Cape Farewell Challenge 3: Experiments in the Jungle


Hi I’m Karen McCarthy Woolf! This is the third of my four weekly challenges asking you to respond to Cape Farewell’s archive of photos, videos and blog posts.

Cape Farewell leads expeditions of artists, musicians, writers and scientists to places like the Arctic and the Amazon so they can see the effects of climate change close up and respond to it in their work.

SWITCH is a project which aims to add the voices of young poets aged 11-18 to the conversation and I will be selecting poems to showcase on the Switch website after the submission deadline for all four challenges on 22 February 2013.

Karen McCarthy Woolf  Karen McCarthy Woolf  is a poet, dramatist and short fiction writer for print, online, broadcast and live platforms.

Challenge 3: Experiments in the Jungle

The theme for this week is cause and effect. Every time we leave a light on, drive to the shops instead of walking or turn the heating up when we could put on a jumper we’re contributing to climate change. We know this, but often it’s easy to forget how our small actions can combine to create a larger impact. Likewise, it’s easy to think that the things we do as individuals, whether positive or negative, are too small to really make a difference.

Climate scientists spend a lot of time gathering data to measure the effect of global warming. They are often looking for the connection between events that might not always seem related and sometimes they discover completely unexpected things along the way. Like poets, they examine the world around them in very particular detail.

Andes Expedition, Gonzales-VigilMadre de Dios, Peru, July 2009. Manu Learning Center. Andes Expedition, Cape Farewell. Photo by Ana Cecilia Gonzales-Vigil.

.Cape Farewell sent a group of artists, writers and scientists to Peru. The author of The Life of Pi, Yann Martel, spent three weeks hiking through the rainforest with a group of field research scientists. Click through to this video to hear more about the trip and the surprising discoveries Yann Martel made about how scientists work.

Andes Expedition 2, Gonzales-VigilPhoto by Ana Cecilia Gonzales-Vigil.


This week, the freewrite is in two parts. First I’d like you to respond to the image above, writing whatever springs to mind quickly in your notebook (You can read more about freewriting as a technique here.)

Then watch Daro Montag’s video of an ‘experiment’ he made in the jungle with a colony of leafcutter ants. As you watch I want you to make notes about anything that catches your attention. Describe the ants’ activities in as much detail as you can. What are they doing? Where are they going? What do the ants look like? Think also about the cause and effect of what’s happening to them. How do they respond to the changes in their environment? Are they learning? If so, what?


This week the additional sense we are concentrating on is sound. Try keeping a sound diary and note down the sounds you can hear around you. It could be first thing in the morning when you wake up, or at another point in the day. There may be sounds such as bird song that have no words but you make words up for.

Further Inspiration

You might like to read Pascale Petit’s poem ‘Creation of the Trees’ from her book The Treekeeper’s Tale. In it she describes a process of ‘creating’ trees as if they were created by music, as if we could hear the sounds this might make as if it were a song or a symphony.

And don’t forget Cape Farewell’s SWITCH website – click through to GET INSPIRED!

Writing your poem

This week’s challenge is to write a collage poem that explores the causes and effects of climate change, using information gathered from a variety of sources.  It could be a ‘recipe’ poem, where you mix up some of the ingredients that have made climate change happen, or your poem might read more like an ‘experiment’. What are the experiments humankind has made, and what is the result?

Try to include:

1)    Three short phrases from your sound diary.
2)    Two images from your notebook describing the carbon experiment with the ants.
3)    A line from your freewrite about the tree.

Have fun!.

Submitting your poems

The Cape Farewell challenges are now closed – you can read the fantastic winning poems on their website. But why not follow Karen’s challenge and submit to one the magazines or competitions on our list of Poetry Opportunities?


Cape Farewell logo      Switch logo

Published February, 2013

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