The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie

jamie treehouse

Some of you will say I’m wandering off topic again. Some of you will say this is neither fantasy nor science-fiction. My reply is that Kathleen Jamie’s The Tree House is a work of compelling and subtle imagination. And that’s a good enough reason for me to review it.

The Tree House is a collection of poems that explore the relationship between humanity and the natural world. The poems here do not simply paint a picture of nature nor do they fall into staid, romanticised brushes with the sublime. Jamie manages, instead, to always make the observer part of the picture, to draw us in and catch us in the act as we contend with, admire or even ignore the plants, creatures and worlds around.

And what’s more, she does it with a sense of humour. Her comparison of jellyfish with mildly intoxicated, somewhat unstable pub-goers at closing time made me both smile and, amazingly, nod my head in recognition. Her description of racing to find wild cherries before the “yellow-eyed bird” could eat them precisely matched my dad’s yearly battle of wits and wings with the robins that want to devour his juneberries. And her portrait of two hapless frogs who meet in a highly unsuitable location is both light-hearted and poignant (okay, maybe ‘poignant’ is overstating it a little).

To be sure, Jamie knows how to describe a scene in exquisite detail, as evidenced in “Moult” and “The Basking Shark”. And there is a sense of majesty, awe and mystery here, too. But her poetry never turns into a big-budget wildlife programme; she doesn’t indulge in a scene simply for the scene’s sake. Always, there is the connection between the natural world and the reader, and it is this which makes her poetry special.

One last note: Most of Jamie’s writing is clear, straightforward and very easy to read. Some of the poems use Scottish words (Jamie is Scottish) but, in most cases, context makes the meanings clear. A couple of the poems, however, are completely Scots. Enjoy them for their sounds and rhythm but don’t expect to get the meanings. (Googletranslate gives up and runs away at the first sign of a kilt and even my Scottish wife had a hard time with some of it.)

Don’t let that put you off from trying this book! Even if, like me, Plain Old Commonplace is the only version of English you know, you will still get an enormous amount of pleasure from The Tree House.

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