Open quote. The Mara Crossing mediates ideas of identity and culture through human and natural migrations: a welcome cultural intervention at a timely moment and a creative celebration of multiculturalism. Close quote. Socialist Review.

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Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction


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About Ruth

Ruth is an award-winning British poet and writer, Poetry Fellow at King’s College London, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Council Member for the Zoological Society of London.
  Her latest poetry collection is Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth: poems on the Middle East, tracing a quest for harmony in the midst of destruction. “A meditation on conflict and history, like the ending of TS Eliot's Little Gidding without the mono-culturalism. Sustained feats of imagination: every detail is valuable.” (Independent) “Wonderful, audacious and minutely crafted. The magnificent central section about the crucifixion is an imaginative feat, and her command of register is masterly, moving from formal to conversational with graceful authority.” (Observer)
  Ruth has been shortlisted for all major UK poetry prizes, most recently her 2012 collection The Mara Crossing, which mixes poems and prose to explore migration of animals and people. She has also published a novel on wildlife crime, Where the Serpent Lives, and eight books of non-fiction including I’m A Man: Sex, Gods and Rock ‘n’ Roll which weaves together Greek myth rock music and opera, and Tigers in Red Weather on wild tiger conservation. She teaches poetry at King’s College, London, is Ambassador for New Networks for Nature, and patron of 21st Century Tiger.

Recent Poem

This is from my new collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, whose poems address images of making, and the Middle East.

 Capoeira was invented by African slaves on Brazilian plantations, allowed to dance but not fight or bear arms. Volunteers from the charity Bidna Capoeira teach it to children in refugee camps on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  

CAPOEIRA BOY
I saw him on YouTube, learning the martial art
that masks fighting as dance; the rocking, foot-
to-foot ginga bracing him for kicks, swipes
and thistle-light acrobalance. He was finding how to spin,
feint, soar with his opponent. You could worry about him,
at least I did, but I saw he was loved. A favourite
perhaps. Enough anyway to give hope a chance
despite his lumbering, faintly victim, stance
as the two circled each other, holding their arms
off their torsos like cormorants drying their wings.
He was seven or eight, wearing glasses. Eagerness
shone out of him inside the ring of boys
chanting to a tambourine. They knew slaves in Brazil
made the rules. Only by dance do you learn how to fight.
Only by fight how to dance. And also that kids like them,
on the West Bank, could learn this in Hebron.
I saw him on YouTube in Jalazoun Refugee Camp.
The teacher, laughing, supervised falls, accidents,
cat’s whisker escapes. I imagined he was telling them
Squat and spin! Flat on your hands! Aim your kick in his face –
let him duck – then cartwheel away. This is all about you

but you’re nothing without him. Let the dance-fight-dance
set you free. Free of the six-lane motorway
shaking the camp with its sorrowful vibrations.

Free of the twenty-foot wall of cement, a stage set for Macbeth.
Grey olives flickered beyond, on hills where I guessed
older men like his grandfather were born

and are forbidden to graze sheep or tend their trees again.
While the boys danced, I pictured the flame of a split aorta
in the chest of a man who has lived all his days in the camps

and will die in one now. Afternoon flowed
through rows of tents like mist coming off black jade
as each became the other’s mirror. They were twin lights

in a sconce, tiger cubs perfecting life-skills – pounce,
timing, split speed for the roda – each pouring all he was
into the little space between self’s flying heel and other’s face.