Poet laureate Simon Armitage launches award for nature poems

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Poet laureate Simon Armitage has announced he is setting up an award for poems about nature and the environment.

Armitage will donate his £5,000 salary as poet laureate to help fund the annual Laurel Prize.

He said he hopes it will promote thought, discussion and works about the impact of issues like climate change.

The inaugural winner will receive £5,000 and will be announced next May. There will also be a second prize of £2,000 and a third prize of £1,000.

Armitage said: "Over the course of my 10-year laureateship I want one of the headline projects to be a prize or award that recognises the resurgence of nature and environmental writing currently taking place in poetry, to this end I have decided to create The Laurel Prize.

"The new wave of nature writing in non-fiction has been well documented over recent years but not enough attention has been paid to a similar move in poetry, with climate crisis and environmental concerns clearly provoking this important strand of work."

He added: "I want the prize to celebrate and reward that work, to encourage more of it, and to be part of the discourse and awareness about our current environmental predicament."

The 56-year-old, who studied geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic, has himself written widely about nature in a career spanning three decades - from accounts of trekking the Pennine Way to a recent collection, The Unaccompanied, about an endangered world in meltdown.

'Meaningful and generous'

The prize will be run by national arts charity the Poetry School, which also runs the annual Ginkgo Prize for ecopoetry. The Ginkgo Prize is for best single poem and is open to poets from around the world, whereas the Laurel Prize will be for a collection and only open to poets in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Executive director Sally Carruthers said she was "delighted" to be working with the poet laureate on "such a meaningful and generous project".

She said: "To be able to use poetry to reach new audiences with impactful and emotive environmental messages at a time of crisis is an honour. We need imagination to envisage the potential devastation of our planet and to be moved to enact change - poets have the imaginations to convey these messages in a way which will resonate with us all."

The prize will be judged by Armitage, fellow poet Moniza Alvi and author Robert Macfarlane.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Thursday, Armitage also read out a new poem of his own, which was inspired by road closures in his Yorkshire village to allow the Tour de France cyclists to pass through in 2014.

"It was like we'd gone back 200 years or gone forward 200 years, to a world where there wasn't any traffic," he said.

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