"In the Insect Room": a poem by Gillian Clarke

Marsh Fritillaries

A drawer of butterflies,
each impaled on the tiny stilt of its pin,
as numerous as those quivering, alive
in the colonies on Cors Llawr Cwrt, larvae
that live on Devil’s Bit Scabious on the bog.
They hunger, eat, belong, mate, breed and die.

I love their language, pupae, chrysallis,
the coloured oculi that dot their wings,
their almost symmetry, their beauty
nourished on buttercup, betony, bugle,
sprung from the hoof-prints of grazing cattle
on wetland and marsh.

Though none here stir, they could be alive.
If I gaze long enough, they move.

 

The Snowdon Rainbow Beetle

Trapped like the Snowdon Lily when ice lost its grip
as loosening glaciers began to slip,
mountains gave way with a slow, deep groan,
scouring valleys from the tuffs and ash
of old upheavals, this creature went its own way
to survive on Snowdon’s western flanks
feeding on flowers of the wild thyme.

Genetically distinct, a jewel,
its elytra striped with emerald, copper, gold,
precious metals of the mountain’s heart,
blue of the inky llyn, the colour of slate
in rain.

      What’s beauty for, but to disguise
a beetle as a waterdrop to hold
Snowdonia in a carapace of gold?

***

Gillian Clarke is the National Poet of Wales. Her latest collection is Ice (Carcanet, 2012). “In the Insect Room” was written while she was poet in residence at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge last spring. She will be appearing with Carol Ann Duffy at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 3 April. The festival runs from 1-6 April (cambridgeliteraryfestival.com; 01223 300 085).

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

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Hillary and the Viking: dramatising life with the Clintons

August radio should be like a corkboard, with a few gems pinned here and there. Heck, Don’t Vote for Him is one.

Now is the season of repeats and stand-in presenters. Nobody minds. August radio ought to be like a corkboard – things seemingly long pinned and faded (an Angela Lansbury doc on Radio 2; an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor on Radio 4 Extra) and then the occasional bright fragment. Like Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 at the Albert Hall (Prom 43, 17 August).

But on Radio 4, two new things really stand out. An edition of In the Criminologist’s Chair (16 August, 4pm) in which the former bank robber (and diagnosed psychopath) Noel “Razor” Smith recalls, among other memorable moments, sitting inside a getaway car watching one of his fellows “kissing his bullets” before loading. And three new dramas imagining key episodes in the Clintons’ personal and political lives.

In the first (Heck, Don’t Vote for Him, 6 August, 2.30pm), Hillary battles with all the “long-rumoured allegations of marital infidelity” during the 1992 Democratic primaries. Fenella Woolgar’s (brilliant, unburlesqued) Hillary sounds like a woman very often wearing a fantastically unhappy grin, watching her own political ambitions slip through her fingers. “I deserve something,” she appeals to her husband, insisting on the position of attorney general should he make it to the top – but “the Viking” (his nickname at college, due to his great head of hair) is off, gladhanding the room. You can hear Woolgar’s silent flinch, and picture Hillary’s face as it has been these past, disquieting months, very clearly.

I once saw Bill Clinton speak at a community college in New Jersey during the 2008 Obama campaign. Although disposed not to like him, I found his wattage, without question, staggering. Sweeping through the doors of the canteen, he amusedly removed the microphone from the hands of the MC (a local baseball star), switched it off, and projected for 25 fluent minutes (no notes). Before leaving he turned and considered the smallest member of the audience – a cross-legged child clutching a picture book of presidents. In one gesture, Clinton flipped it out of the boy’s hands, signed the cover – a picture of Lincoln – and was gone.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue