On the Move – Helen Mort’s second Cape Farewell writing challenge


This image shows the components of the hydrophone Tam Treanor made to capture the underwater sounds of the fish farm, in the film below. Find out more on the Cape Farewell website. Photo by Tam Treanor/ Cape Farewell.

Former Foyle Young Poet Helen Mort sets out her second poetry writing challenge, asking you to respond to images from Cape Farewell’s archive of photos, videos and blog posts.

Cape Farewell leads expeditions of artists, musicians, writers and scientists to places like the Arctic and the Amazon so they can see the effects of climate change close up and respond to it in their work. Now you can add your voice by writing in response to the challenges – and Helen will be choosing poets to publish on Cape Farewell’s SWITCH website and win some particularly exciting prizes…
What does it feel like when the place you call ‘home’ changes? In the last challenge, we looked at how ice is disappearing and habitats are under threat. Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are changing marine habitats for fish and altering aquatic ecosystems too. Climate change is changing fish distribution and affecting the fishing industry.

Listen to and watch the film ‘Fish for the Table’ by Tam Treanor, recorded underwater as part of the Cape Farewell Sea Change Orkney-Shetland Expedition 2013. You might want to listen to the sounds first without watching what’s happening on the screen. What do they make you think of?

How do the strange sounds affect how you view the movement of the fishes? The sight of fish swimming or shoaling around each other is fairly familiar, but the sounds we hear them make are eerie and unfamiliar. Do you think the fish sound individually or as a group? Are they moving randomly or with purpose? Do the sounds make you think they are exploring, communicating, or trying to escape?

Writing your poem

Write a poem on the theme of ‘moving’. It could be about moving to a new place, moving house, moving on or just about the movements we make every day. Think about how Tam’s film affects the senses, and try and capture some of this in your poem.

For the fish in captivity in Tam’s film, and the fish whose habitats are being altered by climate change, external forces are making them move in new and unnatural ways. In ‘Fish for the Table’, the animals swim round and round in a confined space, rather than being able to roam free. In the wild, fish may have to swim further and further to find the habitats they need. Think about what external forces are affecting the movement in your poem.

You might want to introduce the theme of sound into your poem, and consider what it adds to the atmosphere, as in Tam’s film. Watch it with and without sound and see how this alters the experience.


The winners of the four Cape Farewell challenges will have their poems set to music by famous composer David Julyan, who has written the musical scores for the films Memento and The Prestige, among many others! Winners will be published on the Young Poets Network and SWITCH websites, and there will be other goodies too.

Calling teachers!

If you are a teacher reading this, we have good news! Helen has written a free downloadable Cape Farewell poetry lesson plan on the theme of ‘disappearance’, suitable for key stages 2, 3, 4 and 5. It’s part of our fantastic range of free downloadable Poetryclass resources and includes a class discussion, individual activities, tips for poem-building and a handout.

Submitting your poems

The challenge is now closed – read the wonderful winners and be inspired to write your own poem to submit to one of our Poetry Opportunities!

The 2013 winners discuss the Cape Farewell challenges

Mary Anne Clark responded to Karen’s challenge to write in the voice of an animal that has to leave its home because of climate change, and wrote the moving poem ‘The Arctic Tern’s Prayer’. Here she discusses the value of the Cape Farewell challenges.

I found the challenges really intriguing and inspiring, because they encouraged us to write about things that were apparently far away from our experience – for example I wrote about a sea bird that was forced to leave its home – but were on a closer look extremely relevant to our own lives. So they helped us to empathise with the world, and this is a practice that I imagine will have made all of us become better poets. The showcase event was amazing: we watched some phenomenal performances from established poets and were able to read out our own poems to a really supportive audience in a very exciting and artistic atmosphere.


Helen Mort

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985. Her collection Division Street is published by Chatto & Windus and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. She has published two pamphlets with tall-lighthouse press, the shape of every box and a pint for the ghost, a Poetry Book Society Choice for Spring 2010. Five-times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, she received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors in 2007 and won the Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008. In 2010, she became the youngest ever poet-in-residence at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere. Helen is also the new Derbyshire Poet Laureate. 


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Published December, 2013

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