“Ways to Be Wilder” Poetry Competition: The winning poems

We are delighted to announce the winners of the Young Poets Network/ People Need Nature “Ways to be Wilder” poetry competition for young people.

Over 200 young people from across the world entered the competition, which is far more than the hosts of the challenge YPN usually receive. So the challenge really inspired everyone to think about their relationship with nature.

YPN co-ordinator Phoebe Walker had the enviable task of reading through all the entries and selecting a long list for Poet Jen Hadfield to judge. We will put up Jen’s comments on each of the winners and commended poems later, once you have read the poems.


Summer Photograph
Amy Wolstenholme (18)

Bluebells bloom from the refuse heap,
Plait a crown for broken pots and leaves.
Grass blades weave: in-out. Beetles dart – come in
come out! – through the dandelion gridlock.
Beating hearts; butterfly eggs on nettle beds.
Moth wings. Shining things. Fireflies breed in
luminous excess behind the potting shed.
Night dark, quick start, bats flash behind the cars.
Worms writhe. Swallows dive. Sing out
there is beauty in this, in this–

Teenagers sprawl in gold dew fields.
Quick hearts, quick hands. Did they see us?
Let’s stand. Let’s run. Where the sky swoops
down to kiss the trees and the birds flash up to
court the breeze. Soft mouth. Hard lungs.
Cigarette ash on street side tongues.
Cars honk. Traffic rush. Short, short skirts –
Do you see me now? – to make you blush.
Slip and slide through city lights and lipstick
stain the towels. Nightclub prowl. We are
wild now. Watch us run. Sing out
there is beauty in this, in this–

Casanova air. Thunderstorm stare. Come on.
Sit down in the park in lamp-lit dark. Hold my hand.
Listen to the band. Music like forever, love.
Where the stars spawn in the pond. Children drown.
Dive down, yes, deeper. Wear the river
as your summer dress. Press the damp earth
between your palms and breathe. Fingernails bite.
Hold tight. Burning heat under the skin, between
the leaves. Forest fires take up the trees. Ash flies.
Time lies, children run. Learn how it is to inhale
the sun. Take it in, take it in. Burn. Sing out
there is beauty in this, in this–

Glass shards shine out on the beach.
Human jewels. Sprawl, sand in your eyelashes,
Grit in your mouth. Spit it out. Watch,
watch the way the sky consumes the skin.
The sea calls out – come on, come in! – across
the beach towel scape. Seagulls cry. Sunglasses spy.
Creep away through the churchyard,
Name after name, same time, same place.
Same old heartbreak. Sit down on a wall.
Brick dust. Sharp cuts. Ants below, birds above.
Egg shell sky, fractured blue, light in your hair.
Stop. Just there. Turn, smile, lean back.

camera flash

Sing out there is beauty in this, in this.
But not forever. Not for long.
Stick it into the album, that same old song:
Summer is gone.
Is gone.

dandelion clock
Ella Standage (16)

held between forefinger and thumb: the stem
like a green vein, and balanced above—time
as an exploded diagram.

see the hours stellated, the minutes
anatomised as spokes of a wheel
that does not turn, struts to hold up
this whispered globe of wishes.

between fingernails you pluck one from its earth
the way you’d dissect a wristwatch, disassembling
chronology to examine like a gear beneath the light.

it’s 3:53 PM. time

flutters and pulses atop its vein and you
stop holding your breath and watch the seconds
carried off like a flood of stars, to lodge

in minds or throats or cracked pavements
like promises unspoken.

Twenty tourists in a motor boat watching marine plankton bioluminesce (see attached PDF)
Rachel Lewis (21)

mynydd y graig
Eleanor Smith (20)

hill seethes with rain
bone festering with moss
wind scraping it raw

sweated and curled
with furze and fern

hill is carcass hollowed out
ribs holding the sky

buried under clouds,
only its shadow visible
like a whale underwater

invasions of plant life:
hill is bruised
with heather and gorse

hill is labour pangs, crystallized
hill was a giant once

hill has craters in its skin like you
full of rain
hill cracks like your voice does

hill turns your breath into clouds
makes your ribs hungry for sky

i remember when the night was green

several small wet stars were hanging from the white concrete balcony.
the sky was black. there was light in the leaves.
the rain was falling and i was in dolgoch again, where the sound was eternal,
from ledges, from moss.
i looked up and the sky turned purple-dark, gwrym as in middle welsh,
and the trees were black and i loved them.
the whole night smelt like a gift,
the great dark gothic church across the balcony was safe as anything.
i and the trees were the only ones awake to see the orange streetlights,
and there were leaves, everywhere.

high tide

the sea and a bitter wind
and the great swelling dark that shakes you
like a dog – your skin flickers –
you feel translucent.
the shine of it like a whale, this water.
it swallowed stars and they drowned.

how heavy the valley feels behind you
in all this dark.

you can’t see water-colours in the dark
but you can feel them in the sound.
wind in the grass, the cold all around.
an eerie treble soars in your chest, high and thin.

the tide is as big as the wind. as small as a wingbeat.

white spray lashing flicks a switch,
your skin lights up. it’s too small, cold and wet,
your lungs too light to bear this.

the wind gasping-cold, the beat of the waves
in the wrist of the rock.
crash-retreat-hold-release. somewhere underfoot,
rock, salt-scarred plant life.

the cold bite, the song in the dark –
breathe water, breathe salt

from whence cometh my help

the wind for my hymnal
the holy holy moss
censers flinging birdsong

the stain of heather and gorse
as light crosses the glass hills

the rain, the rain, the rain
the benison mist

everything echoes

thin streams like veins of light
god roaming the mountains like a lion


Tree Talk
Francesca Weekes (16)

We are taller than your most extravagant tales.
A drawn-out note on a mellowed cello
Describes our skin,
Our bark, roughened under wind and sun
Ripples more slowly than the eye can follow.
We are water, wood, sunlight;
We are tree.
We sense everything:
The languid pop of mushrooms at our roots,
The prickle of new leaves stiffening on our branches,
The gentle soothing of rain on our dry, cracked skin.
You do not see our movements, but
We are every bit as alive as fire, as the sky.
When we are angered, you feel our wrath.
The death of one of us is
A sudden numbing of the nerves
In a part of our greater body.
A forest is not easy to kill.

Luo Wen (14)

t t
h h
e e
r r
e e
(my vision spans)
and (from the horizons’ ends)
chaos erupted; (a pinch of lettuce wobbled)
soldiers strode with menace; (soil rippled like a maple spring)
marching towards base at the speed of (the Rufous family orchestrated)
a ray of sunlight; (a trek of soundless silk – refined like the ancient wise)
armed, shielded, the army of spiral browns – straw hats wept in sweat
the thunder shattered clouds into insignificant cotton fibers
the battle of nature waltzed in morning air
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: invigorating stance

The White Wolf
Amelien Fox (10)

The snowy ground shines with the white moon
My silent paws are the only mark in the wilderness
The pines tower over the sky further than I can reach
In the distance my pack lie together

But I am alone
I howl to the moon
Letting the anger out of me
All the past I leave behind
And I will go now
Like the silver phantom
I Will run with the song of the wind
Leave my pack
For I am the white wolf

the writer comes across a hedgehog at midnight or the hedgehog comes across a writer
Rosa Walling-Wefelmeyer (23)

little wolf in grandma’s bonnet and dress
sways at an easy pace across pavement space,
a two-step beat for four tiny feet –

but then, under sudden lamplight,
splits at a stroke, turning into

two dancers, each looking to lead:
the first is keen to effect a pause

to worm for well-earned sustenance;
the other, unsure, tightens its grip,

quickens the trot, heading from spotlight
scuttle… snuffle…

language falls away like
lace, the weight of human significance
breaks in mud, in darkness

Alannah Taylor (19)

Until that grand unravelling, along those
puckering, pocketed contours, it is all
layers of blood and spleen crusted up on one another
in crystalline collusions of chaste
diffidence, like
the sore kinks around the hips and shoulders of a skeleton
which has been forced to grow
coiled up inside a cupboard.
But when you dredge apart those skin-thin wings,
We’ll see them blustering, spattered with new things.

A Woodpigeon
Tanya Kundu (18)

I tend to avoid large bodies of water
But when dehydration decrees
That I must visit one such brimming mirror,
I am told again that
I am ugly.
My crooked beak laps and splashes,
Distorting that once still surface with circles:
Echoes of distaste –
Widening, scornful eyes.

So I try to make amends
For those straggly grey feathers,
That clumsy, lopsided hobble,
With my song:
Not the rough bark of a preening pheasant
Nor the blackbird’s self-aggrandising stanzas;
No trills, turns or appoggiaturas –
Just a four-note, rasping lullaby.

But please – do not follow my voice
Through grass or wood or glade,
For if you catch me unawares
I will frighten you
With the panicked gunshot of my flapping wings.

And then, from a safer branch,
I will see the disappointment in your face
That I was not a dove.

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