Open quote. A nature lover's delight: compelling, acute, lyrical, surprisingly readable. She has done for the forests of Karnataka and Bengal what Amitav Ghosh did for the Sundarbans in The Hungry Tide. Close quote. India Today.

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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 tenth poetry collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth is shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. Its poems on the Middle East trace a quest for harmony in the midst of destruction. “A meditation on conflict and history like the ending of Little Gidding without the mono-culturalism.” (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 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.

Two poems from Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth

Epigraph
“In his hands he held the clear-voiced lyre
wondering whether to seek asylum
at the courtyard altar
or run forward and beg for his life.
He placed his lyre on the ground
between the mixing-bowl and silver chair . . .”
Homer, The Odyssey Book 22:
the court singer trapped in the slaughter of the suitors

Capoeira Boy

I saw him on YouTube. He was 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.