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Dark Sky Park: Poems from the Edge of Nature

Dark Sky Park: Poems from the Edge of Nature

Philip Gross
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781910959886

Philip Gross has chosen to celebrate some of the most unusual and unknown aspects of the natural world in this mesmerising anthology which had me wondering, learning, looking and so much more. Quite apart from being captivated by his poetic voice, I came away all the richer for what I learnt about worms, tardigrades, terns, even ivy!

It's a collection that works on so many levels: we can't but marvel about the amazing minute tardigrades who have been on earth for 500 million years:

'I was there from the off - / the sound of life revving up all over. / This was, oh, a cool half billion years ago.' ('Tardigrade in the Cambrian Era' p.55).

I was particularly taken by the sequence of 'Saga' poems about these little known creatures. Short, tubby and with eight legs, the largest is no longer than half a millimeter. Endearingly, they are also known as water bears or moss piglets: 'You say tardigrade - slow-stepper, / sluggish walker, micro-sloth, Or, / if you want to get familiar, water bear. / Moss piglet if you must./ ('A tardigrade by any other name'. p.30).

Graceful though Arctic Terns (p.24) may be (they are also known as sea swallows), their attacks on anything that threatens their nests are sharp and vicious: '... all clash / and clamour, shriek and wheel / like knife grinders in the flight.../'. They nest on sea stacs where '... the boulders / huddle close into each other's / shelter, tight against the cold / as the stone-spit narrows, and the weather // grips you, .../'. This poem offers a perfect companion for Geraldine McGaughrean's Carnegie-winning novel, Where the World Ends - a vivid fictionalised account of what happens to a group of boys and men abandoned on a sea stac in the Outer Hebrides at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Look out for the humorous strand of 'Extreme...' poems: 'Lava-Boarding' at the Extreme Sports Olympics (p.21); 'Extreme Aunt' Adelina (p.50) currently being searched for a by a submarine; there's an 'Extreme Uncle' (p.52) too but he's anything but extreme and only at the 'Extreme Musical Festival' (p.46) will you find a storm harp and moon music. Gross suggests that children may like to think up different kinds of extreme music observing that 'The fantastical answers may turn out to say a lot about a real place, or person'.

Recent events are movingly brought to the fore in 'Aleppo Cat' (p.26): an atmospherically evoked description of a cat wandering in Aleppo's ruins:

Gone / And where the fish man / tossed the bones. / Gone. // Where the children chased her / with fierce cuddles, too young / to know their strength. / Gone, /'

As well as the poems, Gross's additional notes are fascinating. Did you know that Ivy-Leaved Toadflax was brought to this country in the cracks of Roman statues and has been in Britain for 400 years?! A robust climber, it has many other names: '... Call me / Wandering Sailor, Mother of Thousands; / in French, call me Ruine-de-Rome. // I'm here, I'm everywhere / you never look. On the brink, / on the edge, with no visible means / of support ... but at home.//

Finally, the reader is taken to the 'Dark Sky Park' (p.94) of the title. Set up to support astronomers, Dark Sky Parks offer a space where the stars ('spark after spark / from a burned-out bonfire, /) can be clearly seen as can the flickering of the Aurora Borealis: 'that dark blue-green fraying / of the dark / of space, like fine weed wavering / in a stream.../. These are beautiful and persistent images with which to conclude, as is the very last reminder of the synergy between humankind and the natural world: 'Or picture this: a little boy our late / beyond the streetlights, dap-dapping his ball, / this one and only precious globe, alone / in the park, / in the dark, / the dark sky park. //

96 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.


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