Alongside Ryan Madin, I am co-founder and editor of Wild West Press.
Our debut publication, Zi Zi Taah Taah Taah features poems by Steve Ely and illustrations by PR. It was released in May 2018 in a limited edition run of 300. We partnered with Back from the Brink, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for the project and launched it with a poetry walk around Carlton Marsh.
PR’s watercolours won a 2018 Michael Marks Prize at the British Library.
The poems arise from and address the plight of the willow tit, one of the country’s fastest declining species of bird. Since 1970, the willow tit’s numbers have declined by 95%. Paradoxically, the post-industrial sites of the North—former colliery and industrial sites, disused railway lines and canals—often provide very good willow tit habitat, and the species still hangs on in reasonable numbers in South Yorkshire, where our three partners are conducting extensive research that will produce results that might inform a nationwide recovery project for the bird.
Zi-Zi Taah Taah Taah confronts and addresses the depredations of the Anthropocene, but in a way that avoids on-the-nose eco-ranting, adding depth and range by incorporating autobiography, memory, humour and pop cultural references into its expression. The sequence culminates in the appalling revelation of the meaning of the willow tit’s song and the following Blakean apocalypse: ‘The dead were dead already. The quick/transformed in air. All the quick were dead save me.’ PR’s elusive watercolours add a moving elegiac dimension to the pamphlet—and intensify Ely’s evocation of a world on the edge of disintegration, of once-familiar nature beginning to pass away.
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