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Jane Burn wins environmental pamphlet award for whaling poems

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Jane Burn has won the Michael Marks Environmental Poet of the Year award for a portfolio of poems titled A Thousand Miles From The Sea. The pamphlet of poems will be launched at the annual Michael Marks awards night at the British Library on Wednesday 13 December. Jane Burn will read from the pamphlet at the British Library, and it will go on sale on the night.

In their comments the judges said: “All three of us thought A Thousand Miles From The Sea a rare and remarkable collection of poems which shows a great capacity for empathy and an impressive command of form. These are tightly-controlled pieces which examine every aspect of whaling, from the human perspective and in the voice of the whale. It is a wholly original pamphlet, packed with brilliant images, visceral and raw, tender and heartfelt. Weather doesn’t just act upon land, it ‘gobbles colour from the walls’. A whale is ‘the colour of ages’. It is impossible to read these poems and not be moved by them.”

Judge John Aitchison added: “I have filmed wildlife for television where these poems are set, far away in the whaling grounds of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic. I cried at what people had done there, on the cold shores of the whaling stations at Stromness and Grytviken.

“The destruction of the great whales marks one of the lowest points in our relationship with nature. These poems capture the awful ingenuity of our species, inventing ever more powerful tools until we could hunt and dismember the largest animals that have ever lived. The poems bring home the awful banality of their reduction into food for wartime and Lent, into candles and oil to light streets and churches, into soap and margarine.

“The poet understands that different priorities drove our behaviour then, and that priorities and people can change; ‘Ah am gone on the Husvik boat’ recognises that whaling was seen as a worthy adventure, and that many men needed the work, but that some changed their minds when they experienced the dreadful reality of slaughtering such great beings.

“After years of campaigning, the Leith Harbour whaling station on South Georgia was closed in the year I was born. Almost every country has renounced the hunting of whales and their numbers are slowly recovering, but whale oil was replaced by cheap, abundant fossils fuels which have seeped into every corner of our lives. Burning coal, oil and gas is changing the climate and the oceans, driving the great whales back towards extinction, along with so much else.”

Jane Burn is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominated, award-winning poet and illustrator who lives in a wooden off-grid cottage in Northumberland. She has published a number of collections.


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Tim Ellis

Fri 22nd Dec 2023 16:58

Congratulations to Jane, and I hope she can make an impact in this role. Poetry today needs to challenge humanity's relentless assault on the environment.

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