Poetry and the climate crisis: how northern poets are making an impact

Can poets and their work really have an impact on the climate crisis? That’s a key question being posed at one of the north’s smallest – but very significant – poetry events.
June 23, 2022

The Kirkby Lonsdale Poetry Festival is a weekend of performances, workshops, flash mobs, plays and more that is taking over the town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 12-14.

There will be local talent performing alongside some of the biggest names in British poetry today, and the organisers are keen to stress that you’re welcome – even if you don’t think that poetry is for you.

There’s an open-mic session to kick things off, and many of the events are free; just a handful are ticketed and have a price tag. And one of those is the finale, the panel session 'Cumbria, Poetry and the Climate Crisis'.

The organisers say that since the days of Wordsworth, Cumbria has been a haven for environmental writing. “But with only a few years left before climate change becomes irreversible, we will find out how extraordinary writers are finding paths forward through language,” says Matt Sowerby, writer, poet and activist. “As part of our change-makers programme, we are asking locally-based but nationally-acclaimed environmental poets and poetry-lovers what poetry can do in a climate crisis."

Matt Sowerby

Matt has run writing workshops in scout huts, festival tents, pubs, school libraries and soup kitchens, on a range of topics to a variety of groups. He’s gathered together an impressive panel of poets to speak at the climate crisis event on the Sunday. There’s Karen Lloyd, a writer of non-fiction and poetry based in Kendal, who has contributed to the Guardian Country Diary and the Royal Geographical Society magazine and is a features writer for BBC Wildlife and Countryfile magazines. The editor of Curlew Calling Anthology, she works at both regional and local levels on the urgent need for curlew restoration.

Also based in Cumbria, Katie Hale is the author of a novel, My Name is Monster (Canongate,2019), and two poetry pamphlets. She is a MacDowell Fellow, a recent winner of the Palette, Prole Laureate and Jane Martin Poetry Prizes, and has twice been shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. She also writes for theatre and immersive digital performance, and has featured on national television and radio. Leo Finighan, the newly appointed Curator of Wordsworth’s home at Rydal Mount, is an MA Romanticism student at the University of Cumbria, whose areas of interest include peripheral poetic voices and the poetry of Norman Nicholson, the notion of ‘positive provincialism’, and ecocriticism as an avenue of literary analysis. As Curator, he is keen to encourage cultural events taking place in the house and gardens of William Wordsworth while preserving the current collection and working towards being able to offer an immersive and accessible historical experience.

Then there’s Jamie Normington, who “grew up outdoors” in Yorkshire’s Bronte Country and the Dales, and first visited Cumbria as a teenager by mountain bike. Jamie has been working to inspire people about local wildlife for over 10 years, visiting groups, schools and more to explore Cumbria together and running a year-round, county wide volunteering effort. Jamie walked 200 miles to fundraise for 200 copies of the book The Lost Words to be donated to 300 schools in Cumbria.

Matt Sowerby

Matt Sowerby himself is from Kirkby Lonsdale, and his poetry and essays are attempts to find hope in a climate crisis. He has performed in the Houses of Parliament and on BBC Radio 4, and his work was exhibited by the United Nations at the first International Migration Review Forum. Matt is frequently inspired by the roots of words, activist histories, acts of home-making, and the spoken word. Most of the festival’s events are free, but this is one of six where you will need to buy a ticket.

Please see the website www.kirkbylonsdalepoetry.co.uk for full details, and the ticket site for this special event www.eventbrite.com/cc/kirkby-lonsdale-poetry-festival-493169