Templar Poetry, 2007 - £4.00 www.templarpoetry.co.uk
Waiting for H5N1 is full of birds: 9 buzzards circling above the valley; fieldfare and redwings; seagulls that died of starvation in Finland; Hitchcock’s The Birds; curlews and swallows; a wren heard but not seen; and geese.
Because Jane Routh keeps geese in the Forest of Bowland and the poems are about waiting for the arrival of Avian Influenza. Most were written in the eight months between the first warnings and the outbreak of the disease in intensive rearing sheds in Norfolk.
H5N1 is the strain which can also affect people, and Jane Routh’s poems take you into the fear that became part of her everyday life. In ‘Headlines’ she’s in a panic and we see how the fear can jeopardise human relationships:
Don’t I yell at you,
when you rub your nose against a glove.
It’s the closest we’ve come to falling out.
In fact, many of these poems capture human interaction. In ‘Price’, John says:
...you can call foxes up:
Shine a light in their eyes and squeak. He demonstrates,
I practise, suck hard on the back of my hand.
He says I’ll need to stay very still,
draw it in close for a gun like mine.
He says I should buy a rifle.
And though this is rather sinister, you can’t help but warm to this poet as, sweating, bitten by midges, she carries home a goose which, old beyond laying, she thought was lost. Routh curses it but is delighted it’s safe.
There’s a lot of worry and talk of culls but there’s also a lot of hope. I especially like the poem ‘Egg’. One egg has failed to hatch:
This was the last egg.
Leave it intact,
let it keep its death a secret.
All over the house, down-casings
from those who broke into life drift
and settle. This fine gold dust.