Environmental Poetry


In the run-up to the COP26 climate change conference in November, the Living-Language-Land project invited contributions of words revealing different ways of relating to land and nature from minority and endangered languages around the world. All contributions have been created by the communities themselves. From these, the project is selecting 26 words which enlarge the lexicon, from which we can learn about our human place within nature.

Earlier this year I worked with the families of the Northumbrian fishermen and women who first inspired me, to submit the word ‘Coble’, the wooden boat traditionally used for inshore fishing on the NE English coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland and the Humber in Yorkshire. We offered the word because a coble is more than just a boat. It represented a fishery which was sustainable over many centuries, and which brought human lives into direct, daily contact with powerful, unpredictable forces of nature.

I am delighted to be able to announce that ‘Coble’ is one of the 26 words which has been chosen. Although Living-Language-Land acknowledges that only a tiny fraction of minority and endangered languages from around the world can be represented in this project, it’s an enormous honour that the Northumbrian language, and the coble fisher way of life, should be recognised in this way.

You can read our contribution to Living-Language-Land, see some archive photos and film of cobles, and hear the word spoken, together with my poem The Marks t’ Gan By, HERE.

Living-language-land is funded by the British Council under the COP26 Creative Commissions  programme.

Northumbrian Coble (photo credit Katrina Porteous)

Three Poets from the North – Poetry of Place

Thursday November 4th 2021 at 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Online event from Northumberland Libraries

Join a trio of Northumberland-based poets – Linda France, Katrina Porteous and Anne Ryland – who will read a selection of poems that capture the spirit of place.

This event takes place during the first week of COP26, the UN Climate Change conference. Linda France is currently Climate Writer in Residence for New Writing North and Newcastle University. Anne Ryland has just published her third poetry collection, Unruled Journal (Valley Press), including many powerful poems of place, and I write about landscape in geological as well as human time-frames. So our poetry will explore the natural world and the climate crisis, together with the North; history, culture and language of communities; countries and borders.

Come along for a sensory experience of landscapes and reflect on the emotions they evoke, whether longing and foreboding, or revelation and joy.

Tickets are free but need to be booked in advance HERE:

Earth Days Numbered

The excellent Grey Hen Press has just published two pamphlets of climate change poems by older women poets, Earth Days Numbered and Counting Down the Days. I’m one of the poets represented in the first of these. The pamphlets show solidarity with a younger generation facing the current ecological emergency. Both are edited by Joy Howard and are available HERE for £4 each + £1 p&p.

Earth from the Moon (Photo credit NASA)

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

Friday Nov 5th 2021

9:00 – 10:00pm 

After Dinner Poetry Reading


Guillemot Press Poets on Poetry and Collaboration

What synergies can be created when poets work with others, particularly across disciplines? Join four poets from Guillemot Press, who in 2021 celebrated writing and working together to produce two stand out titles. Sea Change, by Phoebe Power, winner of the 2018 Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and Katrina Porteous, whose work was recognised in the 2021 Cholmondeley Awards, explores Durham’s ‘radical coast’ and the recent changes to this economically deprived former coal-mining region notorious for its black beaches. Marsh-River-Raft-Feather, by Petero Kalulé, whose debut collection Kalimba (Guillemot 2019) garnered international acclaim, collaborates here with Clarissa Álvarez in a bold innovative approach to writing about environments. The four poets in collaboration will read from their works and talk around the writing of these two pamphlets.

More about Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2021 and its themes of ‘Place, Perception and Play’.

Register for event HERE

Inventive Podcast

December 1st 2021

I’m currently working with my old friends Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown at Overtone Productions on an episode of the Inventive podcast series, which will go online on December 1st. Inventive is a brand new podcast series featuring engineers and writers mixing fact and fiction to create engaging and compelling stories. You can hear the first series, and episodes from the second series, HERE.

My poem-sequence for our episode is called Ingenious. It’s inspired by a fascinating interview with young engineer Jack Haworth about his work on robotics at Sellafield nuclear site, especially his use of remotely operated vehicles. These allow for the exploration and mapping of contaminated areas of ‘legacy waste’ hazardous to humans, with a view to their eventual decommissioning. Adam Fowler and I are now editing Jack’s description of his work, weaving my poem around his words.

I was inspired by several aspects of Jack’s interview. What first drew me in were parallels between some of the ‘remote sensing’ techniques he talks about, such as Lidar, and those used to map the unseen landscape beneath the ice of Antarctica, which I wrote about in Under the Ice. The idea of machines which extend human senses into ‘extreme environments’ where humans cannot go has long interested me, so Jack’s interview gave me a starting-point from which to explore the idea of tools which extend human senses and activities, not only in hazardous places on Earth, but even in space.

Engineering lies at the heart of everything we do. Written in the months running up to COP26, my poem explores the central idea that the very survival of our species depends especially on engineers. Our Anthropocene activities are balanced at a point where we may be engineering our own extinction, or our escape from it. Perhaps that could involve a cultural evolution of human-machine hybrids. We have a choice. What could be more important? We hope that Ingenious and the Inventive podcast series will inspire young people to find out more.

The Inventive podcast series is led by Trevor Cox at the University of Salford.

NUSTEM are developing curriculum support materials around the personalities and stories featured in the podcast.

For Ingenious, with Jack Haworth and Katrina Porteous, listen HERE from December 1st 2021

…Beyond the light of the Sun

Worlds that cannot support a life with water or oxygen

Wait for the robots’ mapping, drilling, mines.

If we are not there now, we will be. Soon.

Earth’s Moon. Photo credit NASA


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