Paul Kingsnorth has had an admirable and varied career. He has been a peace observer in Mexico, worked in an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Borneo, been the deputy editor of The Geologist, and has been a journalist at The Independent. Whilst holding these positions, he has also published two non-fiction books and seen his poetry printed in magazines such as The Lighthouse, as well as being named the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year in 1998. Picking up Kidland, Kingsnorth’s debut collection , I half-expected to be lectured on the sanctity of nature or to have the poet push me to analyse the damage that we humans are doing to the land on which we rely so heavily. Certainly, these themes of nature and ecological degradation are prevalent, but thankfully Kingsnorth doesn’t sacrifice poetic integrity at the altar of a political agenda. Indeed, he seeks to marry the two. His work with the Dark Mountain Project (which he co-founded in 2009) is very evident here. The Project’s aim, to create a cultural and literary movement for an age of social upheaval and environmental deterioration, is clearly on the poet’s mind throughout, particularly in the titular poem.
“Kidland” is the only prose poem in the collection and spans fourteen pages. Part of me finds this particular work overbearing, even uncomfortable at times and I felt the poem undermined the balance of the rest of the book. Perhaps this is in part due to my own agenda as a female reader, with a keen interest in feminine portrayal. Strangely, this happens to be the only poem in the collection which mentions a woman by name compared to numerous other unnamed women throughout the rest of the work. It is the named woman who becomes the victim of a rape. This rather short collection is dominated by this prose poem which is unfortunate, as it was one of the least enjoyable to read. Kingsnorth displays an acute sense of “voice” throughout the rest of the collection, yet somehow fails to fully develop the same in “Kidland” itself, despite the poem’s length allowing him more space to do so than in other poems.
The other poems, however, show a range of emotions that create a rich and involving tapestry. We are privy to the emotions of men, of animals and nature, all of which come together in an opulent cacophony which really proves the value of this collection. “i”(sic) is the perfect example of Kingsnorth’s poetic skill – a short, three stanza poem which stretches between the known and the mysterious, resonating with the reader long after it has been read.
Admittedly, I did expect to be lectured, to be told I was not doing “enough” (whatever that means) when I came to Kidland… This collection sat on my bedside table judging me as I judged it. I opened this book with a great deal of reserve. It’s fair to say I am bored of being told that I am not doing enough by the literary works of much more active people than I. Extraordinarily quickly I was overwhelmed by romantic images, and cleverly handled relationships between memory and nature, the past and the future. Kingsnorth flirts with his reader, drawing them into their own examination of their relationship with nature and the world. Aside from a slight discomfort in the middle of the prose poem “Kidland”, the overall effect of the collection was rather gentle. Kidland and Other Poems is a soothing read; it marries regret with the potential for change, and comes across as a well thought out, skilfully managed collection that is well worth dipping into.