FlipSide festival debuts unique, environmentally themed writing competition

Dhylan Patel, winner of the under-16s category reading his poem, alongside poet Jackie Kay and Flipside's co-founder Liz Calder. Photographer's credit: Sophie Boleyn.
Dhylan Patel, winner of the under-16s category reading his poem, alongside poet Jackie Kay and Flipside's co-founder Liz Calder. Photographer's credit: Sophie Boleyn.
The Green Alphabet Writing Prize (GAWP) winner was announced at Flipside, East Anglia's leading literary and arts festival, creating the space for a conversation about the environment. HARRIET GRIFFEY, our cultural editor, reports
The more threatened we are, the more creatively we respond.

What does it take to create a conversation about the environment? Sometimes, as poet Jackie Kay said at the recent FlipSide Festival in Suffolk, it requires the space for it.

And this was clearly demonstrated by the Green Alphabet Writing Prize (GAWP) the results of which were announced during the event.

Flipside is East Anglia's leading literary and arts festival with a Latin Beat, being the sister festival - literally the flipside - to FLIP (the Festa Literaria Internacional de Paraty) South America's first and largest international literary festival.

Everything interacts

This year, FlipSide debuted its unique, environmentally themed writing competition, in association with Friends of the Earth, attracting entries from all over the world.

Writers were asked to submit, fiction, non-fiction or poetry with a green theme - and to take one letter of the alphabet as their starting point. 

"The more threatened we are, the more creatively we respond," said poet Jackie Kay at Flipside where, at an event entitled Singing From the Page, she both launched her new poetry collection Bantam and announced the results of the GAWP competition, for which she was one of the judges alongside Blake Morrison and Jon Canter.  

"It feels like art finds a way to value the world," Kay said, in conversation with me after the event. "We can't forget how deeply and dearly we love our planet and everything in it, and art shows us a way of treasuring our planet.

"It articulates for us, if you like; it is the earth's voice speaking. Art is the landscape speaking, it's the roar of the sea, it's the sky, it's the planet, it's the moon. It's how everything interacts and moves around each other.  

Future generation

"The very fact that people write poems, create pieces of music, write literature, means that they have to have some sort of hope - hope, for a start, that someone else will be receiving it, this gift, in some way or another - and the fact that there is this open conversation between a writer and a reader is cause for hope.

"If we didn't have that there would be cause for concern, because the minute our voices are silenced, the minute we can't speak about something, however difficult it is, the minute we can't speak - that becomes a real problem."

Announcing the winners, Kay said that in looking for solace, in trying to find meaning and make sense of the senseless, then poetry - for example - "... holds out a helping hand...". 

"The competition was extraordinarily valuable in contributing to this conversation,' said Kay. ‘We got such amazing, different responses and different ways of looking at the environment, ways of caring for it - it was really inspiring.

"And particularly the children's contributions, because they seem to instinctively care about the planet, they don't need necessarily to be taught to care, they know the value of things and it's exciting to me that we have a future generation of children that are passionate about looking after our world."

Planting seeds

In the under-16s category, winner Dhylan Patel imagined what it would be like if the only animals we could see were dead, stuffed and exhibited in a museum, in his poem The X Animal Museum, extracted below:

This one's an X polar bear,

But its nose is made of coal,

Its white fur is polyester,

And not from the North pole.

We couldn't get the originals,

Because we made them flee

When we melted their icy world,

And dumped it out to sea.

"So if we look to the future we look to those children who wrote for the competition," concluded Kay. "We look to what they want to survive of our world and what would be awful if we lost it.

"Dhylan's poem was a frightening vision of what it would be like if all the animals were gone and there was just an animal museum and because he conceived of this, the horror of it, the horror of losing things and of species becoming extinct, and because children are asking these very deep questions, then that's cause for hope, too."

Grace Blackwood's poem S for Survival - which came first in the over-16s category - explored what small steps are necessary to create a larger survival through the metaphor of planting seeds in your own pocket, extract below:

Line your pockets with soil (trouser turn-ups are an option, if you have them)... Soon the seeds will split and spindly yellow-green shoots will yearn up towards the slit of sky at the top of your pocket/turn-up. Keep frets at bay by cultivating a positive hum inside your body. Walk carefully, keeping your arms at, but not on, your sides. If conditions are right, a verdant fringe will eventually appear at the top of your pockets/turn ups. Act casual. Prepare to become a laughing stock, both for your appearance and ambition.

Another festival

All art is political insofar as it engages with society in some way, either being influenced by or influencing it. Protest art in particular, but often in small, quiet but meaningful ways, through the literary expression of hopes and fears.

"Art has something to say about the world we live in," concludes Jackie Kay. "What resonates is the way it's said, which allows the space for everyone to join the conversation."

The competition hopes to be repeated and winning entries are to be considered for a future anthology. Full details about GAWP and this year's winning entries is available here.

The FlipSide Festival has another festival, specifically for children, running over half term on 24th, 25th and 26th of October. Further details available here.

Jackie Kay's new collection of poetry Bantam is published by Picador, priced £14.99 in hardback and £9.99 in paperback.

This Author

Harriet Griffey is cultural editor of The Ecologist.


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