330 million years ago what is now the rocky shore close to Katrina Porteous’s Northumberland home was a tropical swamp inhabited by three-metre long predatory fish with huge tusk-like teeth. They belonged to a family of lobe-finned fishes which evolved to move on land as well as swim, and which are the ancestors of all four-limbed vertebrates, including humans. The fossil fish found in Northumberland is called the ‘rhizodont’.
Porteous’s new collection begins with a lovingly-observed contemporary journey through these ancient Carboniferous landscapes, from the former coal-mining communities of the Durham coast to the Northumberland shores where the rhizodont’s remains were found. Against a backdrop of vast geological time and recent fossil-fuel burning history, these poems address current issues of social and environmental change. They are followed by two sequences about aspects of the latest technological revolution – autonomous systems and AI, and the remote-sensing techniques used to explore the most inaccessible reaches of our planet, Antarctica, to measure Earth’s changing climate.
Rhizodont extends territory explored in Porteous’s three previous books. Combining scientific themes from Edge with the ecological localism of Two Countries and The Lost Music, these poems unfold from England’s North-East coast into global questions of evolution, survival and extinction – in communities and languages, and throughout the natural world, where hope resides in life’s astonishing powers of reinvention.
Rhizodont is Katrina Porteous's fourth poetry book from Bloodaxe, and follows Edge (2019), her first to draw upon her long involvement in scientific projects, and the earlier Two Countries (2014) and The Lost Music (1996), both concerned with the landscapes and communities of North-East England.
Praise for Edge:
'There are copious notes to satisfy those curious about the science, but the poems typically stand alone… Edge manages to find images adequate to the task of describing the marvel that is the universe, at both micro and macro levels.' – Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian
'Functioning like a cosmic map from the level of sub-atomic particles to vast celestial bodies, Edge succeeds in wedding the arts with science to make a mesmerising and transporting collection. Porteous makes precise and artful use of scientific terminology to complement her sparse and tightly constructed verse. The full effect is to bring the reader to a state of communion; to instil a sense of beauty and belonging to the world of particles, fields, waves, and the behaviour of massive gravitational bodies.' – Jade Cuttle, PBS Bulletin
'Regardless of their performance roots, I found the poems in Edge to be strong, evocative pieces exploring the cosmos and the creation of matter and life vibrantly and distinctively through image, metaphor and all the tools available to a skilled poet. The fact that, stylistically, they often appear lean and pared down makes their lyrical imagining of highly complex scientific theories all the more impressive.' – J.S. Watts, The High Window
'I found Edge thrilling. There’s no self in it, and almost no people, but it doesn’t feel inhuman because Porteous uses different forms of personification so much... Porteous has a gift for quietly startling metaphor and handles free verse in a brilliantly fluent, precise and varied way... Her poems create imaginative bridges between realities directly available to our senses and the vaster or deeper ones that we can only approach by abstract thought or through sophisticated instruments.' – Edmund Prestwich, The North
Praise for Two Countries:
‘Katrina Porteous is that rare, robust perennial bloom, a poet whose lyricism is founded upon clarity of expression and precise attention to the spoken word, whose intellectual sophistication is clothed in simplicity and whose themes are of universal significance, yet rooted in a lifelong commitment to local community and the Northumbrian landscape.’ - Mark Cocker (author, naturalist, environmental activist)
‘Katrina Porteous is one of our best poets and her big new book of poems Two Countries is surely one of the most distinctive and important collections of the year. It is certainly one of the most long-awaited. It almost 20 years since she published her last full-length collection The Lost Music, about the decline of the fishing communities on the Northumbrian coast where she lives.’ – Andy Croft, Morning Star
‘Katrina Porteous’s recent collection of poems, Two Countries, from Bloodaxe is the fruit of ten years work. The book is a work of some significance to the contemporary cultures of landscape and place, turning an inventive and sensitised ear to her coastal Northumbrian borderland and asking some important questions about contemporary rural life a long way from Westminster. Many of the poems collected have been commissioned for radio and have a musical quality that weaves together a range of intriguing oral traditions, producing a powerful and memorable voice.’ - The Clearing
'Porteous's beautiful, allusive poems are works of a particular imagination remaking an anonymous folk idiom. It is precisely this contradiction that she explores with great creativiity: what has been lost gives her not only a form, but a subject.' - Judith Willson, The North
'This enormously valuable collection is a labour of love, a work of deep commitment, and is essential in helping us to understand the multiple layers of meaning - elemental, economic and political - which rural communities must negotiate, and which so few truly value or understand.' - David Borthwick, EarthLines
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