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with Pascale Petit

The last thing that made you smile

Seeing the Simmental bull eating one of my hedge plants, from tip to nub, as he passed on his way with his cows from the dairy to the field the other side of our garden. Our garden is surrounded by Cornish hedges and the lower one, which I call the butterfly garden, I planted from scratch, transforming it from a piece of scrubland with bare Cornish hedges, to a butterfly and bee haven. I asked him to stop and made shooing noises but he ignored me. The hedge is quite low, ‘hedge’ meaning an ancient mound of earth and stones, weeds, nettles and ferns, with foxgloves and primroses in spring, so he was very close to me, and he is a huge caramel-and-cream coloured beast with curly brow and nose ring! The herd passes four times a day and I dart out of my garden den to watch them. The lane is a quagmire of cow muck and my plants are a snack bar to them, but it’s worth it for the spectacle, and the marvel of how pure white the milk is from them despite their trudge through the mud. I don’t smile so much about the whole dairy business, but at least this small herd of 30 are free roaming and cared for.

A secret

I have every known phobia except snakes. I am terrified of the sea. Despite my terror of large spiders I have four times travelled in the Amazon rainforest. On the first ‘night walk’ with my guide recently in the Peruvian jungle I did not tell him this. He took us to a deep clay bank and asked us to close our eyes then shone his torch on the eyes of wolf spiders. That night, a wolf spider was in my room next to the bed. After that I always shook out my slippers and put them on before walking on the floor. I can just about look at chicken spiders emerging from their burrows in tree roots because they are so big they are more like animals than insects.

The last thing you wrote

The last book I wrote is Mama Amazonica (published by Bloodaxe), which is why I twice went to the Peruvian Amazon, for research. Since I finished that I have started some new poems, but they are still unset and secret.

Your favourite city

I don’t like cities but there are exceptions. I don’t like London, although I lived there for most of my life. I love Paris but hated it as a child. I love Puerto Maldonado, the jungle capital of Peru, but only because it’s the gateway to deep wilderness. Similarly, I love Caracas, because from there I could get a few planes and end up in the Lost World, its table mountains and Angel Falls. Manhattan is intriguing, I love the food, and it’s calmer than London. I have never been to Venice and Florence but hope to go one day. I love Lodève in the Languedoc of France, though it’s just a small town with a medieval cathedral, because it’s also the gateway to the stupendous limestone plateaus and the drive through and up the Pas de l’Escalette above it is so exhilarating I like to do that over and over again.

What you’d place in a time capsule

I’d put a photo of the jaguar I’ve seen on the banks of the Tambopata river in Peru. But really, what I’d like to place in a time capsule is the Amazon rainforest, for safekeeping. That would be a big capsule!

Pascale Petit’s seventh collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017), was a Poetry Book Society Choice and draws on her travels in the Amazon rainforest. Her sixth, Fauverie, was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. She has had three collections selected as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer. Her books have been translated into Spanish (in Mexico), Chinese, French and Serbian.