I have always loved nature, ever since I was little. Hours wasted moving frogs from a rust and dirt mingled wheelbarrow to the pond, so obviously created for these very creatures. The place they were meant to be, enclosed in those four slab-paved sides, whether they liked it or not. There was nothing quite like the coldness of their skin on mine on warm spring days, and the feel of their quickened heartbeat on the palm of my hand. I knew, even if they didn’t, that I was doing them a favour. Saving them. Giving them a new lease of life.
This overwhelming urge to catch frogs stayed with me well into my teenage years. Even now I have to resist the idea of slimy skin on skin. I didn’t know of any peers that shared this fascination and I certainly wasn’t going to shout about it, it wasn’t something you discussed at state school.
Until one English lesson, when laid out in front of us was Seamus Heaney’s poem, Death of a Naturalist. I had never been interested in poetry before. Too abstract for me. But here, Heaney captured the beauty of my favourite amphibian, in the most disgusting way, true to their form. I loved it. I was there, with him, in the flax dam filling ‘jampotfuls of the jellied / Specks to range on window sills at home, / On shelves at school, and wait and watch until / The fattening dots burst, into nimble / Swimming tadpoles.’
Sadly for Heaney, his obsession with ‘gross bellied frogs’ didn’t last through later adolescence, and the naturalist within him died, disgusted by the froggy form. A reality we see all too often in tweenagers and teenagers who somewhere down the line lose that connection with nature.
The most beautiful thing about the poem though, was how Heaney had managed to capture everything I felt in so few words. I didn’t have to wade through it like a novel, this simple construction was one of the most relatable things I had read. Heaney had fixed this concept and his poem in his heart and mind, and in turn successfully shared his ideas with others, capturing their hearts and minds.
Each of us has a creative side, ideas, and relationships with places and nature, and it is so important that we take the time to express them. Writing is not only cathartic, but rewarding. Even if your work isn’t published, it will always be personal and something to be proud of.
The RSPB, together with The Rialto, BirdLife International and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative are encouraging more people to write poetry in their latest poetry competition, themed around ‘Nature and Place’.
The competition is important in two ways: entries raise money for nature, providing vital conservation funding wherever it is most needed, additionally, everyone who sits down to write a poem for the competition, who then carries it with them, thinking about it, crafting and re-drafting before finally submitting, is working with some part of the natural world.
If the craft alone is not enough of a draw, there is a fantastic selection of prizes on offer, including: 1st prize – £1000, 2nd prize – £500, 3rd prize – a place on a creative writing course at and generously donated by the Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre, and finally two additional prizes including a personal tour with Mark Cocker of his most cherished wildlife places in East Anglia, and a personal tour with Nick Davies of his beloved Wicken Fen to learn about his research there.
Poems must be submitted by March 1st 2018 and for more information visit www.therialto.co.uk/pages/nature-poetry-competition-2018/
Top tips for writing the perfect poem:
Get outside with a pen and paper: spending time outside, whether it’s just in your garden, or sat on a park bench with a coffee and some homemade sandwiches during your lunch break, is the perfect way to feel inspired. Jot down whatever comes into your head: you never know what you might want to use later!
Consider what nature and place means to you: Does nature offer you a sense of calm? Maybe there’s a certain place that’s your sanctuary? Everyone associates certain places and the nature that inhabits them with memory and emotion.
Don’t forget people too: We want to hear about animals and plants, but we also want to read about human nature within nature.
Nature and place can be anywhere: local or global! Some of us will feel inspired by the blackbird in our own back garden, others may take inspiration from elephants in Africa. Previous winners have written about everything from cow pats, to Panamanian golden frogs, to black kites in Delhi, to a single marsh thistle. Competition judges will give a wide interpretation of the theme ‘nature and place’.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654