20/01/2012
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The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poetry

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Anthologies are by their very nature general in content and appeal. The editors cast their nets widely for material and hope to incorporate at least something between the book’s two covers that will catch our attention. This particular volume aims to do that twice over: selecting verse that embraces the full spectrum of life forms, from earthworms to giant oak trees and from flowering daisies to entire landscapes. It also seeks to find examples within the vast British repertoire of nature poetry that will appeal both to young children and to poetry-reading adults alike. The risk of a book aimed at all of us is that you end up producing something that gives no real lasting satisfaction to anyone.  


This volume’s strength is its sheer variety of material. It finds space for bits of simple doggerel and rhyming word-play to delight a two-year-old. Yet there are also classic poems, including W B Yeats’s ‘The Wild Swans’ at Coole and Edward Thomas’s ‘Tall Nettles’. The first is a glorious meditation on mortality and the seeming changelessness of nature, while the second celebrates the magical power and beauty of the commonplace. The book then introduces us to the work of hugely talented contemporary poets such Alison Brackenbury, Helen Dunmore, Kathleen Jamie and Philip Gross. Many poems in this third category illuminate how such writing can inform the experience and the field pleasures of even the most hard-bitten punkbirder.


But perhaps the real and most enduring appeal of this anthology is not the writing, but its colour reproductions of many drawings and paintings by some of Britain’s top artists who celebrate the natural world, including Carry Akroyd, David Bennett and Greg Poole.


The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poetry selected by Celia Warren (A&C Black, London, 2011).

160 pages, numerous illustrations.

ISBN 9781408131183. Hbk,£16.99.


Available from Birdwatch bookshop