This week, we were looking at two upcoming poetry competitions for young writers - the Young Poets Network competition on 'Humans in Nature' (https://ypn.poetrysociety.org.uk/workshop/people-need-nature-gboyega-odubanjo/) and Poetry Wales' Young Writers competition, on the theme of 'Empathy'.
We began by thinking about humans' place in nature - specifically our own personal relationship with nature, particularly over these last weeks and months through lockdown. The young writers were asked to consider these questions, and start jotting down some notes/ideas/images/doodles/words/questions:
Think about a moment in Lockdown where you experienced nature in some form (e.g. a spider or a fly in your room, a first drive out of your neighbourhood when restrictions were lifting, rain against your window, growing plants/vegetables, going for walks, finding a new place near your home to explore)
This doesn’t have to be something lovely about nature – it could also be a wasp or a muddy puddle or a slug!
Think about what it felt like to you – did it make you happy/uncomfortable/nervous/excited/sad/surprised?
Did it feel very separate from the human world, or part of the human world? How did it fit into your life?
What similarities/crossovers were there between the world of nature and the world of humans? (e.g. personification – a bird with its nest, an insect with its family – a bit of quiet woodland beside a busy road, etc)
Why was it important to you? Why do you remember it?
Next, we looked at some example poems exploring humans in nature - Seamus Heaney's 'Postscript', Anne Stevenson's 'Teaching My Sons To Swim in Walden Pond', and Fiona Benson's 'Wood Song'. We looked at how these different poems presented different sorts of relationships between the human world and the natural world, the points where they merged (through simile/metaphor/personification) and the points where they seemed contrasting and separate.
The young writers were then challenged to put a new slant on the notes they had made so far on their encounter with the natural world and what it meant to them, considering this prompt...
Imagine you are the part of nature you experienced – how did the spider/woodland/sea/flowers/rain/wasp/slug etc feel about your intrusion into their world? How would it describe the experience?
Would it see you as an intruder/enemy? Would it be frightened of you or pleased to see you? What does nature make of humans?
Next, the young writers put all these ideas together to form their poems - some wrote a poem in two halves, one from their perspective and one from nature's perspective, some wrote two different poems as companion pieces to be read side by side, and some combined the human perspective and nature's perspective into the same piece. We heard some beautiful poems from the rain, an apple tree, a spider, light pollution, and a walk on the hillside.
In the time we had left, we looked briefly at the Poetry Wales competition and thought about the meaning of empathy. I showed Roger Robinson's poem 'On Nurses' and we looked at how he imagined what it would be like to experience the world through this job (or 'calling'), and how he shows imaginative understanding for what nurses go through, respecting, celebrating, wondering at and appreciating their work through his poem. The young writers considered professions, like nursing, which we need to appreciate and celebrate now more than ever - carers, supermarket workers, binmen, teachers, counsellors, etc - and started their own poems, as acts of empathy, inspired by Robinson's poem.
We hope many of our young writers will enter these competitions and look forward to hearing their finished poems soon!