“Can we believe that we are fulfilling the purpose of our existence while so many of the wonders and beauties of the creation remain unnoticed around us?”
– Alfred Russel Wallace, My Life.
For Torben Larsen, entomologist.
In case after case,
amazements of complex colour:
dots and stripes and swirls –
the Peruvian dazzle,
glass-wing come-and-go glitter.
It’s the entomologists’ fair,
and we’ve queued in October rain
for the Kempton Racecourse turnstiles,
jumping to islands between puddles,
cracking jokes with strangers.
At the trestle tables inside
it’s quite hard to get a look-in,
what with these serious chaps,
boxes tucked under arms,
and the quiet observant children
unsurprised as experts.
About killing, I learned yesterday:
most often a light pinch
under raised-up wings,
the long heart constricted
to its last beat.
Among all the rest, birdwings.
Why, if Wallace’s wonder –
golden-winged croesus croesus –
turns up, should I not buy one?
I feel hesitation beginning.
A naturalist once said to me:
‘The individual doesn’t matter’ –
and I doubt it’ll be the collector’s
delight in rare acquisitions
that will one day extinguish species,
or the scientist’s need to test
theory by close observation –
which may, rather, help to save them.
It’s logging, it’s slash and burn.
Smoke stifling the forest.
Commerce. And desperation.
And I too have needed a body –
something more dead than a photo –
to bring me the sense of his life
ancient, single, and other.
Those glaucus solid mounds
that gave him mosaic vision,
colours that still reflect
his favourite yellow flowers,
hind-wing edges, silky
with hair-like scales, that combed
the lek with a sexual perfume.
I think of your hands showing,
like this, how he’d rise from beneath,
touching his body to hers,
and her antennae tilt to smell
his personal scent, the hairs
and pheromone hind-wing patches,
intimate under her feet.
‘The taste of this one?’ Choosing.
What need do I still have,
now, to possess a body,
having sensed (overhear myself think this)
a soul – what better word is there?
On the train home, I turn
the pages of second-hand books
purchased instead – facts and photos;
wonder, dozing a little,
at the tenuous job of poet.
by Anne Cluysenaar
From Batu-Angas, Seren 2008
This beautiful sequence of poems by Anne Cluysenaar is inspired by the travels and discoveries of the great naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). The title Batu-Angas, meaning ‘burnt rocks or cooled lava’, is derived from the language spoken on the volcanic island of Ternate, where Wallace experienced that flash of insight which led him to the theory of natural selection. To the poet, ‘cooled lava’ suggests the brief glimpses we get as human beings into the “huge slow changes” of evolution. The poems – evocative, precise, questioning – are accompanied by a rich selection of images: some of living animals and plants, some chosen by Wallace to illustrate the accounts of his travels, while others, photographed for this book, are of Wallace drawings and specimens sent back by him to Britain during his years in Amazonia and the Malay Archipelago. 2008 is the 150th anniversary of the discovery by Wallace and Darwin of evolution by natural selection.
Anne Cluysenaar’s Timeslips, New and Selected Poems, appeared from Carcanet in 1997. She has edited the selected poems of Henry Vaughan and is a poetry editor for the journal Scintilla. She and her husband run a smallholding on the Welsh borders.
Seren is an independent literary publisher, specialising in English-language writing from Wales. Our diverse and eclectic list has something to offer anyone with an interest in excellent writing. Our aim is not simply to reflect what is going on in the culture in which we publish, but to drive that culture forward, to engage with the world, and to bring Welsh literature, art and politics before a wider audience.
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