Belonging words

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LAP: Tell us about your career as a writer.

polypropylene: I had always written poems, even if I was not very gifted. I was a sculptor at the Royal College of Art but I found it too physically demanding. I realized that I could do things better with words than with materials. I made the transition, teaching Gaia projects in schools, then I stopped sculpting altogether.

Poetry, for me, has to be physical, organic, sensory, maybe a remnant of creating worlds to escape into and try to capture the natural world in its wild state in case it disappears.

My first book started with my first obsession, stunts. I discovered Angel Falls in Venezuela – the highest waterfall in the world – and I went there twice, I flew over it, I canoed to the base.

Looking at him was like looking at my god. From there was born my interest in the Amazon rainforests and the tribal peoples who live there, all they know, their incredible myths.

My next obsession was jaguars. I spent time in Paris writing and watching jaguars at the zoo. I’ve been to the Peruvian Amazon and seen harpy eagles, king vultures and even a jaguar in the wild! In Mama Amazonica, I wrote about the Amazon as my abused and mentally distressed mother.

LAP: How do you explore a sense of belonging and belonging through your work?

PP: I was always moved as a child and felt out of place. I was drawn to the Amazon because I felt an affinity with it, and decided to go to India because I had started writing a collection about my grandmother, Tiger Girl. She had told me stories about being in a cot in a tent when a tiger came in. So I read about tigers, realized how endangered they are.

I fell in love with India, its forests, wildlife and national parks. You can’t get all your information from books. For example, you would never know that trees emit odors to discourage predators. One of the most amazing things was the feeling of being in a theater when prey spot the tiger or leopard and start giving their operatic alarm calls.

KNEES: Do you think eco-poetry has a role to play in communicating the urgency of the environmental crisis?

PP: Recently, I started to think of myself as an eco-poet. If I write a poem about a place, I have to go there and absorb things to the roots of my being. I have always been struck by the wonders of the natural world.

I wrote a poem with the voice of the beast of Bodmin Moor, speaking across the landscape. I’m afraid the animals will disappear. I think I have a duty to write about these things.

KNEES: What role do you think the various voices could play in this regard?

polypropylene: I am extremely interested in this. I lead workshops on examining non-Eurocentric viewpoints on nature and eco-poetry. These bring fresh air into British nature poetry, of which there is a wonderful tradition. I’ve always been excited about what other cultural perspectives bring to nature poetry. There are many new and exciting voices.

KNEES: Do you have any advice for new or emerging poets interested in earth and nature?

PP: Don’t follow fashion. Be fashionable! Write about anything that you find exciting. Find your own way of writing the form. Books can go a long way, but that’s not the same as immersing yourself in a place. Feel it, breathe it. Finally, don’t just read British poets or poets of your own generation. Read a lot, including poetry from other cultures about the natural world.

This author

Pascale Petit’s eighth collection, Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books, 2020), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize and for Wales Book of the Year. Her seventh collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won the inaugural Laurel Award for Eco-Poetry and the RSL’s Ondaatje Award and was a Poetry Book Society Pick.

This article first appeared in Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, now available. Listen to Pascale share her poetry as part of The Resurgence Trust’s Acorn Poetry Festival on June 11. Buy your tickets online.

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