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PRIZES MAGAZINE THEATRE
The winners of The Moth Nature Writing Prize 2023
Judged by Kathleen Jamie

1st prize Homage to a Halibut Eye by Libby B Bushell
Bushell is the founder of HoWL, a wilderness expedition camp for children. Raised by artists above the cold, shifting sand of the beaches of Homer, where the daily tidal flux is as dramatic as the daylight and weather of Alaska, Bushell has always found inspiration in nature and in change. She studied creative writing at Colorado College, in between weekends of revelling in the Rocky Mountains. She also studied in Wanaka, New Zealand and Avignon, France, where her fascination with steep snowy slopes and her romance with language was born.
 
Bushell works odd hours as a waitress and wilderness guide so that she can spend the majority of her time doing that which gives her inner peace amidst this volatile and warming world ‒ skiing and writing. She’s currently revising her first novel, Salty, about love, loss and glaciers.
 
‘When I found out I won The Moth Nature Writing Prize, I immediately called my mom, screaming. With no context for the call, she started screaming too. “Happy screams! Happy screams!” I had to say. The Moth Nature Writing Prize is my first piece published outside the small circulation of my alma mater and hometown publications. As such, it feels transformative. Today, as I go about my normal routine, chatting with customers about the rockfish special or the blustery weather, I am the same but also new. With this prize, I am grateful and honoured to be part of an international literary community and I cannot wait to continue the conversations with you.’ Libby B Bushell

Judge's comment:
‘This short story is revolting in its smells and its heat and fishy gore. A different sort of nature writing, literally visceral, it doesn’t tell us what to think but manages easily to horrify us with lived experience and first-hand knowledge of what we’re doing to the oceans. With a black humour, quick-fire dialogue and descriptions, and two characters trying to make some sort of spiritual sense of the world they are enmeshed in, if it doesn’t make you pause and consider what you’re eating and where it came from, nothing will.’



2nd prize Sending Texts During the Holocene Extinction by Molly Lanzarotta
Lanzarotta, who lives in Massachusetts, writes short stories as well as poetry. Recent recognition includes selection for the 2023 London Independent Story Prize anthology and a nomination for Best New Poets 2022. She has been a finalist for numerous awards, and her story ‘Everything I Learned I Learned in Vaudeville’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Fish Flash Fiction Prize and published in the Bath Flash Fiction anthology Snow Crow. Other publications include The Rumpus, FlashFlood, About Place, terrain.org, The Vestal Review, Cimarron Review, Carolina Quarterly and the Southeast Review.
 
‘I grew up in Los Angeles which is a place where you can be oddly separate from nature even though you are surrounded by natural beauty. There’s an obliteration-by-paving that occurs. In my adult life spent in New England, I feel I have been slowly reconnecting to the natural world. It means a lot to me to have this work validated and to find a wider audience for writing that faces our current peril but refuses despair. Ralph Ellison said, “I recognize no dichotomy between art and protest.” I’ve always been a take-to-the-streets sort of person, but as I get older, I’ve been taking to the streets with my pen.’ Molly Lanzarotta

Judge's comment: 
‘This poem grew on me. A deceptively simple piece, it’s economical but carefully considered. Though it maintains its conversational tone, it is packed with assonance and consonance which delivers a rich sound. The device is a back and forth of text messages and photos between mother and son, with the young man out there doing his best to help species survive, having adventures, still filled with boyish enthusiasm, while also reaching out for his mother’s reassurances. It is the mother herself who needs reassurance, as she cannot pretend all is well …’



3rd prize Ride by Mark Lawlor
Mark Lawlor is a writer and a visual artist originally from Cavan, Ireland, but now based in Sheffield in the UK. He sees himself as something of a wanderer, the way of zooplankton, drifting in deeper water during the day (to avoid predators ) and then at night swimming to the surface to eat phytoplankton. His poems and short stories appear in Stand, Cyphers, The Moth, The Crank, Magma, Blackbox Manifold, Skylight 47, Chasing Shadows Anthology, Cavan AnthologyThe Irish Press, The Sunday Tribune, Anglo Celt, North Magazine, The Cork Literary Review, Lemon Soap and Icarus (TCD), The Drumlin and Force 10. He won a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2021 and he is currently working on a novel. He has kept sketchbooks for the last twenty-five years and has exhibited in Ireland, England, Estonia, Poland and Italy. He recently returned from Poland where his show, The war is going well, consisting of 100 large painted maps accompanied by 100 of his poems, was exhibited at the DELTA Gallery, Szczecin.  
 
‘My wife, Frances, gave me Findings by Kathleen Jamie years ago. A bright book with the sound of falcons ringing in a bright sky. I remember reading in “Crex-Crex” an almost passing remark on the migration of these birds. One corncrake ringed in Scotland was discovered in the Congo. It came to me how little I know about the migration of a bird that stalked through the folktales of my childhood. There’s something zesty or shore-like in the prose of Kathleen Jamie’s work. She picks things that ramify outwards to new readers. I am stunned that Kathleen picked my work.’ Mark Lawlor  

Judge's comment: 
‘“Ride” is a vivacious and bodily piece of writing, with the lad on his bike witnessing horses mating at a mart, despite the efforts of the farmers to prevent it. The horses’ desire will win out! It’s funny and tense, told in short sharp sentences. Aside from the mare, it’s a male world. The farmers can do little more than grunt and swear, and the scene catches the atmosphere and the boy’s recognition of sex before he pedals away at speed. “The bicycle is caught between my legs and I can feel the energy of the horses. It feels beautiful.” A vivid story of animal nature at work, and adolescent initiation.’



The winner of The Moth Nature Writing Prize 2022
Judged by Max Porter

Postcards from a Fulmar by Genevieve Carver
Genevieve Carver’s poetry has been published in journals including MslexiaThe White ReviewThe NorthThe London MagazineMagma and Poetry News. Her first collection, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy (Verve Poetry Press, 2020), was based on a gig theatre production in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist live band The Unsung, and her pamphlet, Landsick, explores themes of connectivity and discord between humans and the natural world (Broken Sleep Books, forthcoming 2023). She’s currently Poet in Residence with the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, where she’s observing and writing in response to their work studying bottlenose dolphin, porpoise and harbour seals in the Moray Firth, as well as the fulmar colony on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow in Orkney.

‘Being chosen by Max Porter as the winner of The Moth Nature Writing Prize is huge for me – especially for work from my residency with the University of Aberdeen, as it highlights the important research they are doing into these incredible birds,  and shows what can happen when arts and sciences work together.’ Genevieve Carver

Judges comment: 
‘It’s such an interesting and surprising hybrid, which manages to be deeply funny and very sad at the same time, an unusual feat in both science writing and poetry, even more unusual when the two are blended. The ironic and the tender are perfectly fused, and formal innovations are cleverly tethered to meaning. Both the birds and the language were thrillingly ‒ and in unexpected ways ‒ alive in this piece.’ Max Porter 


Work by the following writers was also commended:
Susannah Dickey, Leah Naomi Green, Lance Larsen and Sammy Weaver


The winner of The Moth Nature Writing Prize 2021
Judged by Helen Macdonald

Cicadas by Arne Weingart 
Arne Weingart lives in Chicago with his family, where he is the principal of a graphic design firm specializing in architectural graphics and wayfinding. His poetry has been published widely in the US and he won the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize in 2019. His collections include Levitation for Agnositcs, winner of the New American Press Poetry Prize, and Unpractical Thinking, winner of the Red Mountain Press Poetry Prize.
 
‘I don’t think of myself as a nature poet. Any poem (and to make the obvious argument, any work of art) aims to clarify something about how to be in the world. This is a problem uniquely designed for human consciousness and conspicuously not for what we are accustomed to regarding as nature. But we are in it and of it, conscious or not. We are both landscape and binoculars, viewer and viewed. I try to write from that shifting, unstable, vernacular middle ground, where the actual and the figurative collide. It’s thrilling to find an audience for this particular point of view, much less to win an award, get a handsome fistful of money and a week in France. I am eternally grateful, however much of eternity I have left in me.’ 
 
Judge’s comment:
‘For centuries, cicadas have been seen as emblems of insouciance and immortality,’ said Macdonald. ‘Where they occur, their eerie, periodic mass emergences mark the passage of time in our own lives. This poem is deft, surprising, quietly devastating; it speaks of the way we project our own lives into the lives of creatures around us, and how we see our own lives reflected back at us from the natural world. Strange and rich and poignant, it courses with death and love and wonder. I’m honoured to have read it and delighted to award it the prize.’

You can read Cicadas in the Irish Times online as well as in issue 47 of The Moth.


The winner of The Moth Nature Writing Prize 2020
Judged by Richard Mabey

Echolocate: A Bat Noctuary by Sammy Weaver 
Sammy Weaver has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and is currently collaborating with a composer to explore the theme of reemergence. She also recently won the Leeds Peace Poetry Competition 2020, judged by Zaffar Kunial.  
 
‘I first encountered the magic of a bat detector whilst on a writing course led by Pascale Petit and David Morley at Tŷ Newydd in North Wales. After moving onto a narrowboat last year, I soon discovered that canals are great feasting “grounds” for hungry bats. I spent many evenings during lockdown listening to the bat detector, trying to translate into words the strange sounds of their echolocation. Inspired by Sean Borodale’s site-specific poems, I wrote a lot of “Echolocate: A Bat Noctuary” in the moment of listening. I was surprised by the jumble of biography, lyric and prose that resulted. This form of diary-style nature writing is a new venture for me, so I was amazed to receive a phone call from Rebecca O’Connor saying I had won! It gives me so much confidence and it is wonderful to have my writing out there and enjoyed by others. Who knows, maybe it’ll even inspire some bat detecting.’ 
 
Judge’s comment:
‘This is a finely observed piece about bat behaviour, set lightly but tellingly against a backcloth of social crisis and personal resettlement. I was especially impressed by the writer’s pushing of language to its limits to try and capture a world where movement is complex geometry and seeing is hearing. It conjures up the otherness of the natural world, but also that we inhabit the same spaces, so the hard task of understanding is imperative.’
 
You can read Echolocate in the Irish Times online as well as in issue 43 of The Moth.
 
Work by the following writers was also commended:
Sicelo Mbatha, Alyson Hallett and Meredith Jelbart
 

 

 

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