Caught by the River

Love Affair with Next Door’s Birch

18th May 2022

A poem by Jane Burn, winner of the inaugural Future Places Environmental Essay and Poetry Prize.


A note from Karen Lloyd and Charlie Gere, Future Places Centre, Lancaster University:

We are living in a time of urgent environmental challenge; ecosystems are under stress and many species are in decline, but perhaps more than ever before we are also aware of the human capacity for restoration in the natural world. In 2021 the inaugural Future Places Prize called for essays and poems that are an imaginative force for helping us to see the natural world — and our place in it — differently. This was to be much less nature and nature writing as a vehicle for personal recovery, and much more about the essay and poetry as restorative acts in the field of literature. We wanted to reward writing that communicated how both environmental and human change is not only possible, but happening, even now in the heart of the Anthropocene. 

As with any competition, nothing is certain until the results are in. This first outing was a step into the unknown, but we are absolutely delighted with the results. Nicola Carter’s winning essay, ‘Fragments on the Mountain’s Edge’ — an exploration of adits in a Cumbrian mine [to be published on Caught by the River next week] — is also an exploration of interconnectedness, where the essayist reminds us that the climate crisis is also a spiritual crisis. Jane Burn’s winning poem ‘Love Affair with Next Door’s Birch’ pays witness to the felling of a mature birch, but more than this, Burn’s poem is a sequence of ideas and images that burn deeply into our psyches.

We are especially grateful to our judges Jenn Ashworth and John Wedgewood Clarke, and chair of judges Sir Tim Smit of Eden Project. We’re grateful to Caught by the River for bringing the winning essay and poem to a wider audience. You can read the full digital anthology here; the winning entries will also be published in the forthcoming ‘North Country; An Anthology of Landscape and Wildlife’, edited by Karen Lloyd and published by Saraband later this year.

See details of the Future Places Centre’s upcoming conference ‘Reimagining Landscape: Environment Communication and the Humanities’, featuring guest speakers Fred Pearce, Rebecca Chesney and Mark Cocker, here.