An image of a book resting on a bed of twigs.

Literature x Ecology Series

Literature x Ecology Series

The Literature x Ecology series presents conversations with leading contemporary poets whose work intersects with ecological thinking.

The programme is part of a collaboration between RENEW and the Biodiversity and People Network and is funded by the B&PN as part of the network’s annual cross-disciplinary programme of events.

In this section: 23 November 2023 – Literature X Ecology Series: Sylvia Legris | Tuesday 5th December – Literature X Ecology Series: Karen McCarthy Woolf (Full recording)

Literature X Ecology Series: Sylvia Legris

Thursday 23 November 2023

The title of Sylvia Legris’ melopoeic collection The Principle of Rapid Peering comes from a phrase the nineteenth-century ornithologist and field biologist Joseph Grinnell used to describe the feeding behaviour of certain birds. Rather than waiting passively for food to approach them, these birds live in a continuous mode of “rapid peering.” Legris explores this rich theme of active observation through a spray of poems that together form a kind of almanac or naturalist’s notebook in verse. Here is “where nature converges with words,” as the poet walks through prairie habitats near her home in Saskatchewan, through lawless chronologies and mellifluous strophes of strobili and solstice. Moths appear frequently, as do birds and plants and larvae, all meticulously observed and documented with an oblique sense of the pandemic marking the seasons. Elements of weather, ornithology, entomology, and anatomy feed her condensed, inflective lines, making the heart bloom and the intellect dance.

Sylvia Legris’s latest poetry collection is The Principle of Rapid Peering, forthcoming in spring 2024 with New Directions in the US and with Corsair Books in the UK. Her collection Garden Physic (Granta 2022; New Directions 2021) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was named a Best Poetry Book of the Year by both The Times (UK) and by CBC Radio in Canada. Garden Physic was also longlisted for The Laurel Prize for a poetry collection about nature or the environment. Her other collections include The Hideous Hidden, Pneumatic Antiphonal, and Nerve Squall, which was winner of both the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, she lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where temperatures range from +40 Celsius in the summer to -50 Celsius in the winter. She is a strong believer in puffy snow pants.

The event will be chaired by poet Lucy Mercer, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (RENEW).

Please email for more information:


An image of a book cover from Sylvia Legris published book 'The principles pof rapid peering'.The Principles of Rapid Peering by Sylvia Legris (Click on the image to find out more).


Literature X Ecology Series: Karen McCarthy Woolf

Tuesday, 5 December 2023 (Online)

Seasonal Disturbances: set against a backdrop of ecological and emotional turbulence, these poems are charged yet meditative explorations of nature, the city, and the self. A sinister CEO presides over a dystopian hinterland where private detectives investigate crimes against hollyhocks; Halcyon is discovered as a dead kingfisher, washed up on an Italian beach. Lyrical and inventive, McCarthy Woolf’s poems test classic and contemporary forms, from a disrupted zuihitsu that considers her relationship with water, to the landay, golden shovel, and gram of &.

As a fifth-generation Londoner and daughter of a Jamaican émigré, McCarthy Woolf makes a variety of linguistic subversions that critique the rhetoric of the British class system. Political as they may be, these poems are not reportage: they aim to inspire what the author describes as an ‘activism of the heart, where we connect to and express forces of renewal and love’.

Born in London to English and Jamaican parents, Karen McCarthy Woolf FRSL is the author of two poetry collections and the editor of seven literary anthologies. Shortlisted for the Forward Felix Dennis and Jerwood Prizes, her debut An Aviary of Small Birds tells the story of losing a son in childbirth and was an Observer Book of the Year. Her latest, Seasonal Disturbances, explores gentrification, the city and the sacred, was a winner in the inaugural Laurel Prize for ecological poetry and excerpted in the Financial Times and the Guardian.

In 2019 she moved to Los Angeles as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar and Writer in Residence at the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA, exploring the relationship between poetry, law and capitalism’s impacts on black, brown and indigenous bodies.

She has presented and performed her work at literature festivals worldwide – in Mexico, Trinidad, Jamaica, Italy, America and China at a variety of venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican and King’s Place for Poetica Electronica, which showcased music collaborations with various dance and techno producers. Her poems have been translated into Turkish, Swedish, Spanish, Polish and Dutch, produced as animated and choreographed short film, exhibited by Poems on the Underground and dropped from a helicopter over the Houses of Parliament in a poetry ‘bombing’.

Karen also writes for radio and recent highlights include a multi-authored adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando which was nominated for a BBC Audio Award in 2020 and a reversioning of Homer’s Book of the Dead in which Odysseus is reimagined as a London cab driver for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.

She has served as Chair and Judge of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize several times, was a judge of the National Poetry Competition in 2021 and is currently on the judging panel of the Forward Prize and Gingko Prize.

After returning to the UK she travelled to Brazil in 2021 as an artist in residence at the Sacatar Institute in Bahia to research new work that explores sugar and its cultural and material legacies.

The event will be chaired by poet Lucy Mercer, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (RENEW).

Please email for more information:

An image of 'Seasonal Disturbances' by Karen McCarthy WoolfSeasonal Disturbances by Karen McCarthy Woolf (Click on the image to find out more).


Banner image by Kaja Kadlecova - Unsplash

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