Thursday, 7 March 2013

Land of Deer

We retroprogressives have long relished the fact that Britain's deer population is back up to medieval levels - but now the news gets even better: the deer population, according to the latest research, is the highest it's been since the last Ice Age. Naturally this news has its down side, as deer populations this large do damage their environment, especially in woodland - so a cull of 50 percent is being called for. Is a new age of cheap venison on the way? Don't hold your breath...
  Despite this burgeoning population, deer remain elusive creatures, and seeing one is always a bit magical, like an encounter with a creature from another age. Menaces to the environment though they may be, they are beautiful to the eye and seem to walk in a kind of enchanted air, in a world very much their own, to which we can have no access. Many poets have written about deer - none more hauntingly perhaps than Edward Thomas in Out in the Dark... And then there was one deer poem that was so good it was, by some mysterious process, written twice. Behold - here is The Deer by Helen Mort, which won the Cafe Writers Open Poetry Competition in Norwich in 2009:

The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays
and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters that we waited for
at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.
Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my mother at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden's edge.
From where she stood, I saw them stealing
through the pines, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur
their eyes, like hers, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

And here is The Deer at Exmoor, which won the Hope Bourne poetry prize for Christian Ward in 2011:

The deer my father swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays
and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters we waited for
at the River Exe, more graceful than the peregrine
falcon landing at Bossington Beach.
Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my father at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden's edge.
From where he stood, I saw them stealing
through the trees, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur
their eyes, like his, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

Not surprisingly this coincidence caused a bit of a kerfuffle in poetry circles, with Christian Ward professing himself 'deeply sorry', while asserting that it was all a mistake and he had had no intention of 'deliberately plagiarising' Helen Mort's poem. Ah well, these things happen.


10 comments:

  1. A new golden age of cheap venison? It brings to mind the seemingly apocryphal old English law limiting the number of times one could serve salmon to ones apprentices in the course of a week. Can venison now be far behind?

    Over here there are parts of more rural America where it keeps the family fed when all else fails. Mind you you can barely move around here without tripping over one of the bloody things.

    ReplyDelete
  2. poets eh? ho.ho!

    ReplyDelete
  3. They multiply like....uh....deer?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Poets have stooshies? I thought that they were such a mild mannered lot, except Larkin of course, Hulls very own Don Giovanni. This winters tally, deer-wise..............

    The ivy covering the dry stone walls, approx 300 yards worth.

    Our favourite rhododendrons (5)

    Lillac trees (misc)

    Most of the best fruiters in the orchard

    Resulting in 1 cubic metre of deer turd.

    And that is just four of the little buggers. I am under strict orders from the womenfolk, "you dare"



    ReplyDelete
  5. only homo "sapiens" could envisage as evil a concept as "culling", ashamed for my species...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm with you anon! And God bless you, Malty, for growing all that deer fodder! I hope they enjoyed your fruit, and will return for more....the poor deers can hardly shop at Tesco...there would be consternation....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Isn't it embarassing when you are found to have plagiarized accidentally?

    ReplyDelete