This Tilting Earth, Jane Lovell
Seren, 2019 £5.00
The pace of change
From the moment I turned the first page I felt like was wandering down the halls of a dark and temperature-controlled museum. This feeling was justified when I read the closing poem, ‘Curator’s Decision’, as though it was the final note in a glossy guidebook.
While there’s a strong argument for writing this OPOI about horses (they feature in six of this pamphlet’s twenty poems) it’s Lovell’s roving scientific eye that interests me more; she seems to switch roles from biologist to botanist to geographer to explorer, changing hats as she goes, like some sort of Victorian polymath. This is most notable in ‘Galapagos’ with its invocation of Charles Darwin and the samples he collected:
Stuffed skins in glass cabinets line halls
that echo with our footsteps.
We are all in this together.
No one is watching.
In the preceding poem, ‘Portraits, Samoa, 1853’, we meet our protagonist observing the natives…
I listen to their stories,
surround them with charcoal waves
[ … ]
I scribe their names, put away my books.
The decision to place these two poems at the centre of the collection is a masterstroke of sequencing. They act like a hinge and a focal point for the idea (which is also a warning) that we (all species) are in this together and that we (humans, I think) aren’t paying attention, even when we are collecting the stories and creatures for study.
It’s largely through this looking back that we can see Lovell pointing the way forward for us. In ‘Exhibit, ‘Song of Lost Species’, the poet mentions
a future emerging from banks of mist.
We tell our children: ‘Watch this.
I like to think that there’s hope riding in the last lines of the final poem:
In laboratory conditions, creating a culture
from leaf and shadow, birdcall, rainfall, oxygen,
we have managed to simulate environments
suitable for the existence of essential species:
bats and birds, bees, beetles and plankton.
These may be returned to the surface
at the appropriate time, at which point balance
will be restored and the host will bloom.
While I think Lovell is working within a geological time-frame for this book, I’d very much like to see a full collection from her within my lifetime.