cover image On Migration: Dangerous Journeys and the Living World

On Migration: Dangerous Journeys and the Living World

Ruth Padel. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61902-195-2

In this collection, British conservationist and poet Padel (Tigers in Red Weather), the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, muses on the transient natures of creatures high and low, which she classifies using two types: “Go and Stay,” which encompasses both the spread of prehistoric plants from sea to land and the erratic movement of humans; and “Go and Come Back,” which includes birds going south for the winter and salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The book is structured as a mixture of poetry and prose, and, as Padel explains, “the prose interludes are not essays but introductions to each run of poems.” However, the poems in each set vary in topic to such a degree that the prose introduction, in trying to mirror that variety, ceases to feel like an introduction and instead becomes like a poem of its own. Migrations depicted in the poems include cells replicating courtesy of DNA helicase; fruit bats flying to Congo and pollinating the jungles; and refugees from Cuba floating across the ocean on a raft of chairs. Unfortunately, the prose passages are so lyrical that Padel undercuts the power of her poems, and scientific facts bog down the poetry—especially when those facts appeared previously in the introductions to various sections. The writing is beautiful, but the book often repeats itself. Agent: Robert Kirby, United Agents (London). (Sept.)