To animal ourselves

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to attend a performance and workshop by Susan Richardson based around her recent Ted Hughes Award short-listed collection Words the Turtle Taught Me (Cinnamon Press, 2018). Stemming from a residency with the Marine Conservation Society, the collection looks at 30 threatened marine species from UK waters. These are not purely descriptive nature poems, nor do they preach or batter us with anger at the way we treat our oceans. Instead they aim to familiarise us with less well known species (frilled shark) as well as the popular (bottlenose dolphin), and to look at them in new and appreciative ways so we can take the puffin seriously and (one that grabbed me), revel in the playfulness of the porbeagle (it’s the only shark known to exhibit play behaviour – see here – though I imagine others do, we jusy haven’t realised.


Susan Richardson at The Art House

So, for the Animal Language workshop, we were given a selection of poems that aim to speak from the perspective of the animal in question, using and amending our human sounds to evoke what they might say, and how they might perceive the world. This took us from tweaked-but-recognisable English to the highly abstracted, and points in between. We then had 40 minutes or so to write a piece prompted by these approaches, working from the perspective of whatever animal we chose. Of course, it’s still a human sense how an animal might think and communicate – one of the challenges of ecopoetry… In any case, as mentioned above, the porbeagle provided me with a theme, and the concept of shark-humour – here’s what I came up with:

Day-trip to a dive-cage

Fishfullhuntfullgood yes smelltastefeel
all bloods foodbloods goodgood bite yes
now playplay go waveshallow warmplace
glideswim easyeasy S S S S so fast
tailbodyfinswish waft water shh
sharpeye brightup darkdown glimmer
sandreefrise littles fleeflash tinyhidings tinytiny, snrf
go seatop waterstopplace longshadow stop
not-seal, not-turtle, not-floatboard. Notnot
hardcoldthing bigbait downlinehang
under longshadow. Monkey in thing
monkey oddswim monkey in funnytasteskin
weakflapfins monkey bubbleface sillygills, snrf-snf-snf
glide circlecirclesilent monkey preyfearsmelltaste
monkey turnturn shiny roundface widestare
mesharplunge bashbangfangbend hardcoldthing
with bigme bendbendshakebangsnap snrf-snf
bigeyeclosenear monkey bubbleface fast preyjump
monkey vent yellowwater snrrff-snrf-snf-snf-snf!