by Clarke, Gillian | Literature & literary studies
Paperback | 120 pages
Longlisted for the 2020 Laurel Prize for Ecopoetry. Zoology is Gillian Clarke’s ninth Carcanet collection, following her T. S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted Ice. The collection opens with a glimpse of hare, whose `heartbeat halts at the edge of the lawn’, holding us `in the planet of its stare’. Within this millisecond of mutual arrest, a well of memories draws us into the Welsh landscape of the poet’s childhood: her parents, the threat of war, the richness of nature as experienced by a child. In the second of the collection’s six parts we find ourselves in the Zoology Museum, whose specimens stare back from their cases: the Snowdon rainbow beetle, the marsh fritillary, the golden lion tamarin. `Will we be this beautiful when we pass into the silence, behind glass?’ In later sections the poet invites us to Hafod Y Llan, the Snowdonian nature reserve rich in Alpine flowers and abandoned mineshafts, `where darkness laps at the brink of a void deep as cathedrals’. Clarke captures a complete cycle of seasons on the land, its bounty and hardship, from the spring lamb `birthed like a fish / steaming in moonlight’ to the ewe bearing her baby `in the funeral boat of her body’. The poems tap into a powerful, feminist empathy that sees beyond differentiations of species to an understanding deeper than knowledge, something subterranean, running through the land. Zoology closes with a series of elegies to friends, poets and peers, and poems remembering victims of war and tyrannical regimes. `Like a bird picking over / the September lawn, / I gather their leaves. / This is what silence is.’ Then our hare, that `flight of sinew and gold’, is spotted one last time: `a silvering wind crossing a field, / two ears alert in a gap / then gone’.