A very moving, powerful book.Daljit Nagra, Front Row

Pascale Petit’s new poetry collection marks a shift from the Amazonian rainforests of her previous work to explore her grandmother’s Indian heritage and the fauna and flora of subcontinental jungles. The ‘Tiger Girl’ of the title is the grandmother, with her tales of wild tigers, but also the endangered predators Petit encountered in Central India. The saving grace of love in an otherwise bleak childhood is celebrated through spellbinding visions of nature, alongside haunting images of poaching and species extinction – as shown in the three poems below.

 

Green Bee-eater

More precious than all
the gems of Jaipur –

the green bee-eater.

If you see one singing
tree-tree-tree

with his space-black bill
and rufous cap,

his robes
all shades of emerald

like treetops glimpsed
from a plane,

his blue cheeks,
black eye-mask

and the delicate tail streamer
like a plume of smoke –

you might dream
of the forests

that once clothed
our flying planet.

And perhaps his singing
is a spell

to call our forests back –

tree

by tree

by tree.

 

Prize Photograph

And this wild elephant, crossing State Highway 9 –
his footprints lakes for dragonflies and bees –

does not yet know the chaff of a howdah,
ankle chains, or the sting of the bull hook.

His mother is ahead, her ears flapping
for his rumbles that she also feels through her feet.

Only now her feet are burning, and she’s
closed her ears to the firecrackers, the jeers

of the mob protecting their fields. Already
one farmer has hung himself when his crop

and home were trampled – how could he feed his family?
And one woman has been crushed to death.

The men lob tar firebombs at the invaders –
go back jungli haathi! they shout, banging

on tin drums. The matriarch runs from the noise,
doesn’t hear her calf scream, his back legs alight. 

Hell is now and here the caption will say
as Biplap Hazra clicks the shot of his life.

Read the story behind Biplap Hazra’s shocking photograph of the wild elephant and her calf fleeing
a fireball attack in West Bengal in National Geographic

 

#ExtinctionRebellion

The day will come when papers
will only tell leaf-stories
of blackbirds’ quarrels with sparrows.

Their pages will roll back into trees
and the front page will be bark.

Tabloids will be hundred-winged birds
singing earth anthems.

I’ll settle into the buttress root of my armchair
and watch ants swarm

to text me secrets from the soil
adding emojis
of all our lost species.

I’ll be surrounded by phones
that light up with chlorophyll,
vibrating like workers in their hives –

an apiary of apps.

I’ll touch a vanda orchid
and it’ll open
easily as hypertext,

everyone will hold leaves
intently as smartphones

to hear them retweet birdsong
from archives.

This is my homepage, where I belong.
This is my wood wide web,

my contour map
with which to navigate
a new internet –

rootlets sparking towards rootlets
underground.

Underground
where resistance is in progress –

fungal friends working in darkness,
their windows blacked out.

 

Pascale Petit was born in Paris, grew up in France and Wales and lives in Cornwall. She spent the first part of her life as a sculptor and trained at the Royal College of Art. Her eighth poetry collection, Tiger Girl (2020) is on the shortlist for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection. It won an RSL Literature Matters Award while in progress, and a poem from the book, ‘Indian Paradise Flycatcher’, won the 2020 Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize. Her previous collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018, was a Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018 and is on the shortlist for The Laurel Prize 2020. In 2018 she was appointed as Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Serbian and French. She was Poetry Editor of Poetry London from 1989 to 2005 and is a co-founding tutor of The Poetry School. She has translated poems by Yang Lian, Zhai Yongming, Wang Xiaoni, Xiao Kaiyu, Xi Chuan, Zhou Zan and Amir Or, and has given readings nationally and internationally. Tiger Girl is published in paperback by Bloodaxe Books.
Read more
pascalepetit.co.uk
@pascalepoet
@BloodaxeBooks

Author portrait © Brian Fraser

Cover illustration: Detail from The story of the tiger and the boar by Jangarh Singh Shyam, 1994

Comments

comments