The striking picture on the front of Cora Greenhill's new book is of a collage of her own work - a frame containing debris from the sea - plastic and nylon rope mixed with fragments of seaweed. Inside a fractured mask of Aprodite, symbolising the broken Greek Goddess in the refuse of today's oceans. The dark yet beautiful image sets up some of the themes of the poetry in Far from Kind: sensual, darkly beautiful, suggestive of the precarious edge on which humanity teeters.
The title, Far from Kind, is a phrase taken from the poem In our own Hands, about touch: how we need to learn to be in touch again, deeply and naturally, with each other, and crucially with other species. The poem is triggered by an intimate encounter with an aging baboon, who 'rested her slim palm, cobweb-soft, in mine,' and reflects on how far we've travelled from when our earliest ancestors made the first human footprints in the mud of Africa. Other poems take the reader back to the roots of human ways of thinking and acting. The sonnet, Aquatic Ape, pictures the lives of the earliest humans who gradually migrated along the coasts of Africa, making the radical suggestion that 'Free of the need to hunt to survive/and before labour was invented, ... Holiday was the spur of evolution.' Another poem is in the cynical voice of a woolly mammoth in The Natural History Museum, and another in the voice of the ancient Mesopotamian river God, Enki, despairing of modern politics and hunkering down in his muddy domain.
But Far from Kind is as personal as it is universal, with many poems in a more confessional tradition which also explore unflinchingly human unkindness, whether due to a conditioned fear of another species 'a pretty slip of a thing/purest green serpentine' which causes a snake's unnecessary death in Endangered; or the callous feelings of a liberated young woman towards a lover she's finished with, 'your hunger, so recently/my horn of plenty, just looked like poverty'; or an African philandering professor who assumes FGM to be the norm.
Though the author is a lifelong feminist, the exploration of human frailty and sometimes cruelty in this collection is equally critical and compassionate towards men and women, and all held within an overriding tenderness towards the living world of which we are only a part, with a passionate hope that we can learn from and for the children:
Let her throw socks! we laugh.
Grow those throwing muscles!
Make free with your world
as old gods hurled thunderbolts
when they were gay as Picasso
shaping the elastic stuff of life
like play-dough in their hands,
amazed what they could do.
(Hannah's First Birthday)