A wonderful anthology of poems about insects has just been published and I am very excited that it includes my poem, My Little World (also a picture book by the same name). The Poetry Bug is a collection by English entomologist John Tennent. The book features old favourites such as The Spider And The Fly by Mary Howitt, many little-known or unpublished gems and even a poem by the editor himself.
Tennent has authored over two hundred scientific papers. His knowledge of insects is obvious from the careful selection of poems and the well written natural history notes about the focal species that begin each chapter and accompany many of the poems. But as Tennent points out in the preface, “although the primary theme is insects, humour comes a close second” making this book an fun as it is informative.
The Poetry Bug could not have been put together quickly, and indeed Tennent wrote to me that “For some years, I have been collecting examples of insects in poetry. The pile of paper has now reached alarming proportions..!” Tennent has found a marvellous diversity of poems about often overlooked animals and their interactions with other life-forms, including ourselves. Such a collection is only possible from someone who is truly fascinated by insects and searches for them everywhere, with eyes to see them in unexpected places. As Tennent wrote in a email, the tome includes “some authors and poets not obviously associated with insects, from Vikram Seth to Pam Ayres“. These keen observation skills and the far-reaching searches for poems mirrors Tennent’s research which has taken him to remote locations, including parts of Papua New Guinea. He has discovered over a hundred new butterfly species which he has subsequently described. In the preface Tennent notes “like insect research, poetry provides another – albeit rather different – means of travelling far away…”
My entry appears in the chapter suitably named “Ragbag (other Orders and general)” following chapters which include The Entomologist, Butterflies, Bees and Wasps, Ants and Beetles. In a note below My Little World, Tennent makes the link from my description of scribbly-gum moth larvae tracks (“a funny zig-zag pencil line, scribbled on the bark“) to the poem Scribbly-gum by Judith Wright (“...and found the written track, of a life I could not read“). Beneath Wright’s poem the behaviour of scribbly gum moths is described and the recent advances in understanding their taxonomy summarised.
It is extremely humbling (or rather I know I’m well out of my league here!), to see my words in the same volume as those of Robert Burns, Lewis Carroll, Dante, Emily, Dickinson, Robert Frost, Keats, Kipling, Lear, DH Lawrence, Spike Milligan, AA Milne, Nabokov, Vikram Seth, Tennyson and Wordsworth. I’m one of about 20 living authors included, and I think the youngest of those. Needless to say, it was a daunting task to write a biography for the back of the book. I’m very grateful to my colleague and friend Ted Edwards for brining the poem to Tennent’s attention and to John for adding it to his collection and taking the trouble to obtain permission to include it.
It is a treat to dip into this book and read verses about collembola, fireflies and dung beetles, with the poems capturing the wonder of these animals, and Tennent’s words adding natural history details and other interesting asides. The Poetry Bug took me from just outside my window in an English garden, right across the (insect) world, all the time laughing and learning.
Tennent, JW. 2015. The Poetry Bug. Pathian, Cardigan.
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