pink cover with a black rhino drinking on a shoreSpent Earth, Isabel S. Miles

Mudfog Press, 2022      £5.00

No turning back 

Isabel S. Miles brings the climate emergency into sharp definition with this tightly-woven collection. It records the demise of species — including our own, extrapolating forwards.

In these extinction poems, often from a first-person point of view, the poet expresses a love and respect for all life with hope that the worst can be reversed. I was reduced to tears by several of them.

The first poem, ‘1670, Mauritius’, focuses on an animal long gone, yet commemorated in the phrase dead as a dodo. In this poem, the last living dodo’s loneliness is conveyed with pathos: his waddle, rear end and great beak which cannot save him from the carnivore sailor who hunts his meat. I strongly felt for that bird with its ‘bright intelligence’.

We meet the manatee sea creature marooned in the poem ‘2035, Submerged Florida Coast’. Its plight is exposed in the language: ‘swirling flood enveloped me’, ‘surge’, ‘ a clot of plastic, net and filth’. It’s a shocking visceral testimony to man’s lack of care. ‘No air. No light.’

In ‘2045, Conservation Centre, Southern Africa’, the Black Rhino has reached the end of the line. The last is treated as a ‘drugged and comatose’ freak specimen to be harvested in a futile attempt to conserve the species. I found it an incredibly moving piece.

One of the most loved species, the polar bear, reaches its demise in ‘2061, Chukotka’. Miles explores the hypocrisy of politicians, the macho nature of hunting and the cynical moves to freeze embryos, eggs and sperm while glacial melt continues.

Faith in technology fails in the poem ‘2130, Seattle’. Trees die, disrupted by artificial intelligence’s inability to provide air or sunlight. Humankind encounters despair, stillness and loneliness. Hope fades. For us too, ‘all things pass’. It fairly focuses the mind to see a date in print for our species’ potential extinction.

A thoughtful twenty-three poems which bring home the urgency for action, Miles makes convincing vignettes from the voices of imperilled species. An engrossing read.

Maggie Mackay