Fiona Sinclair is not usually a fan of ‘nature’ poetry but makes an exception in the case of Gordon Meade’s new collection

 Gordon-Meade-9780992648503-Front-cover

Sounds of the Real World
Gordon Meade
Cultured Llama Publishing
ISBN 978-0-9926485-0-3
104 pp  £8

 

This is a collection that places the entire natural world, including man, on an equal footing. Meade’s style is that of a gentle raconteur. The tone is deceptively casual mixing an everyday lexis with humour and whimsy. Consequently an intimacy is achieved as if he is passing the time of day with the reader.

Man tends to be the less appealing species when compared to the rest of his co-inhabitants in the natural world. We encounter many of our more ambivalent qualities including; alcohol abuse, attempted suicide and looting. The poem on the subject of the London riots is wittily entitled ‘Supermarket Sweep’. Here Meade subtly criticises not only the greed of the original television show but the greater avarice of those in the riots who steal as much loot as you can carry past the occasional burnt-out home.  The persona’s disgust at this baser side of humanity is revealed in the bitter lines you are allowed to use any means you think necessary to get want you want.  Many such commentaries on modern life are simply expressed but deal with some deeply philosophical ideas. One of the finest poems in this vein explores the lure of Facebook in our culture, where it seems that unless you have shared something with the rest of the world/then nothing actually happened.

The poems devoted to animals are frequently whimsical, tapping into our human predisposition to anthropomorphise the birds and animals that surround us. Thus rats are described as strolling unashamedly, through the park, with one eye on the eighteenth century palace, and the other on the main chance.  Meade’s use of personification is a clever device that serves to draw us even closer to the wildlife we co-exist with. I particularly enjoyed ‘The lawn Inspector’ a poem that describes in fine detail the charm of a crow patrolling a garden lawn.

Such poems follow a pattern whereby the narrator first focuses on an aspect of nature and then the thought processes become a reverie about other deeper matters.  In many such cases these debate man’s relationship to his fellow creatures. This is best seen in the poem ‘A Starling at Camden Lock’ where the narrator’s observation of a starling broadens out to thoughts on our obsession with celebrity.  Some poems inevitably touch upon humans’ treatment of other species. A particularly fine example comes in the poem ‘Speaking of Nim’ which recounts a university’s efforts to teach a chimpanzee sign language. Meade’s approbation of this experiment – whose failure is blamed not on the scientists but the ape – can be felt in the excellent final line nor in spite of years of injustice, did he ever sign a single angry word.

Unusually for poems dealing with the natural world, many of the animals and birds discussed are in fact in an urban situation, thereby effectively reinforcing this idea of us co-habiting . This is taken to its farthest point in the poems based on visits to London Zoo.  Here man is but a pane of glass away from animals which, if given their freedom, could endanger him.  Lions, hyenas and Black Mambas are treated with every emotion from fear to admiration.  I feel too that the significance of these poems lies in the pane of glass that separates human from beast: it symbolises how close we are to other animal species.  In the biographical details, Meade is revealed to be a poet who has moved from a rural environment to London. Consequently, the poems have narrators who are constantly aware of and alert to the natural world wherever they live. Thus we have poems about a robin observed in London Zoo and ‘A Cormorant in Regent’s Canal.’

Many poems deal with Meade’s evident love of the sea. On one level this acknowledges our Darwinian origins while on another it references the biological fact that we are made up of so much water. Yet the predominant impression is one of love poems to the ocean.  Of all the natural elements defined in the collection it is the sea that comes off best. It clearly fascinates, charms – even tries to seduce – Meade. Yet this is not blind love. All the sea’s moods and dangers are described. Once again personification is deployed well to make the ocean appear as another character in the collection. Moreover the language used in these poems lacks the harshness sometimes seen in the pieces which focus on the animal kingdom.  All of which leaves the reader with the impression of the sea as a friend, lover or relative who is loved for both its beauty and its flaws.

I am not generally a fan of ‘nature‘ poems but these are exceptional in the way that they seek to put man firmly in his place in a world where he and animals co-exist. Seen at such close quarters, human nature is compared to animal behaviour and often found wanting.

 

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Fiona Sinclair‘s first full collection will be published in September 2014. She is the editor/founder of the on-line poetry magazine Message in a Bottle.