Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!
selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Nosy Crow

I love getting poetry anthologies to review, for despite owning a iarge bookcase crammed with books of poems (for both adults and children) and having compiled a fair number of the latter myself, I always make some exciting new discoveries.

What joy then, to have a bumper compilation such as Fiona’s offering, an animal poem for every day of the year, with a stunningly beautiful illustration from Britta gracing every spread.

Name an animal and more than likely you will find it featured somewhere in this collection; and you’ll find a creature (sometimes several) for almost every letter of the alphabet with the notable exceptions of q – this has Tony Chen’s Question: ‘As asphalt and concrete / Replace bushes and trees, / As highways and buildings / Replace marshes and woods, / What will replace / The song of birds?’ , u (there is a poem but it’s an extract from John Bunyan’s Upon a Snail) and x is not represented at all.

Whether your preference is for creatures great or creatures small, feathered, scaled, smooth-skinned or spiney you will be satisfied. Having seen the bird she writes of standing in the rain on my walk yesterday I absolutely loved discovering this new to me poem of Roberta Davis: ‘Perfectly still / in the falling snow / grey heron’

I also heard on that same walk but didn’t see, a Woodpecker, the subject of John Agard’s wonderful poem – another new discovery for me, the first verse of which is ‘Carving / tap/tap / music / out of / tree trunk / keep me / busy / whole day / tap/tap / long ‘

Despite summer now being over for this year, there are still plenty of bees, wasps and other small insects about including the bees that George Szirtes writes of in The Bee’s Knees: ‘Great hairy knees bees have as they squat / in the flowers then push off with a spring, / all six knees pumping and shoving. With so much power they’re soon airborne, resilient, / muscular, adrift. // The bee’s knees. // Brilliant. ‘ And brilliant that surely is. Henceforth I’ll look anew at bees.

There’s more about minibeasts and their knees in Dorothy Aldis’ Singing: ‘Little birds sing with their beaks / In the apple trees; / But little crickets in the grass / Are singing with their knees. ‘

Interestingly October has four wasp poems though I’m less well disposed towards those buzzers as I have a wasps’ nest all a-buzz outside one of the bedroom windows; so I really appreciate the opening lines of Carol Ann Duffy’s The Wasp: ‘Help me to love the wasp, / help me to do that thing – / to admire the raspy buzz / of its wings, to grow fond / of its droning whinge.’

Having spent most of this review talking of creatures small, I should finish with a poem about a large one and a favourite of mine – the subject of another new delight for me; it’s Liz Brownlee’s An Elephant is Born: ‘Night holds them safe / the moon cloud gleams, / deep in the darkness / of soft breath and dreams, // the elephant mother / greets her new son, / with a tender and gentle, / low, soft hum, // strokes his face / the night-left long, / and sings her newborn / elephant song.’

Finally, I must endorse what Nosy Crow’s Louise Bolongaro says in her introduction, ‘Poems and reading “matter” more than ever but so does the natural world. If this book can nurture a love of the animal kingdom, then maybe it will also help create the conservationists of the future.’ If that isn’t a reason to go out and buy a copy to give as well as one to keep, then what is?

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