Sunday 7 November 2021

Mute Swans on the Cam by Jan Harris

Mute Swans on the Cam 

Several years ago now, I published four of Jan Harris' poems on Bolts of Silk, the poetry journal I used to edit (you can read her poems here). So I was delighted when she asked me to review her collection Mute Swans on the Cam

This is a beautiful book of poetry about birds and landscape and our relationship with nature. 

Starting with the title poem, this book is full of closely observed, evocative descriptions, for example mute swans that

"... skid to a halt, suddenly gawky as ducklings / webbed feet all a-kilter"

while in Multilingual: "a skylark stretches air into cascades of song"

and many poems show birds adapting to a world that has been changed by human activity, such as the Peregrine Falcons that:

"roost above the traffic's growl,
an eyrie that would grace a mountainside
roofed by orange glow,
the baffled stars beyond,
Other poems illustrate how some changes are happening too quickly for nature to adapt:  

"A European common frog
drawn here by your birth pool's scent 
to find houses, concrete paths"
from Frog in my greenhouse

Memories of Swifts starts with rapturous descriptions of those (my favourite) birds and ends with a meditation on their decline, driven by the decline in insects. 

Although I've focussed on the natural history element of the book, people (who arguably are part of nature, though we so often don't seem to behave as though we are) also populate many of the poems: for example farmers, colliers and others.

A number of poems very specifically address the extinction crisis that we humans are driving (including Earth Summit, The Bramble Cay Melonmys and Eva homosapiens ssp brokenheart). I defy anyone to read those three poems without finding a tear in your eye. 

It's not all doom and gloom. For example  Small Song of Renewal celebrates an abandoned coal mine that is now returning to nature. However, the overall focus on what we risk losing is entirely appropriate given the times we live in.

This collection will make the reader meditate on the beauty of nature and how we need to start to protect it before it's too late. 

Mute Swans on the Cam by Jan Harris published by Oversteps Books (2020). You can buy the book at this link

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book in return for an honest review. 



eileeninmd said...

Great review, thanks for sharing!
Have a great new week!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I hope it isn't already too late. Ms Harris' words are evocative and thought-provoking. I would like to read the three poems you cite at the end of your post (although I am sure they would make me cry); I wonder if her book is available on this side of the pond.

Lowcarb team member said...

Many thanks for news about this book and your review.

All the best Jan

Crafty Green Poet said...

Sallie - it is available to buy overseas! See this page: I'll add that to the review too.