Crossing the Line – Helen Mort’s final Challenge

The final of Helen Mort’s four Challenges, created for Cape Farewell and the Poetry Society.

Former Foyle Young Poet Helen Mort sets out her final 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. Helen will be choosing her favourite poems to publish on this site and to win some particularly exciting prizes…

Climate change has been altering our sense of borders, whether those borders are political, geographical or physical. Coastal erosion is changing the boundaries between land and sea. Different countries have to work together globally to find new solutions to the changes the planet is experiencing. This challenge is about borders and how we cross them.

Watch Daro Montag’s short film ‘Leafcutter Ants’.

Credit: Daro Montag / Cape Farewell

In the film, the ants are reluctant to cross the line that Daro paints with a carbon mixture and prefer to pass through the gap in the middle. The artist is altering the borders of their natural world.

Now read Sophie Jewett’s poem ‘Across the Border’ which imagines crossing over into another world:

I have read somewhere that the birds of fairyland
are white as snow
.—W. B. Yeats

Where all the trees bear golden flowers,
   And all the birds are white;
Where fairy folk in dancing hours
   Burn stars for candlelight;

Where every wind and leaf can talk,
   But no man understand
Save one whose child-feet chanced to walk
   Green paths of fairyland;

I followed two swift silver wings;
   I stalked a roving song;
I startled shining, silent things;
   I wandered all day long.

But when it seemed the shadowy hours
   Whispered of soft-foot night,
I crept home to sweet common flowers,
   Brown birds, and candlelight.

Notice how Sophie physicalizes things and makes them touchable – a song roves around, hours are shadowy and night is soft-footed.

Writing your poem

Write a poem about crossing the border. First, you’ll need to decide what your border is. It could be something very small or very large. You could imagine being one of Daro’s ants. You could think of a time when you feel as if you crossed a border (whether physical or imaginary) in your own life and write about that. Or you could create an imaginary world like the one in Sophie Jewett’s poem and imagine crossing over into that – what would you see there? What you would you touch, hear and smell? Is this a pleasant place to be or have you crossed over into a place you’d rather not stay in? Although to us it is just a strip of colour, the ants in Daro’s film clearly find the border on the piece of paper very real. They don’t want to touch it, and perhaps they can smell and even taste it too. Try and make the border in your poem feel real for the reader by engaging the senses.


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! There will also be a special event to celebrate the poems and music in summer 2014. Winners will be published on the Young Poets Network and SWITCH websites, and there will be other goodies too.

Sending in your poems

This challenge is for poets aged 25 and under, from all over the world. The deadline is Sunday 23 March – but you can send in your poems any time before that too. Send as many poems as you like to in the body of an email (not an attachment), with your name, age and address. We will add you to the Young Poets Network emailing list – please let us know if you’d rather we didn’t!

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985. Her collection Division Street is published by Chatto & Windus and has been 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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