and I panic until I realize
it’s just the ocean, rising.
My phone sizzles in my pocket
and I hear a politician crying
out for Noah. But why
would he want animals
like us? No, I am ready
to go. I hold my breath
until my hair winds around my neck
like seaweed. The sun weaves silk
into the water, and the fish nuzzle me
instead of swimming away. I breathe.
When my feet fuse together, I swim
to the mother, laughing. Then we watch
her toes disappear too, replaced
with a long, silver fin. She is crying
from having breathed too much
air. The water embraces us.
I watch the mother swim away with her child.
The ocean kisses me in a fit of love.