Simon Armitage is to use his Poet Laureate payments to fund a new “eco-poetry” prize for works that address climate change.
The Laurel Prize will be awarded annually for the best collection of environmental or nature poetry.
Armitage will support it with the £5,000 honorarium he receives annually from the Queen as Poet Laureate. He wants the prize “to be part of the discourse and awareness about our current environmental predicament”.
He believes that Ted Hughes, who was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, would have approved.
“In lots of ways this is his legacy,” Armitage said. “When Hughes was being described as a nature writer in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, it was seen as a fairly unfashionable subject.
“We were very much an urban, metropolitan society at the time. His poems were seen as rural and not engaged with these advances in society. Time has, in some ways, proved him right. On lots of levels he was a campaigner for, or at least an advocate of, the natural world.”
Armitage said environmental issues now “shade into every aspect of our life”, from the floods in the North of England to the bushfires raging in California and Sydney.
“Nature writing these days can’t help but be environmental writing as well,” he said. “It’s really impossible these days to be a nature writer without that background of climate change.”
The prize will be run by Poetry School. Its executive director, Sally Carruthers, said: “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.”