How does it feel to be surrounded by dire climate news and extreme weather? With our friends at the Freud Museum London, we’re asking young poets everywhere what impact the climate emergency has had on them.
This challenge is now closed. Congratulations to the winners, whose poems you can read in the sidebar. Congratulations, too, to the longlisted poets whose work impressed the judges: Helena Aeberli, Beth Angelica, Peggy Bain, Dana Collins, April Egan, Annie Fan, Alex Garrett, Sabrina Guo, Charlotte Hughes, Jonathan Kirke, Sarah Nachimson, Nan, Andrea Salvador, Fae Sapsford, Jamie Smith, Vivien Song, Freya Spencer, Ellora Sutton and Lucy Thynne.
You can watch a selection of the winning poets performing their poems and speaking about how they wrote them here.
The challenge: write a poem reflecting your feelings about the climate emergency.
Do you feel bombarded by climate news, statistics and science? In spite of many people’s best efforts, we’re told that the land, air and seas are becoming more and more polluted, and that we are in a state of climate emergency. The lives of humans, animals and plants are threatened by ecological catastrophe.
As a result of all these experiences and scary news stories, some of us may end up experiencing ‘climate anxiety’ – feeling helpless, anxious, guilty, angry, sad, overwhelmed, and even tired of the constant flow of information. Climate anxiety can especially impact young people, who will inherit these problems and who are expected to change the world for the better.
Climate change is a global phenomenon, but the effects won’t be felt equally: there are divisions between rich and poor, north and south, east and west. We may be ‘all in it together’ in the long run, but some are more in it right now. As Kenyan environmental activist Elizabeth Wathuti has remarked, “In the global south, increasingly intense storms, wildfires, droughts and heatwaves have left their mark not just physically but also on the mental wellbeing of millions of people.” There are people suffering not from ‘eco-anxiety’ (anxiety is a signal of impending danger in Freud’s theory) as much as ‘eco-trauma’ (the impact of the already-happened).
“People in African countries experience eco-anxiety differently because climate change for us is about the impacts that we are already experiencing now and the possibilities of the situation getting worse,” @lizwathuti via @guardian #ClimateEmergency https://t.co/7lQdjXUlOX pic.twitter.com/NlnaeVhNg9
— Kate Ferris (@kferris01) February 12, 2020
The Climate Emergency: Psychoanalytic Perspectives
The Freud Museum in London is holding a conference on “The Climate Emergency: Psychoanalytic Perspectives” in May 2020.
The Freud Museum is the former home of Sigmund Freud, who developed the therapeutic practice of psychoanalysis (also known as the ‘talking cure’) and studied the influence of unconscious thoughts on behaviour. As more and more people are said to be starting therapy in response to the climate emergency, we think it’s important to understand why we are feeling the way we do about climate change, and why as a society we find it so difficult to change.
We would like to invite contributions from young poets: tell us about your thoughts, feelings and observations on the climate emergency through poetry. Young people will bear the brunt of the climate crisis, so we want you there every step of the way.
In your poems, you might want to consider some particular themes:
- What do the terms ‘climate anxiety’, ‘eco anxiety’ or ‘eco trauma’ mean to you?
- How do you feel about the climate crisis? Have you ever felt what you would describe as ‘climate anxiety’? How does it make you feel in your body – does your chest feel tight, or your stomach empty, or your head hurt? What makes you feel better?
- Rather than just describing your feelings, show them to us through specific images. Try to write a poem without using the word ‘climate’ or relating it to the climate at all. For example, if the issue makes you feel helpless, you could write from the perspective of a child who doesn’t want to go to the zoo but is being dragged there by their parents.
- How might the media be contributing to climate anxiety? You could respond to a headline or a particular news story. You could create a Golden Shovel or a found poem!
- What ideas and phrases come up again and again when talking about climate? Pick one to focus on in a poem.
- What changes are you seeing, or will you see, to the local environment you live in, however big or small that may be?
- Have you changed your behaviour to combat climate change? Have you recycled more, gone vegan, or been on any protests or school strikes?
- How will the climate crisis impact you?
Remember: we’re looking for poems about your response to the climate crisis, whatever that may be.
We hope that creativity will help to relieve some of your own climate anxiety, if you’re experiencing it. If thinking about the climate emergency is getting you down, take a break and do something else that makes you happy: hang out with a friend, go for a walk, read a book. Come back when you’re ready. More tips on looking after your mental health here.
Some further reading for inspiration:
- Young Poets Network – how to write about climate catastrophe & hear from young poets on climate change
- BBC – ‘Eco-anxiety’: how to spot it and what to do about it & how to beat climate anxiety
- The Guardian – ‘Overwhelming and terrifying’: the rise of climate anxiety
- Freud Museum – What did Freud say about anxiety?
- The Poetry Society – Climate challenge winning poems
Selected poets will be invited to attend and read out their poems at the Freud Museum’s day conference “The Climate Emergency: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Ecological Destruction” in London on Saturday 16 May 2020. Please note: due to current circumstances, this conference will now most likely proceed online.
Winning and commended poets will be published on Young Poets Network, and sent an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook, poetry books and goodies from the Freud Museum.
How to enter
This challenge is for writers aged up to 25 based anywhere in the world. The deadline is midnight, Sunday 26 April 2020. You can send a poem written down, or a recording as a video or as an audio file. If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending a video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it.
Remember, for this challenge, the judges are looking for poems that explore how the climate crisis is affecting you, rather than general protest poems about the climate.
Send your poem(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Freud climate challenge’, along with your name, date of birth/age, gender, the county (or, if you’re not from the UK, the country) you live in, and how you found out about this challenge (e.g. YPN email/Twitter/Instagram/through a teacher/through a friend etc.). This data is used for statistical purposes and help us reach as wide an audience as possible. These anonymised statistics will be shared with our partner, the Freud Museum London.
If you are aged 12 or younger on Sunday 29 April 2020, you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form; otherwise, unfortunately we cannot consider your entry due to data protection laws.
We welcome entries from schools and youth groups. Use this class entry form to enter students from your class or group.
The Poetry Society offices are currently closed and staff are working from home. Please do not post entries during this time. If you are having trouble submitting, please email email@example.com.
If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the subject line of the email. If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your entry, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line. You may refuse to provide information about yourself.
You might also want to enter this poem in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, with a chance to win some amazing prizes and further development opportunities. We can do that for you. If you are aged 11-17 on 31 July 2020 and would like us to automatically enter your poem into the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, please write in the subject line ‘Enter me into Foyle’ and provide us with your date of birth, school name (if applicable) and home address (so we can send you a Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award anthology next year) in the body of the email. Please note: published work is not eligible for entry into the Foyle Award, so winners and commended YPN challenge poems will not be entered into the Foyle Award.
By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network, The Poetry Society and the Freud Museum London to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.
If you require this information in an alternative format (such as Easy Read, Braille, Large Print or screenreader friendly formats), or need any assistance with your entry, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.