What a year it’s been! A year more turbulent than ever with the effects of a global pandemic creating an acute social, political and economic crisis more pressing than any other in living memory for many of us. And yet COVID-19 is far from the only pressing crisis we face…
With experts telling us that the melting Arctic ice sheets may have passed the point of no return, with governments across the globe not on track to meet their environmental targets, with global consumption ever-increasing with the rising world population, we think it’s fair to say that the climate crisis is an equally urgent problem for us all to address.
One of the ways people are choosing to address this issue and express their feelings towards it, is through poetry. This year First Story commissioned writers Darragh Martin and SJ Bradley to create classroom resources that specifically address environmental issues, which teachers could use to help young people explore this tricky, multi-faceted topic. The environment is always something which comes up in our school anthologies, so we know it is something which means a great deal to a great number of First Story young writers.
We had some really interesting feedback on the resources: some schools said that they loved them and that their students really welcomed the opportunity to spend more time thinking and writing about an issue they considered so important. More unusually (though perhaps understandably, on reflection) some students found dwelling on the topic to be very anxiety-inducing and stressful, pointing out that they felt the environment was a huge burden placed on the shoulders of their generation which they did not ask for and which they are not responsible for. We very much sympathise with this position and the anger it induces.
We are, however, so very glad that this plethora of emotions is reflected in the three winners of our inaugural Ecopoetry Competition, which cover a range of themes and styles, from dark and ruminative monologues, metaphorical anthropomorphic studies to wistful odes of regret.
Congratulations to our three winners who will be receiving a small selection of eco-conscious goodies and a certificate to reward them for their fabulous creative efforts!
Dear Future Readers – NATIONAL FIRST PLACE
Zara Rashid, Coop Academy Grange (Bradford)
Dear Future Readers,
I am sorry that you have to see the earth as it is now.
I’m curious about how much earth has changed.
Are the polar bears extinct?
They were a beautiful species.
I heard they are producing robots
which is quite the opposite of
The calm sea swishing
and the bright sun shimmering.
Crashing waves collide.
Before the sun sets,
the active waves rest
and the sun is no longer blessed.
We loved this entry from Zara. It’s such a witty, sardonic take on all that we are failing to do as humans, to protect and restore our natural environment. It’s craftily dispassionate, channelling the same nonchalance we are showing towards the destruction we have created – reflecting our own lack of care back on us. We particularly liked how it moved from the flippant, conversational tone into the more onomatopoeic reflections on nature, as if to show that our deliberations and dithering are so detached from reality. It ends on a suitably sombre note, reminding us all of the finitude of life. A brilliant poem, Zara! A very deserving winner.
Endangered – NATIONAL SECOND PLACE
Ella Markillie, Longcroft School and Sixth Form College (Beverley)
Those minds are blind. Though they can clearly see:
The warm suffering, the hidden monsters,
The melting future and the roaring pleads.
Though ears can’t hear screams, yet they are deafening.
Those eyes are numb. They don’t look at their bites.
Nor their scars. Or their guilt. Engraved into hearts.
Then there are other eyes, who feel those wounds
And darkness through the barrel of the gun.
I wish I could make it stop and pause time
But I have not even confessed my crimes.
I may chant a mantra in my mind and
Hold a sign for those eyes for those against us.
But what happens when we realise that
We are those monsters. Are you one of us?
Another barnstormer from Longcroft School who earlier this year retained the 100-Word Story competition crown for a second year running – poetry really does seem to be their forté. Ella continues that trajectory of success with this excellent poem full of half rhyme and juddering sentence constructions. This poem feels raw and angry, conveying what we assume are Ella’s emotions towards those who fail to take climate change seriously. It is full of evocative aural and visual imagery, creating a hellish landscape in which we are all tortured by our ignorance. It’s accusatory. It’s uncompromising. It’s sharp and acerbic. We loved it!
Swan – NATIONAL THIRD PLACE
Iman Begum, Landau Forte College (Derby)
The tickle of soft waves
strokes my white feathers
as I swing my feet back and forth,
the force of water
pressing against them.
The sound of my bevy
The sound of human children
laughing on the bank in excitement.
Cool grass on my feet
and another sound;
a fox ever cornering.
Beautiful entry here from Iman. At first deceptively simple: it’s a swan on a park lake, right? Just waddling around doing its thing? Yes, it is, but it is also a beautiful metaphor for how we are all busy minding our own business – the humans and the swans – but there is imminent danger we are overlooking. And that captures so beautifully what ecopoetry is all about, harnessing the imagery of the natural world to convey its beauty but also the peril. We really liked how the poem has been constructed in such a way that the crisis is not introduced until the final line, as if to imply that we ignore it and put it out of our minds until it is too late. A really well crafted poem, Iman, which taps perfectly into the genre. Great stuff!
And that’s our competitions wrapped up for 2020/21. We very much look forward to receiving an equally brilliant selection of stories and poems in our competitions next year. Be sure to keep your ears out and your eyes peeled for deadlines – your regional programme manager will make sure you have all the info you need to get your students entering and winning fabulous prizes!