The Ferry at Five-fifteen is the working title of the collection I am putting together now that Safe Passage has been so beautifully launched by Toppings Booksellers into the world. By shifting focus away from the human, and maintaining that shifted focus for the duration of the book, I hope the poems collectively will convey something of the sorrow I feel that in my lifetime, for so many people, the experience of sharing the earth and interacting day by day with creatures of other species has ceased to be a reality.
One of the first poems I had published in The Rialto was a dark and angry piece called ‘Ark Music’ which imagined that eventually the non-human inhabitants of the planet, ‘the true princes of the earth’
hawk, otter, horse, thoughtfox, jaguar
the feathered, the swimming,
the four-footed ones
might survive only in the ‘ tremendous baleful requiem’ of Ted Hughes. Too Late for the Love Hotel ended with a utopian poem called ‘The New Ark’, a vision of a world where human cities have perished and those who are left are given the opportunity to redeem themselves by making a new compact of care and affection with the non-human creatures which have managed to survive. ‘The New Ark’ seems to think that the surviving humans might acknowledge the error of their ways and the damage they had done. It is an optimistic little poem, but not, alas, a very realistic one.
I once helped a young woman from South London cross the field behind my house. She needed help because there were two horses in the field and she was too terrified to follow the public path through the kissing gate. She was a very nice young woman and noticeably pregnant.When we got to the other side she told me that she had always hated anything with four legs. Presumably her child was going to feel the same.
There was a time, in my lifetime, when it was permitted in London for two young Australians to keep a lion cub rescued from Harrods Zoo as a companion, to walk with it in the Kings’ Road, to exercise it in public places and to take it with them to visit friends, unleashed in their car as if it were their domestic dog. The true story of A Lion Called Christian is a parable for me of how it might have been possible to share our space on earth in a spirit of sympathy and kindliness with other creatures if we had been other than we are. Something in us is diminished without them. I read the poem, ‘Bereft’ at the launch of Safe Passage on 7th July.