Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Reading from French translations of Fauverie at Maison de la Poésie in Paris with Valérie Rouzeau

On June 13th I gave my first reading from Fauverie in Paris, at the Maison de la Poésie. I was honoured to share the event with Valérie Rouzeau, my favourite contemporary French poet, and even happier that she translated the poems I read. She is well known for the verve and inventiveness of the language and the wordplay in her poems so I am lucky to have her as a translator. Susan Wicks has translated Valérie's books Pas Revoir (Cold Spring in Winter) and Vrouz (Talking Vrouz) in superb bilingial editions published by Arc's Visible Poets' series. Cold Spring in Winter / Pas Revoir was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize. I urge you to read them.

I illustrated my reading at the Maison de la Poésie with images. Here is a king vulture's head. It's a sacred bird, a god to Amazonian tribes. I think I must be exclaiming how old Margot and N'golo are – about 50 now – the couple that I visit in the zoo and who feature in both my books The Zoo Father and Fauverie. My poem 'Self-Portrait with King Vultures' draws on the extraordinary encounter I had with a baby king vulture in the zoo nursery, the baby god struggling to stand and fluff up his wingstubs in a child's playpen. Thanks to the Maison de la Poésie for the photo.

The day after our reading Valérie and I went to Vincennes Zoo to see Aramis, the black jaguar who stars in Fauverie and who graces its cover. It was the first time Valérie had gone to a zoo and I'll never forget her reaction to the herd of sixteen giraffes in the distance!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The gate to the Jardin des Plantes, leopards and Mama Amazonica

As this is a flying visit to Paris I booked a little hotel directly opposite the gate to the Jardin des Plantes! This is the view from my window, onto a two hundred year old royal oak, which in the balmy evenings has a crow perched on its topmost twig, swaying in the haze. The gate opens at 8am, when I stroll in to the secret Jardin Alpin. From there, I climb to the top terrace which abutts the deer enclosure of the zoo, and stroke the fallow does.

Then, when the zoo opens, at 9am, I go in, always straight to the Fauverie, past the owl cages, the red pandas, to see what the fauves are up to. Yesterday was very exciting because at last the aged snow leopard Karu was mating with his young mate Esha. His previous mate died two years ago, and it had always seemed as if Esha was too boisterous for him. She is raw energy, leaping from the top branch of the high enclosure to the floor in one bound, while he cowers in the corner. 

Here is Esha, in a rare moment of stillness. But alas, all was not well, when I returned at closing time, when the cats are lured into the interior of the Fauverie to eat, Karu had a limp on his back paw, and looked very sorry for himself. The vet was called to give him anti-inflammatories, and when I asked her about him she said that he was old and Esha was too rough for him, they were not tender with each other. Poor Karu. 

This is Karu and Esha's neighbour, Tao the North China leopard. Esha kept racing up to peer at him through their barriers and this is him looking rather puzzled at this white madcat that kept flashing her tail at him. The expression in his eyes is an exquisite cross between innocence and ferocity, I don't think I've ever seen anything so wild. Both he and Bao-bao his mate are untameable, Bao-bao especially snarls at people, while Karu loves people as he was hand-raised.

I came to Paris this time to take part in Inua Ellams' Midnight Run, and to give my first ever reading from Fauverie in Paris, at the Maison de la Poésie, with the fabulous French poet Valérie Rouzeau, who translated the poems I read. It was a special event for me as Fauverie is all about Paris (the wild side), where I was born, and Valérie is a poet I very much admire.

This is a quick note because today is my last day and I must rush to Vincennes Zoo, to see Aramis the black jaguar and Simara the gold female jaguar. Valérie and I went there on Sunday but A and S were asleep.

I'm working on my seventh poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which I'm delighted to announce will be published by Bloodaxe in 2017. There will be research in the Peruvian Amazon, if all goes according to plan, next spring, but meanwhile animals still are very central to the book, as is my mother, who was severely mentally ill. The book takes place in psychiatric wards and the Amazon rainforest.