South African poet Harry Owens was so distressed by the ever-increasing poaching of wild rhino (the rarer they become, the more valuable their horn on the black market for curing … nothing) that he decided to do what he could to promote their conservation. What can a poet do? We don’t have vast fortunes; we don’t have political clout. Harry called on the poetry community for support; he decided to produce a book to raise awareness of the rhinos’ plight and to raise funds for conservation. I learned of his project via FaceBook and sent some poems, which were accepted. Poets from all over the world have sent rhino-, conservation- and Africa-themed poems. The result is an amazing book, For Rhino in a Shrinking World, which was published on World Book Day, 2013.
I blogged about it at the time but didn’t blog the poems. Now, as a reminder that the book is still available (and fantastic! I am the least of the poets in there, I should add), here are my three offerings:
Bats pour like furry water
from a crack beneath
our rondavel’s tin roof
as sunset eases sweltering heat.
Slip-streamed by stink of mosquito-
blood guano they fall and fly
in a whispering, leather-scuffed, silver river,
shadows slink into listening.
Elephants step soft-footed centre stage,
picking high pods
from spine-guarded filigree acacias.
Pennant winged nightjars’ silhouettes
bob against indigo imagination
like Hammer Horror elastic vampires
archived in sepia.
A collateral damage of humanity.
A shrivel of critics.
A flange of baboons.
An obstinacy of buffalos.
A piteousness of doves.
Trivia lists – pub quiz questions –
exclude some species:
pandas, kakapos, axolotls, baijis.
Other collective nouns are now redundant –
An extinction of dodos, moas, aurochs, great auks, woolly mammoths…
Bristol, c 1972.
There may have been one
at the zoo.
We scurried in pairs,
shoved, chattered like vervets
on our junior school trip –
cagoules, satchels, sandwiches.
Mrs Cheeseman told us to keep together,
not get lost in the crowds.
Lions snored, ignoring us.
The tiger, prison-barred,
bored, glared at nothing.
Mrs Cheeseman said it might as well be stuffed,
visitors would see it better.
We made notes, rustled ideas,
sketched animals in action.
I drew an elephant, standing;
then another, lying.
Mrs Cheeseman told me
not to waste paper.
So now, looking
at that scrap book,
I don’t know if
the rhino was there,