Sheenagh Pugh (sheenaghpugh) wrote,
Sheenagh Pugh

Dense hoover of the midday sun: review of For Rhino in a Shrinking World

Review of For Rhino in a Shrinking World, ed. Harry Owen, illustrated by Sally Scott, pub. The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013
For Rhino in a Shrinking World is an international anthology of poems and illustrations produced to raise awareness of the endangerment of rhino through poaching and to support the work of protecting them. All contributors have donated their work, and all proceeds go to the Chipembere Rhino Foundation.

Harry Owen began the project out of shock at the brutality of this trade, but, very sensibly, the book does not harp on horror; it is described in the introduction but gruesome facts are pretty much confined there, so as not to exclude the many concerned people who simply can't handle seeing such things illustrated or spoken of explicitly. If you're among them, you can read this book without fear of nightmares.

Not all the poems specifically concern rhino; some are more generally related to issues of conservation and despoliation. All have a cause in mind, though, and I wouldn't claim that all manage to completely avoid the great pitfall of polemic, namely being too obvious and approaching the reader with a linguistic club rather than a rapier. But this doesn't happen nearly as often as it might, and there are in fact many fine examples of how to get ideas across subtly, from Harry Owen's own poem "Your Tour Guide Speaks", where future tourists at the "Serengeti Roadshow" are invited to admire "elefords", "catillacs" and "audilope" rather than the real thing, through Marc Vincenz's "Crushed Dragon Bones", which dares to describe neutrally and leave all judgement to the reader, to Philip Neilsen's "The Dead Are Bored", a textbook example of how to write straight polemic and make it work by not forgetting to pay attention to rhythms and language.

For a European reader, a great bonus is hearing non-European voices describing unfamiliar landscapes – Amali Rodrigo swimming with seals is especially memorable, but Adam Tavel, Mxousi Nyezwa and several others transport us effortlessly across the world to great effect.

Poems that would impress in any company include Marc Vincenz's "Supermolecular", catching the rhythms, momentum and soundtrack of a whole natural world, Susan Richardson's "You'll never become a rhinoceros", getting inside another skin as well as Les Murray could, and my own favourite, Tony Williams' "Dear Rhino, Love from Hippo", a tour-de-force of language, imagery, humour and empathy with three species at once:

In the past month
I have eaten a rare fly, a wristwatch
a silhouette, odd chunks of my rivals' chins
and a vast tonnage of hay which you,
dense hoover of the midday sun, missed
when the eternal salad drawer of the night
clanked open as you slept.

Anyone could enjoy this book for the poems and the illustrations, but you can also have the happy consciousness of helping to protect a harmless and remarkable beast if you go to this page now. It's a most handsome, well-produced volume, no more expensive than you'd expect for an illustrated book, and anyhow, think where the money's going…
Tags: anthologies, book reviews, poetry, publishing
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