London Grip Poetry Review – Jane Burn

Poetry review – A THOUSAND MILES FROM THE SEA: D Rudd-Mitchell looks at a short but powerful prize-winning pamphlet by Jane Burn


A Thousand Miles from the Sea 
Jane Burn 
The Wordsworth Trust
ISBN: 9781905256549
22 pp    £5.00

In terms of being a creator, Jane Burn is a prolific force. The last decade has seen her establish herself as an illustrator, artist, and poet and even gain a small cult following as a YouTube musician during lockdown. Few, if any, can match Burn’s work ethic or willingness to contribute her work to publications or the judging panels of prestigious poetry competitions. This chapbook is the winner of the prestigious Michael Marks Environmental Poet of the Year 2023 – 2024. I think (and this may sound bold) that Burn is one of the poets from this saturated epoch of eclectic publishing who future generations might rediscover. Jane Burn’s poetry often presents commentary on identity in this world, reflecting and meditating on the jarring nature of intrusive noise, voice, and opinion. However, Burn has focused our attention on the majestic wonder and world of the whale in this nature pamphlet.

From the moment the collection starts, the poems focus on this wondrous creature, the grey whale, in a way that avoids cliches or predictable personification and instead focuses the reader’s attention on the juxtaposition between human beings and the exploitation of living natural wonders. The short pamphlet is beautifully presented, with artwork that perfectly complements the tone and the words’ sombre, cold, dark depths.

From the beginning, the tone is bleak. The pamphlet begins by depicting a whale carcass harvested by nine men on a pier. Burn pulls no punches when describing what happens to a whale’s carcass.

Nine Men on a Whale

She is dead. On the deck - herself awaiting
the flense, waiting for men to unmake her.

The Grey Whale’s majestic aesthetic is captured by a pencil drawing on the pamphlet’s inside cover. I recommend looking at the image closely as you read the poetry. It invites the reader to look this creature in the eye.

Sei, Grey

Her fluke 
Beats at the sky - a huge grey butterfly,
Dragged down to its death.

Two of the poems focus on whale song. Both neatly emphasise how the complexity of whale song is beyond human comprehension. Although its beauty is acknowledged, Burn then compares the song the whale can make to the sounds of dismemberment and whale flesh being boiled for underwhelming or unnecessary products prior to packaging. ‘My aria of echoes, fathomless,’ is contrasted with a brutal, ‘When man broke my muttering jaw – stole my tongue, Boiled its chanting for soap.’

The second homage to Whale Song is a far more playful sound poem—a transcribing of whale song that a human language or tongue cannot possibly recreate.

My personal favourite in this collection is the historically accurate and politically timely “Chasing the Whale”. This found poem is a hybrid of quotations and serving suggestions from when tins of whale meat were available unrationed in post-war Britain under the name “Whacon.” This poetry is a clear reminder that all other species are reducible to edible matter when our survival is at stake. I have not quoted the poem because I feel it would deny a reader the experience of reading it in the way it was intended.

“Ah am Gone on the Husvik” boat brings the act of whaling closer to Britain, and “Whale Finger” acknowledges the toll of whale hunting on the exploited working-class workers, often the Scottish.

The pamphlet ends with the Michael Marks Judges’ thoughts on why this pamphlet (the judges described the work as a portfolio of poems) was selected as this year’s winner. The pamphlet provides further details of the prize’s aims, which are worthy of support. This is a valuable volume not only if you are interested in Burn’s work but also if you are an aspiring pamphlet contest contender or appreciate and collect environmental poetry. In spite of its shortness, there are great depths to explore and a timely message to heed. I hope that the poet promotes this work alongside her full collections in the coming year.

The collection can be ordered from

D Rudd-Mitchell is an occasional poet, reviewer and writer.  His poetry has been anthologised and previously appeared in two shared chapbooks from the Blacklight Engine Room Press.  A short run of his environmental dystopian novella P, was published by The Plastic Brain Press.