Poet of Honour: Pascale Petit

Pascale Petit

Poet of Honour is a series of Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation’s celebration of some of the best contemporary poets who have become iconic and a major inspiration. This month we are thrilled to present Pascale Petit, who just won this year’s £5,000 inaugural Laurel Prize for ecopoetry with Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books). Not forgetting that her this year’s collection Tiger Girl, depicting her grandmother, was also short listed for the Forward Prize. In the collection, Petit embraces her grandmother’s Indian heritage in the settings of the nature’s voice through subcontinent’s fauna and flora. As in her other collections, her voice is a santoor gently drifting and scattering droplets of music invoking soul’s delight.

-Yogesh Patel MBE

Three poems by Pascale Petit

Pascale Petit
Pascale Petit

credit Brian Fraser

For a Coming Extinction

(after W. S. Merwin)

You whom we have named Charger, Challenger,
Great King, and Noor the shining one,

now that you are at the brink of extinction,
I am writing to those of you

who have reached the black groves of the sky,
where you glide beneath branches of galaxies,

your fur damasked with constellations,
tell him who sits at the centre of the mystery,

that we did all we could.
That we kept some of you alive

in the prisons we built for you.
You tigers of Amur and Sumatra,

of Turkey and Iran, Java and Borneo,
and you – Royal Bengals, who lingered last.

Tell the one who would judge
that we are innocent of your slaughter.

That we kiss each pugmark,
the water trembling inside

as if you had just passed.
Masters of ambush and camouflage,

hiding behind astral trees,
invisible as always,

when we gaze up at the night,
when we look lightyears into the past –

we see your eyes staring down at us.

The Anthropocene

A bride wears a train
of three thousand
peacock plumes

She walks down the aisle
like a planet
trailing her seas

every wave an eye
shivering with the memory
of the display

how the trees turned
to watch as the bird
raised the fan of his tail –

emerald forests
bronze atolls
lapis islands

every eye
a storm
held in abeyance

Green Bee-eater

More precious than all
the gems of Jaipur –

the green bee-eater.

If you see one singing
tree-tree-tree

with his space-black bill
and rufous cap,

his robes
all shades of emerald

like treetops glimpsed
from a plane,

his blue cheeks,
black eye-mask

and the delicate tail streamer
like a plume of smoke –

you might dream
of the forests

that once clothed
our flying planet.

And perhaps his singing
is a spell

to call our forests back –

tree
by tree
by tree.

All poems are with permission from Bloodaxe Books

Pascale Petit
Pascale Petit

Pascale Petit was born in Paris, grew up in France and Wales and lives in Cornwall. She is of French/Welsh/Indian heritage. Her eighth collection, Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books, 2020), was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection, and a poem from the book won the 2020 Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize. Her previous collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018, was a Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018, and is shortlisted for the inaugural Laurel Prize 2020. She published six earlier collections, four of which were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. She received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2015, and was the chair of the judges for the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Serbian and French. Trained as a sculptor at the Royal College of Art, she spent the first part of her life as a visual artist.

To read poets honoured previously here is roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri