Review: Basic Nest Architecture by Polly Atkin - 8/10*
The lake is crystal blue, shimmering in the summer sun. It is surrounded by healthy trees on three sides. I sit on the fourth, overlooking the Nene Valley nature park with Basic Nest Architecture in my hand. It is poetry written to be read outdoors. It is a celebration of nature and all that she entails.
Indeed, in the Wordsworthian tradition, the poem ‘Lake Fever’ evokes the importance of nature to humans. It is home; it is a refuge: it is where we are meant to be. For Wordsworth the Lake District was the absolute epitome of this; it was his poetic muse; thus, he spent his life there writing. Atkin has followed suit, working with the Wordsworth trust to complete her PhD studies. At the end of her lake poem the speaker considers falling in to the lake, submerging into the waters and returning to her natural home far away from artificial city life. It is an apt metaphor, one very much aligned with the romantic literary movement. The themes discussed by two hundred year old poetry may sound irrelevant today, but the issues it discussed are more important now than ever. It is refreshing to see new poetry written in a similar vein.
Like Atkin, the poets of the age argued for a respectful treatment of wildlife and the environment; they argued for a more eco-conscious approach to the world. The natural world is under constant threat as the human population continues to grow; it is cut back and reduced and the real tragedy of this is recognised in the words of the poet as she describes a declining world. However, home has a different meaning to different people and different things. For the bee, it is the petals of a flower ready to pollinate. For the moon, it is the shadow of the sun. And for humans it can be many things both internal and external.
Atkin takes this idea much further. As well as recognising that nature can be a nest, she also recognises that the human mind and body can be just as effective refuges. The book is divided into three parts to reflect this idea. The mind can become a sanctuary when it understands its place in nature, that is coexists with other creatures. The poem ‘Rabbit in Twilight’ offers a synchronised view of human and rabbit, of man and animal. No matter how far human society builds, no matter how far we distance ourselves from nature, she can, and always will creep back in. The rabbit squeezes under the wooden fence at the farmyard. The motor way, a construct of human design, is surrounded by grass verges and the creatures that come with it. Within the words there is a sense of optimism, that nature could never fully leave us despite what we may do it. Anxiety is removed with such acceptance; we go beyond our own experience and learn to understand that there is no solid divide. We are all part of one planet, of a greater eco-system: we are one.
The body, in the third part of the collection, returns to it once again. The themes are reused and reinforced in the poem “The Centre.” This time a physical experience is evoked. The blood of man, his instinct, knows exactly where he must go and how he must proceed. It directs him back to the centre in which he must go alone with no gifts, food, or drink. His presence is enough. Nature provides the rest, as he leaves “The painted world” with “dimensions all wrong, perspectiveless, tasting of nothing.” He leaves the suburban world and returns to the rural as per the Wordsworthian tradition.
The poems are varied with a plethora of styles and expression, though in each instance the words are permeated with these ideas of nature. As a collection, the poems combine to deliver these recurring themes with potency. They stress the importance of the environment and what it would mean to lose it and become completely disengaged from it. As incompetent government ministers are given the environmental secretary post here in UK time and time again, as renowned climate change deniers sit in the white house in the USA, the environment is under constant and renewed threat. Michael Grove, the current environmental secretary, even wished to remove climate change from the national education system. We become mentally and physical healthier when we are outdoors, an outdoors that is just on a doorstep if we are willing to look after it and trust the protection of it to reliable and sensible people.
Basic Nest Architecture is a collection that is so relevant today. By borrowing these themes from the past Atkin demonstrates not only how important arguments from the romantic literary era are today but also how essential the natural world is to the human psyche. With her keen senses she celebrates it in all its glory. I highly recommend this to lovers of our planet, our home, our nest.