Nick Drake at COP26

Nick Drake at COP26

In late 2010, poet and playwright Nick Drake sailed around Svalbad, an archipelago of islands 500 miles north of Norway, with Cape Farewell, the arts climate change organisation. Sailing as close as possible to the vast glaciers that dominate the islands, they saw polar bear prints on pieces of pack ice the size of trucks. And they tried to understand the effects of climate change on the ecosystem of this most crucial and magnificent part of the world.  The poems in The Farewell Glacier grew out of this journey. 

The Farewell Glacier gathers together voices from across the Arctic past – explorers, whalers, mapmakers, scientists, financiers, the famous and the forgotten – as well as attempting to give voice to the confronting mysteries of the High Arctic: the animal spirits, the shape-shifters and the powers of ice and tundra. It looks into the future, to the year 2100, when this glorious winter Eden will have vanished forever.


Drama on 3: The Farewell Glacier, BBC Radio 3, Sunday 4 February 2024, 7.30pm

Poet and playwright Nick Drake has adapted his 2012 book length sequence of poems The Farewell Glacier for BBC Radio 3’s Drama on 3.  His adaptation is based on the version he created for performance at COP26 on 2 November 2021, and again uses actor Peter Mullan, who is joined by Adjoa Andoh. This extended adaptation for radio has the poems intercut by interviews with Sheila Watt Cloutier, a human and indigenous rights activist, cultural preservation advocate, politician, writer and educator.

‘A poetic journey through time and the Arctic, looking at climate change, written by Nick Drake and featuring Peter Mullan and Adjoa Andoh.’

Available via BBC Sounds until 5 March 2024:

The original COP26 performance included music written and performed on fiddle and clarsach by Scottish Composers Emma Donald and Isbel Pendlebury, with Nick Drake’s poems read by the award-winning Scottish actor Peter Mullan.  This stunning performance was streamed live from the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on 2 November 2021, and is now available on YouTube (see video below).

Nick Drake was interviewed about this performance for Metro ahead of COP26. Illustrated with Nick Drake's photographs, taken when he was in the High Arctic in 2010.  Read here.



2 November 2021, 12:30 - 13:30, UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)

COP26 Green Zone, Glasgow Science Centre, Tower Base North

The Farewell Glacier by Nick Drake

Nick Drake adapted his book-length sequence The Farewell Glacier especially for a 40-minute poetry and music piece to be performed at COP26.  It explores the mysteries, wonders and climate emergencies of the High Arctic. The poem was read by Scottish actor Peter Mullan.

Scottish composers, Emma Donald and Isbel Pendlebury, in collaboration with poet and playwright Nick Drake, created a compelling informing and emotionally powerful event of music and poetry for COP26. Inspired by Nick's voyage around the Svalbard archipelago, this performance gathers together voices both human and non-human from across the Arctic's past, present and future to tell a story of exploration, exploitation and imagination. From the first European explorers and whalers to ice-cores, mercury and even the Future herself, this is a story of the power and beauty of ice, the calamity of its loss, and a call to the imagination of every one of us to change the future for the better.

Nick Drake Poet/Playwright
Emma Donald Composer/Fiddle
Isbel Pendlebury Composer/Clarsach
Serena Hill Creative Associate
Edel Rae Producer
The Farewell Glacier is performed by kind permission of the publishers Bloodaxe Books Ltd. Music copyright Emma Donald and Isbel Pendlebury.


In February 2021 Nick Drake was interviewed for this article on the international platform Artists & Climate Change about The Farewell Glacier,

The Farewell Glacier is a chronological account of the Western, and especially European, experience in the Arctic told through the voices of the humans who encountered it, the chemical elements that have polluted it… and other non-human actors, such as a sea-shanty, the sun, pteropods, and an ice-core sample. He [Nick Drake] calls it “a story about wonder and consumption,” of “exploration and exploitation.”’ - Susan Hoffman Fishman, Artists & Climate Change

Read the article in full here.


 Nick Drake reads 'The Farewell Glacier' from the Arctic

This video by Matt Wainwright was shot during the Cape Farewell 2010 Arctic Expedition, and shows Nick Drake aboard ship reading one of the poems he wrote during the voyage. Five marine scientists and ten artists from around the world – writers, musicians, visual artists, directors and architects – sailed from Longyearbyen around the north-east coast of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic to encounter the magnificence of this extreme and threatened environment and engage with the scientific research being conducted on board.


Nick Drake contributed to BBC Radio 3's Sunday Feature Freeze: Thaw on 20 December 2015. He read and spoke about two poems from The Farewell Glacier, a book he wrote in response to his trip to the high Arctic in September 2010 with Cape Farewell, an organisation devoted to cultural responses to climate change.

The first poem, ‘When I was twelve’, is in the voice of British Polar explorer Wally Herbert (from 24.43) and the second, ‘This is the library of ice’, is the story of an ice core sample (from 30.25). Those poems, together with others inspired by the Arctic and its voices, are gathered in his 2012 Bloodaxe collection The Farewell Glacier.

Click here to listen to the programme


Nick Drake’s fourth collection Out of Range, published by Bloodaxe on 15 November 2018, explores some of the most pressing issues of the early 21st century.  Here are elegies for the Whitechapel Fatberg and incandescent lightbulbs; the life stories of plastic bottles and ice-core samples; portraits of those living on the margins of the city streets, and of Voyager 1 crossing the threshold of the solar system.  The past echoes in poems about the ancient artists who recorded their presence in cave art, a Spanish missionary thrilled by an Aztec ball game, and a story of gay love from the Song dynasty.  The poems in Out of Range expand on environmental concerns raised in his last collection The Farewell Glacier, Nick Drake’s book-length sequence of poems set in the High Arctic, which was inspired by his voyage around Svalbard.

Click here to read Nick Drake's blog on Climate Cultures. He dicusses three poems from his fourth collection Out of Range.

To read the full Book of the Week review at Oxford Poetry Library, click here (scroll down to 17-22 November 2018)

Nick Drake's poem 'Out of Range' was Oxford Brookes University Poetry Centre's Poem of the Week for 25 November 2018.  Click here to read.

[05 October 2021]

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