Pascale Petit is of French, Welsh and Indian heritage. Her seventh poetry collection Mama Amazonica won the 2018 RSL Ondaatje Prize (the first poetry collection to do so), was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her sixth collection, Fauverie, was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. She has had three collections selected as Books of the Year in the TLS, Independent and The Observer. She received a Cholmondeley Award in 2015, is a recipient of the inaugural RSL Literature Matters Award and in 2018 was elected an RSL Fellow.
From the opening poem ‘Bird’, we soar over the Black Country with Liz Berry on warm thermals, swoop down into streets with names like Wren’s Nest and Darkly Lane. Here is a love affair with a place – erotic and mystical, earthy yet airborne – laced with coal grit, some of the poems in delicious dialect. Do also read her new pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood and please go and hear her perform.
The Night Life of Trees
Bhajju Shyam, Ram Singh Urveti and Durga BaiIf
There is one book that conjures the tiger forests of Madhya Pradesh, this is it! The Gonds, a forest tribe of Central India, have screen-printed their tree paintings on thick black hand-bound paper, along with short accompanying myths. There is so much more going on beneath the surface of tiger forests – the chital with their tree-antlers, the flamboyant birds, and the sacred trees, centre of each page, with names like ‘Tree of Song’ and ‘The Tree of Twelve Horns’.
The Blind Owl
I read this Persian masterpiece The Blind Owl in my twenties, and still think it’s my favourite novel, not for the subject matter – a doomed love affair and descent into madness – but for the style and image-making. This tale of obsession is an opium hallucination of recurring motifs set in an imaginary Iran, a hut on the border of town. But the place this book reveals is supernatural and the houses are cones and prisms in an unforgettable dream painting.
The Heights of Macchu Picchu
Is there any better evocation of a citadel than Pablo Neruda’s Heights of Macchu Picchu? The lines are sumptuous, oceanic, magical, and so physical! The mountaintop ruin comes alive. Along with the sublime descriptions, I love how Neruda praises Juan, a common stonecutter, it’s so tender and compassionate. The Peruvian Andes spring to life in all their cloud forested glory. Neruda is one of my poetry gods.
Mother of God
Not a literary work, but utterly gripping! Paul Rosolie goes alone into the pristine lowland rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon in search of giant anacondas and jaguars. It is the book that led me to go there myself, twice, and I wish I could return. It’s the book I took to reread there, while searching for wild jaguars. I wish I could be a fearless eco-warrior and adventurer like him.