Crossing the Line – Helen Mort’s final Cape farewell challenge

Leafcutter Ants. Video by Daro Montag/ Cape Farewell.

Former Foyle Young Poet Helen Mort sets out her fourth and final poetry writing challenge, asking you to respond to images from 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. Now you can add your voice by writing in response to the challenges – and Helen will be choosing poets to publish on Cape Farewell’s SWITCH website and win some particularly exciting prizes…
Climate change has been altering our sense of borders, whether those borders are political, geographical or physical. Coastal erosion is changing the boundaries between land and sea. Different countries have to work together globally to find new solutions to the changes the planet is experiencing. This challenge is about borders and how we cross them.

Watch Daro Montag’s short film ‘Leafcutter Ants’, above.

In the film, the ants are reluctant to cross the line that Daro paints with a carbon mixture and prefer to pass through the gap in the middle. The artist is altering the borders of their natural world.

Now read Sophie Jewett’s poem ‘Across the Border’ which imagines crossing over into another world:

I have read somewhere that the birds of fairyland
are white as snow.—W. B. Yeats

Where all the trees bear golden flowers,
And all the birds are white;
Where fairy folk in dancing hours
Burn stars for candlelight;

Where every wind and leaf can talk,
But no man understand
Save one whose child-feet chanced to walk
Green paths of fairyland;

I followed two swift silver wings;
I stalked a roving song;
I startled shining, silent things;
I wandered all day long.

But when it seemed the shadowy hours
Whispered of soft-foot night,
I crept home to sweet common flowers,
Brown birds, and candlelight.

Notice how Sophie physicalizes things and makes them touchable – a song roves around, hours are shadowy and night is soft-footed.

Writing your poem

Write a poem about crossing the border. First, you’ll need to decide what your border is. It could be something very small or very large. You could imagine being one of Daro’s ants. You could think of a time when you feel as if you crossed a border (whether physical or imaginary) in your own life and write about that. Or you could create an imaginary world like the one in Sophie Jewett’s poem and imagine crossing over into that – what would you see there? What you would you touch, hear and smell? Is this a pleasant place to be or have you crossed over into a place you’d rather not stay in?

Although to us it is just a strip of colour, the ants in Daro’s film clearly find the border on the piece of paper very real. They don’t want to touch it, and perhaps they can smell and even taste it too. Try and make the border in your poem feel real for the reader by engaging the senses.


The winners of the four Cape Farewell challenges will have their poems set to music by famous composer David Julyan, who has written the musical scores for the films Memento and The Prestige, among many others! Winners will be published on the Young Poets Network and SWITCH websites, and there will be other goodies too.

Calling teachers!

If you are a teacher reading this, we have good news! Helen has written a free downloadable Cape Farewell poetry lesson plan on the theme of ‘disappearance’, suitable for key stages 2, 3, 4 and 5. It’s part of our fantastic range of free downloadable Poetryclass resources and includes a class discussion, individual activities, tips for poem-building and a handout.

Submitting your poems

The challenge is now closed – but you can read the fabulous winners by following the links to the side of the page, and be inspired to write your own poem to submit to one of our Poetry Opportunities!

The 2013 winners discuss the Cape Farewell challenges

Jake Reynolds wrote the brilliant ‘FAO’ in response to Karen’s final challenge, which was to think about loss and what we would put in a memory box to represent the earth. Here he explains how the Cape Farewell challenges encouraged him to try out new things.

Before the Cape Farewell challenges, I’d never written about the environment in such a way before – as something under threat, something that needs protection and needs to be viewed from new perspectives if we’re going to be serious about conserving it. When you think about writing about the environment, you picture lengthy descriptive pieces on rivers and lakes and jungles. The idea of injecting the concern that is currently surrounding the issue of climate change into poetry drew me to the Cape Farewell challenges immediately, and my poem in response to one of the challenges was the product of my aim to take something and view it from an entirely new perspective. Winning one of the challenges, then, was a wonderful feeling considering climate change was not something I’d tackled in my writing before. The event was highly enjoyable, and was the first time I’d ever actually read any of my own poetry to an audience – thankfully the atmosphere was very relaxed, engaged and interested in the poetry and issues being tackled. Part of the reason I’m entering again this year is simply for the experience of trying out new things with poetry, which this year’s Cape Farewell challenges allows just as much as last year’s – and I’d encourage everyone to give it a go.


Helen Mort

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985. Her collection Division Street is published by Chatto & Windus and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. She has published two pamphlets with tall-lighthouse press, the shape of every box and a pint for the ghost, a Poetry Book Society Choice for Spring 2010. Five-times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, she received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors in 2007 and won the Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008. In 2010, she became the youngest ever poet-in-residence at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere. Helen is also the new Derbyshire Poet Laureate. 


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Published February, 2014

5 thoughts on “Crossing the Line – Helen Mort’s final Cape farewell challenge

  1. I have a lot of fun constructing poems for these prompts, even moreso since I missed the last few challenges. All four prompts are interesting by their own right, and the example poems are awesome as well.

    By the way, what kind of notebook the YPN notebook is based from? I like the paper texture. It’s a joy to write on.

    1. Hi Lisa, we are really pleased you have enjoyed the challenges! Not sure what kind of notebook it’s based on, but lovely to hear that it’s good to use!

  2. Hello, is it OK to send a revised version of a poem thatt you’ve already emailed?

    I am excited to join this competition!


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