David Morley, an ecologist and naturalist by background, is Professor of Writing at Warwick University. His poetry collections include The Magic of What’s There, The Invisible Gift, The Gypsy and the Poet, The Invisible Kings, Scientific Papers, Enchantment, A Belfast Kiss and Clearing a Name. He is known, too, for his poetry installations within natural landscapes. David has also written The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. He has a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors and won the Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry in 2016. David Morley was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.
A single book can change you forever: Watership Down transformed me when I read it at twelve. It is a magical realist drama about rabbits yet is so much more than the sum of its parts. The storytelling is compelling; its themes dark and fraught: male friendship and rivalry, nihilism, totalitarianism, the Holocaust. Its range of reference still astonishes, with epigraphs drawn from Blake, Browning, Tennyson, Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Plato, Flaubert, Robinson Jeffers, and many more. New readers will find much to explore and enjoy in this enchanted world of burrows, daredevil escapes, and midnight raids; yet the book delves far deeper than mere adventure. Old readers will find much to re-assess. What would contemporary children’s literature look like today without it? Which books have changed your life?
Translations from the Natural World
The Australian super-poet Les Murray ingeniously imitates and translates the perceptions and voices of molluscs, sunflowers, spermaceti, cuttlefish, cell DNA, elephants, cats, cows on a killing day, ravens, echidnas, lyrebirds and – most memorably – a poem written in the syntax of bat’s ultrasound. The rich, inventive language of this slim volume still knocks me out. The voicing is never anthropocentric: it is a total inhabiting of a creaturely world. At the same time, it speaks to human sorrow, personal drama, and love for life. Reading groups are very much advised to read these poems aloud!
Geography III opens in media res with quotations set as poems from a geography textbook, and then leaps into poetry of such astounding order that the mind is swept clean of everything one might expect of poetry’s possibility. Here is adventure and invention in ‘Crusoe in England’; the concision of ‘death, deaths and sicknesses’ in ‘The Moose’; and a villanelle to end all villanelles in ‘One Art’ – ‘...the art of losing’s not too hard to master/ though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster’. This is one of the most artfully organised poetry books you will encounter, and one of the closest experiences of writerly restraint exploring extraordinary grief. As with Les Murray, it repays the reader to speak these poems out loud.
The Stopping Places
Damian Le Bas
The Stopping Places is an account of Damian Le Bas’ journey through Gypsy Britain. I have written poems on the Roma in both English and Romani, and it is elating to read such brilliant nonfiction about Romani life. Le Bas’ subjects are language, landscape and identity as he explores ‘the stopping places’ (atching tans) of British Travellers. Yet there is far more to this book than the outward journey in his Transit Van. This is an inner journey: sometimes harsh, melancholic and deeply troubled. Yet it is also a history of Traveller experience, and a celebration of community and family. There is no sentimentality, condescension, or exoticisation. The Stopping Places is the most truthful book you will read about what it feels like to be half-in and half-out of Gypsy culture.