Image showing Justina Hart reading at Free Word, London on 19 January 2017

Climate change poetry: Doggerland Rising

On 19 January my new climate change poem Doggerland Rising was launched at the event Realistic Utopias: Writing for Change at London’s Free Word centre, along with climate change poetry and stories by four other emerging writers. As well as being a celebration, the evening aimed to discover if words can help inspire us to take action around climate change. Sponsors TippingPoint, Free Word and Durham University commissioned the climate change poetry and stories, along with additional funding from ESRC and Arts Council England.

Each of the writers gave a two-minute introduction about their pieces, followed by a four-minute reading/performance. Here is the introduction I read out about my commission, Doggerland Rising, a narrative poem in six sections set thousands of years ago in a part of the UK that’s now under the North Sea.

Presentation about Doggerland Rising

My project is a long poem set around 9,000 years ago in the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. The narrative takes place in a land off the east coast of England that’s now buried beneath the shallow North Sea.

This land was called Doggerland. You’re probably familiar with the name Dogger from the shipping forecast. Doggerland was once a vast, fertile, forested but low-lying landmass connecting Britain to mainland Europe. Over centuries it was swallowed by sea and by the end, sea levels would have been rising very fast. The inhabitants were forced to leave their homeland.

Vast tracts of land lost to the sea

Although this was a natural climate change phenomenon, I chose this focus because Doggerland’s inhabitants would have experienced things that are very similar to those we are witnessing today. In the years before full inundation, they would have seen changes to their land and weather in their own lifetimes.

The poem is set at the last possible point that people could have stayed – by this time Doggerland had shrunk from many to just one island known as Dogger Island. To escape, the tribes had only had dug-out canoes and their feet, and they had to walk across a shallow sea.

At one time Doggerland would have been a paradise of fish, berries, nuts and meat. As the sea came in, the deciduous woodland died and was replaced by reed swamps and eventually inhospitable salt marsh. The land became intertidal, the environment more and more hostile.

Our ancient ancestors and climate change today

I wrote and researched the poem to help find out what our Mesolithic ancestors might have to teach us about adapting to climate change. Although they were settled, they lived lightly and could move quickly. Each member in the tribe also knew how to do every kind of job, so they were far more versatile than we are today.

My poem – in the voices of individuals from one small tribe – seeks to answer these questions:

  1. How did our Mesolithic ancestors adapt?
  2. What can we learn from them?
  3. What would they whisper to us down the centuries about how to solve our own climate-related problems if they could?

Download Doggerland Rising from this FREE book (PDF) called Realistic Utopias, along with four more exciting climate change stories.

Find information about my poem on these pages:

  • Doggerland Rising – p44-52
  • Context piece about Doggerland Rising – p117-119 (inspiration, working method and more about Doggerland)
  • Biography – p121

See more about Realistic Utopias on Free Word’s website.

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