Bowber Head Farm Meadows - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The Future Places Environmental Essay and Poetry Prize

Lancaster University Future Places Centre Environmental Essay and Poetry Competition Online Anthology 2022

Helping to bring new and significant writing into the world is both a great joy and a responsibility. The inaugural Future Places Environmental Essay and Poetry Prize resulted in a dynamic collection of writers’ responses to the more than human world, and our place within it. Chair of judges Tim Smit (Eden Project) said, ‘Our prize winners are all fine pieces of work. The first prizes are rightly awarded to an essay and a poem that are both lean and sensuous.’

To find literature that is both lean and sensuous was indeed part of what we hoped the competition would achieve, but as with any competition, nothing is certain until the results are in. This first outing was a big step into the unknown; could writers respond to the environmental crisis in ways that were lean and sensuous, and that dealt with their subjects in ways that were important in the context of these unprecedented times? The prize call-out invited writers to ‘illustrate how literature can be a revelatory and imaginative force for helping us to see the natural world – and our place in it - differently. This is much less nature and nature writing as a vehicle for personal recovery, and much more about the essay and poetry as restorative acts in the field of literature.’

We are absolutely delighted with the results. Nicola Carter’s winning essay, ‘Fragments on the Mountain Edge,’ an exploration of adits in a Cumbrian mine, is also an exploration of interconnectedness, where the essayist reminds us that the climate crisis is also a spiritual crisis. In her ‘fragmented’ essay Carter writes;

‘Adits have been driven into the sides of this fell – driven inside the mountain following slate veins that, long ago, outcropped at the surface. Humans dug through the outer skins of the mountain, revealed its dense inner core and blasted its hard skeleton. They chiselled away at the bones of the mountain. They created great recesses and channels within the mountain. They created entrances and hollowed out great halls within the mountain. They scooped out tonne after tonne of rock. And as the days rolled into weeks, rolled into months, rolled into years, rolled into centuries, so these dark chambers grew and grew. Where rock once stood there is now a dance of air, water vapour, dust and microbes.’

During our correspondence winning poet Jane Burn, an autistic person and poet wrote;

‘Nature is crucial to anyone and everyone and is especially crucial to anyone with a disability – we need as a group to demonstrate how it manifests its importance to us, how certain access limits can prevent us from enjoying it and that we have as much right as anyone else to have our voices heard within the themes of it.

Our second-place essayist Leonie Charlton constructs a direct and urgent exploration of responsibility, care and connection, expressed partly through the monitoring of golden eagle chicks in the Scottish highlands. Charlton’s narrative also reminds us of the responsibilities and challenges writers face, where it ‘can’t be right spending energy and time on the self when the Earth and its denizens are facing the extreme challenges of the Anthropocene, when there is so much to be done.’

In the words of our poetry judge John Wedgewood Clarke, second prize poetry winner JR Carpenter ‘wants a language of things, but is ‘after’ them (pursuing them), but also after them in the sense that they’ve also been missed by language (and potentially lost through global heating/ biodiversity loss). So there’s a sense of loss in there, but a desire to try to entangle a broken language with the sensual world.’

The natural world faces many complex challenges, but the work in this anthology shows writers at work, digging with their pens, their computers and their intellectual and emotional processes to find dynamic and deeply involving narratives of hope. We commend their work to you.

Dr Karen Lloyd Future Places Centre Writer in Residence

Digital Anthology

View the full Digital Anthology here

Digital Anthology PDF