Albatross Poetry Journal #21

-Reviewed by Juliet Wilson

Albatross is a poetry journal published since 1985 by the Anabiosis Press. These days it is available both online and in print format. According to the publisher’s blog:

‘the journal’s title is drawn from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and is intended to invoke the allegorical implications of that poem. As such, the albatross becomes a metaphor for an environment that is threatened by the arrogance of humankind.’

This makes Albatross sound heavy and worthy, even to a committed environmentalist such as myself. However the contents belie that impression and take a refreshingly wide variety of approaches to the journal’s overall theme.

Issue 21, the latest issue of Albatross, came out in March 2010. It includes poems that explore the human relationship with nature through gardening (‘In the Garden’ by Ruth Webber Evans and ‘Fall Chores’ by Adam Penna) while Temple Cone draws parallels between the current rising sea temperatures with the Biblical Flood in ‘The World Before Adam Named It’ and Catherine MacGuire ponders the amazing history of the earth and the enjoyment of a childhood fossil hunt in ‘Peterson Butte Fossil Beds’.

In ‘My Mother the Cook’, Ronnie Hess explores his family’s reactions to eating fresh caught fish and wild mushrooms:

‘My father the city boy was convinced they would kill us.

He turned pale and sweaty as we sautéed them in butter.

My mother the country girl swore they were edible.

I was hungry. Terrified. I raised my fork.’

Reading this homely anecdote some readers may be prompted to consider their relationship with the food they eat and by extension how comfortable they feel in the natural landscapes around them. Or they may just give a wry smile at the family dynamics on display.

In ‘The Dark Stains of Yellow Veins’, Stephen Berry looks to Tu Fu (a great Chinese poet of the T’ang dynasty) to inspire him to pay closer attention to nature:

‘saying— just watch—

for a moment— a bird

kicking around in a pile of leaves’

Another poem here that prompts us to pay closer attention to nature is Chris Powici’s ‘Montrose Basin Sea Eagle’. I recently visited Montrose Basin, a wonderful site for wetland birds on the east coast of Scotland. I also recognise the disappointment of missing the rare bird you hoped to find:

‘and so the eye makes do with a cormorant

swooping south across the lagoon —

if the raw beautiful shock of seeing

something so shimmeringly black and quick

and downright miraculous as a cormorant

glide through the waning coastal light

can be described as making do.’

If we really look at all the wildlife around us then we’ll appreciate how wonderful it is and not be obsessed with just finding rarities. If we appreciate nature then we will be more likely to want to protect it, which is a large part of the point of a journal like Albatross. Having said that and knowing that I’m biased as a naturalist and environmentalist, it strikes me that Albatross is well worth reading by anyone who enjoys poetry. If in addition, it helps people to think anew about their relationship with nature and the environment then that’s a bonus.