‘In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.’ (Terry Pratchett)
Recently I was following a Facebook thread with interest and some dismay, where a fellow poet found herself being undeservedly castigated for allowing her cats outside un-collared. The argument ran along the lines that the sound of a bell on the animal’s collar alerts the cat’s prey, in this case garden songbirds, allowing them to escape long before it can get near enough to pounce. The premise of those in favour of collars is that domestic cats are responsible for the huge contraction in numbers of our native songbirds. This is a common belief, oft quoted, but which even the RSPB refutes.
“Despite the large numbers of birds killed by cats in gardens, there is no clear scientific evidence that such mortality is causing bird populations to decline. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.
Read more at https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/cats-and-garden-birds/are-cats-causing-bird-declines/#W5ftQTXjxFM39wjz.99”
The main causes of the reduction in songbird numbers are anthropogenic; the destruction of their habitats due to intensive farming, towns, cities and their infrastructure bleeding into greenbelt, pollution and a spectacular decline in the insects upon which they feed. The overuse of pesticides has resulted in an estimated loss of three quarters of flying insects, mostly pollinators, endangering human food production and yields and adversely affecting birds, bats and small mammals. Evidence indicates that, whilst not entirely blameless, the decimation of the UK’s bird population cannot justifiably be laid at the door of domesticated felines.
Cats, it would seem, have always held a special place in the hearts of poets. In 1763 Christopher Smart wrote his 74 line paean of praise For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry. This poem, part of of his longer work Jubilate Agno, is reputed to be one of the most anthologised extracts in literature and Jeoffry one of the most famous cats. Poets as diverse as Rainer Maria Rilke, Edward Lear, Edward Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, John Keats and Spike Milligan (to name but a very few) have been inspired to write poems about either their own cat or cats in general. And, of course, there is T S Eliot’s beloved Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, reinvented for an adoring younger generation by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation Cats. Cats and poets, poets and cats – what’s not to like?
Speaking of poets – 4Word are delighted to be able to announce that our fourth poet of 2018 will be the marvellous Rachael Clyne, whose pamphlet will be launched in September. So, do watch this space – far and away superior to pictures of cats and kittens, a wonderful new work from an exceptional poet. We can’t wait.
We still have some copies of the first three books available – Androgyny by Kevin Reid, After Eden by Stella Wulf and Black Bicycle by Lesley Quayle. £5.99 each plus £1.50 UK p&p. from 4Word. (Email: admin@4Word.org for details)
A forthcoming anthology ‘All a Cat Can Be’ in support of New Start Cat Rescue, edited by Sharon Larkin and Sheila Wakefield – http://www.newstartcatrescue.org.uk will be launched on Saturday 4 August in Gloucestershire. Full details to be confirmed.