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All creatures great and small
10:54am Saturday 29th September 2012 in Features
There is a world of tiny wild creatures all around us if we only stop to see them, says performance poet Anneliese Emmans Dean. She spoke to STEPHEN LEWIS ahead of her Buzzing! show in Rowntree Park
IT was birds that originally got Anneliese Emmans Dean interested in nature photography. She’d always been a bird person, she says – and when, in 2004, she bought a digital camera with a 3x zoom, it was with birds in mind.
But that zoom wasn’t really powerful enough. So she spent a lot of time sitting in her small garden in Heslington waiting for birds to come near enough. And while she was waiting, she started looking around her, and really noticing her garden for the first time.
It was, she discovered to her surprise, a veritable jungle of living, breathing, struggling, fighting, wriggling wild creatures. The only reason she hadn’t noticed them before was that they were all so small.
It was a revelation. And then she discovered something else: the macro function on her camera that allowed her to take close-up photographs of small objects.
Suddenly, instead of photographing birds, she found herself photographing beetles and bumble bees; caterpillars and butterflies; spiders, earwigs and caddis flies.
“In real life, they’re often too small to appreciate properly,” she says. “But when you photograph them and put the photos on your computer screen, where you can really see them… they are so beautiful. They are all there in your garden, creeping and crawling around you, and the camera opens this little world up for everyone.”
One of the first photographs she took was of a bee. And when she saw the photo on her computer screen she was astonished at the detail and clarity of it. “I had never seen the veins on a bee’s wing before!” she says.
Inevitably, it wasn’t long before the performance poet and freelance translator started doing something with her photographs. “I was taking these pictures, and as is my wont, I started writing poems about them,” she says.
The result was Buzzing!, a series of quirky, oddball poems that give the insects and other tiny creatures she has photographed characters and personalities of their own and bring them to life in rhythm and rhyme.
It began life as a children’s show. Anneliese performed her poems, to the accompaniment of pictures, in schools and at festivals up and down the country, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe and at theatres such as the Oxford Playhouse.
She has even performed it on Radio 4 and on Radio York, giving each of her insects and other creepy-crawlies a distinctive voice and accent.
Sitting in the reading café at Rowntree Park – where next Saturday she will be giving a live performance of her show, followed by a ‘minibeast’ safari in the park itself – she drops effortless into character to recite some of her poems.
Madame Honfleur, the character she gives to the tree bumblebee, bombus hypnorum, sounds like a French can-can dancer, all chic and flirty with a delicious French accent.
“Oh la la!” she says. “Look at me closely/ and you will see/ I am not an ordinary/ bumblebee. Regardez-moi bien/ and you will see/ I am a bumblebee/ of ze tree.”
The common wainscoat moth mythimna pallens, which has a beautiful furry mane that looks like the collar of a fur coat, becomes Dickie Wainscoat, who has the fake-posh voice of an upwardly-mobile Arthur Daley.
“Dickie Wainscoat’s the name,” he says. “How do you like my lion’s mane? Don’t be scared, I’m quite tame, don’t you know…”
Anneliese, who studied modern languages and phonetics at Cambridge, often has great fun with the Latin names of the creatures she has photographed. There’s the Ruby Tiger Moth, Phragmatobia fuliginosa – she rolls the name around on her tongue, making it sound like a character out of Harry Potter – and the Common Plume Moth, Emmelina monodactyla. Naturally enough, she’s named her moth Emmelina, and gives her a posh accent to match. “Twiggly twoggly/ Miss Emmelina is/ spending her day on my/ window, I see.”
The name monodactyla comes from the Greek for ‘single finger’ and the moth is so called because, when it isn’t flying, it rolls its feathery wings up tightly so that they look like fingers, Anneliese says.
The rhythm of the poem Emmelina has been written in a style known as double dactyl – enabling her to claim what she believes is a world first. “It may be the world’s first ever double dactyl about a monodactyl!” she says delightedly.
One thing she noticed, as she took her show around the country, was that the first question audiences always asked was where they could buy the book.
The answer now is, just about anywhere with a good bookshop. Because the ‘book of the show’ – also titled Buzzing! – was published this year. It’s a beauty, packed with 67 poems and more than 170 photographs, most taken in Anneliese’s Heslington garden. Best of all, it is also packed with child-friendly facts and information about the insects included. She was determined that that should be the case, she says: she finds it very worrying the way the arts and sciences are so divided in this country. Her book is an attempt to bring the two together again.
It succeeds beautifully.
What she hopes is that her book and show will inspire children to start looking with fresh eyes at the tiny creatures in their own gardens.
You have to look, she says. And if you do, you’ll discover a whole, wild world on your doorstep. It really is a jungle out there, she says. Just sit for a while and watch a spider in its web if you don’t believe that. “Watch when something flies into the web, and the spider wraps it up. There’s life and death out there!”
Anneliese Emmans Dean will perform her Buzzing! show in the reading café at Rowntree Park from 2pm next Saturday, followed by a book signing and – weather permitting – by a minibeast hunt in the park. If it is raining, there will be activities in the reading café instead. The show is suitable for children aged 7-12, accompanied by a parent or carer.
The show is free, but numbers will be limited, so please book in advance, either in person at the reading café or email firstname.lastname@example.org@york.gov.uk
- The Buzzing! book is published by Brambleby, priced £14.99.
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