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Batu-Angas: Envisioning Nature with Alfred Russel Wallace

Batu-Angas: Envisioning Nature with Alfred Russel Wallace

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Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), one of the most famous scientists of the 19th century and best known today as the co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution, is the inspiration for this beautiful sequence of poems by Anne Cluysenaar. The title (meaning 'burnt rocks or cooled lava') is derived from the language spoken on the volcanic island of Ternate, in the Malay Archipelago, where Wallace experienced that 'flash' of inspiration which brought together his observations as a naturalist, leading him to describe his theory in a letter to Charles Darwin which encouraged Darwin to publish The Origin of Species. 2008 is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of natural selection by Wallace and Darwin.

A field trip that passed by Wallace's birthplace near Usk on the Wales/England border triggered the author’s research into the scientist’s journeys through the Amazonian rainforests and the jungles of the Malay Archipelago as well as the lush landscapes surrounding the river Usk, which he explored as a child and young man. Tracing Wallace's travels, the poet becomes aware of echoes and tensions between his responses and her own. Orchids, orang-utans, rare beetles, butterflies and birds of paradise, collected by Wallace and preserved in British collections, are sought out and intensely re-experienced.

The book opens with an introduction by Wallace expert Charles Smith, of the University of Kentucky, and a Foreword by the poet. The poems are accompanied by a rich selection of images: some that Wallace chose to illustrate his travels, including a sketch by Wallace himself, together with photographs of Wallace specimens and of living animals and plants. Also included are photographs of Wallace and of his birthplace on the banks of the river Usk in Wales.

"Batu-Angas is an engaging, if not unfamiliar, literary meditation on humanity’s position within the evolving natural world. It is also, however, a text that inhabits and explores the interstices between poetry and science."
Planet, May 2009

"Cluysenaar's delicate and graceful poems (framed with quotations from Wallace and images of the animals and plants he collected) deftly explore the channels that Wallace's journeys opened up. Cluysenaar's work articulates the tension between the slow evolution of a species and the scope and value of a single life…"
The Guardian, October 2008

Anne Cluysenaar was born in Belgium, the daughter of the Belgian-Scottish artist John Cluysenaar and his wife, the painter Sybil Fitzgerald Hewat. The family moved to Britain just before the outbreak of World War II and by the age of seven, Anne was committed to writing poetry. She has lectured in literature, linguistics and creative writing at (amongst other places) the universities of Manchester, Dublin, Aberdeen, Lancaster, Birmingham and Cardiff. She has been published widely in magazines and anthologies, founded two literary journals: Sheaf (still going) and Scintilla (published by the Usk Valley Vaughan Association).Amongst her titles are: as an editor, The Selected Poems of Henry Vaughan, and as a poet, Timeslips: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1997). She has lived in Wales for the last twenty years, running a smallholding near Usk.