lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info and Lola the labradoodle!

Gerard Benson, poet

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Gerard and Cathy Benson.

The inimitable Gerard Benson, actor, poet, raconteur, book reviewer, editor and co-founder of the ‘Poems on the Undergound’ project, former Barrow poet, former teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama, died on Monday evening, 28th April 2014.

He was an immensely talented poet – and any poem read in his wonderfully resonant tones was a joy to listen to.

But apart from his prodigious talents (which included being able to proclaim poems in Anglo-Saxon from memory at a drop of a hat – actually any poem from memory at a drop of a hat), he was, as anyone who knew him would agree, the most delightful individual.

The first time I met Gerard was at a Society of Authors meeting. He was wearing a rather dashing trilby, a black velvet jacket, and bright purple shirt. He entered late, and even as he walked across the room I realised that this was a person of immense charisma and personality. He sat at the back, and when he asked a question, I first heard that voice. I then spent the rest of question time hoping he’d ask another so I could hear him again.

Below is Gerard reciting ‘River Song’ from ‘To Catch an Elephant’, Smith/Doorstep Books.

I was lucky – a few months later I was invited to a poetry retreat for children’s poets. Gerard and his wonderful wife, Cathy (incidentally another excellent poet, and illustrator) were also there.

That was 2006, and for many years I and the other poets in the group have had the privilege of Gerard and Cathy’s company, as they didn’t miss a retreat until recently, when Gerard’s health began to fail.

There was also a rather wicked side to Gerard’s humour – he wrote ‘The Pheasant Plucker’s Song’ which is posted below, from a YouTube copy of a BBC Radio 4 programme on which the Barrow Poets recited it together. We heard personal renditions several times and never with a word wrong…

The Pheasant Plucker’s Song

Kindness, consideration, wit, a true gentle gentleman with twinkling eyes and a fount of knowledge, wisdom, an incredibly gifted teacher, he gave us cherished memories of the happiest times we have spent in poetry.

It was rather poignant therefore that the poetry group we all belonged to was meeting this year on the very day that Gerard died, and at the time of his death we were unknowingly reading his poems and watching the films we have of him.

Rest in peace, Gerard Benson, most beloved of poets, we will miss you terribly.

 

A-Z Challenge Reflections

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Magnetic poetry image by Natalie Roberts on Flikr.

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Well… another A-Z has sped by! Once again, it has amazed me what a variety of blogs there are, and how amazing it is that just 26 letters can express so many words and so many worlds. (If you’d like to play on a magnetic poetry set, visit my website!)

This year I didn’t do any artwork, which left a lot more time for writing the poems to go with the animal facts, and instead I used stunning photographs by a group of excellent photographers.

It was great fun, and much more relaxing – no sitting up very late or even all night finishing paintings…

All I had to do was make sure I did more than one a day for a few days during the challenge, and schedule them so that I could go away on a poetry retreat with my group of wonderful children’s poets in the last week! (I’m in the middle at the back!)

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It was wonderful to carry on the buzz I was still feeling from the A-Z during this week of workshopping, reading poetry, writing poetry, singing, and drinking a little wine. Ahem.

As usual I came away from the A-Z with a selection of new blogs to follow and enjoy, richer by a few poems that I will take on and re-edit (and which I was able to read to my fellow poets) and with a load of creative energy to invest in the next few months.

And hopefully the people who came to visit me enjoyed the creatures I wrote about, the poems, and the facts, and maybe some have taken inspiration from them.

I have commented on all the comments and commented back, I think, just have to make my way through the ‘likes’ that I haven’t yet responded to now!

Thank you to my fellow bloggers, and congratulations to all those who made it through to the end! Can’t wait for next year!

Liz

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Blog: LizBrownlee-poet.

Magnetic poetry image © Natalie Roberts.

Children’s poets image © Liz Brownlee.

Click the title to buy my animal and facts book, Animal Magic (IRON Press).

Z is for Zebra

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Image by amateur_photo_bore on Flikr.

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There are three species of zebra – Plains zebra (with 6 subspecies, one extinct), Mountain zebra (with 2 subspecies) and Grévy’s zebra. Although some species overlap in their habitat, they do not interbreed, and although in captivity Plains zebra can interbreed with Mountain zebra, Grévy’s zebra suffer a high rate of miscarriage.

It has been found that the skin colour of a zebra is black, so it has white stripes and belly.

Scientists have several theories as to why zebras have stripes.

One is that the stripes confuse insects, who see linearly polarised light - the stripes disrupt the pattern, so possibly the stripes serve to keep irritation from biting insects down.

Another theory is that the black and white stripes serve as a cooling system.

It is possible that the stripes allow zebra to recognise each other, as each zebra has a pattern unique to itself, although its overall pattern conforms to the general one of each species – plains zebras’ stripes are more widely spread apart than those of the mountain zebra for instance.

The stripes could serve to break up the outline of a zebra when it is alone among the grasses.

And the most likely theory to me (although all of the above may be true also!) is that when all the zebra are together the stripes cause motion dazzle to the eyes, which confuses predators – it is very difficult for them to pick out one zebra from the herd with any degree of accuracy, and the herd merges into one big stripey animal.

Also, I think a baby zebra is camouflaged very well by the side of its mother – it is quite hard to see, as their stripes join together – this would certainly keep a baby zebra safer, as it would be less likely to be targeted by a predator as young and vulnerable.

Zebra are highly sociable and know each member of their herd – they are thoughtful to each other , they will walk at the pace of the slowest member – an elderly zebra, or a new baby.

If one zebra is attacked, the others will bravely turn back and surround the predator and try to drive it off.

If one member of the herd gets lost, the others will search for it.

I became rather fond of zebras after researching them!

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Photo © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts: Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

Y is for Yellow-Bellied Voiceless Tree Frog

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Image © and by permission of Dr Rafe Brown, University of Kansas.

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The yellow-bellied, voiceless tree frog lives in trees of the cloud forest in Mexico.

It has always been rare, and not much is known about it – it is presumed to breed in the abundant vegetation around the rocky forest streams in the areas it inhabits.

Sadly, its numbers have fallen to the extent that it has not been seen since the 1960s, and it may now be extinct.

Its habitat, fragments of cloud forest in Oaxaca, is the most fragile in Mexico – this area is subject to deforestation and settlement due to human population growth.

It may also have been a victim of the fungus chytridiomycosis – fungus that is spreading across the world and wiping out many species of frog.

41% of amphibians are endangered. This frog is classified Critically Endangered (possibly extinct) by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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Photo © Dr Rafe Brown as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

X is for Xenosaurus grandis

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Knob-scaled lizard (Xenosaurus grandis), photographed by and with permission of  Richard Sage, University of California.

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The knob-scaled lizard (Xenosaurus grandis) is a lizard that lives in tropical rainforests in Mexico and Guatemala.

It is active in the day, and skulks alone inside rock crevices in cliff faces – it can also be found in holes in limestone, under volcanic boulders, and if no other suitable habitat is available, inside hollow logs.

It has a flattened head and body enabling it to get into narrow spaces, and spends virtually its whole life living inside the same cracks and crevices.

It has a forked tongue and small fang-like teeth and is very aggressive. Its main diet consists of insects with some small vertebrates that it surprises when they come into the rocks. It will also fight with other knob-scaled lizards to maintain its territory.

It may detect prey using its forked tongue to ‘taste’ the chemicals they give off, but tests have not completely proven this.

These lizards are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of habitat destruction, fragmentation and decreasing population size. Climate change in their area is also causing greater mortality rates as they are very sensitive to temperature rises.

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Image © Richard Sage as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts:

Cooper, W. E., J. A. Lemos-Espinal et al. (1998). ‘Presence and effect of defensiveness or context on detectability of prey chemical discrimination in the lizard Xenosaurus platyceps.” Herpetologica 54 (3): 409-413

J. Gastón Zamora-Abrego, J.Jaime Zúñiga-Vega, Adrián Nieto-Montes de Oca “Variation in Reproductive Traits within the Lizard Genus Xenosaurus”. Journal of Herpetology, 41 (4):630-637.2007 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1670/06-266.1 URL: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1670/06-266.1

 Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

W is for White-Tailed Deer

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White-tailed deer by Rick Cameron on Flikr.

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The white-tailed deer lives in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America down to Peru.

It has a horizontally split pupil that allows it good vision in the dark and by day.

They eat a large number of foods, including legumes, shoots, leaves, cacti and grasses.

These deer are a very adaptable deer, and are also able to survive in a variety of of different habitats, which explains their range.

They also display a diverse appearance size-wise, in body and antler size.

The most striking thing about these deer though is their white flag of a tail, that they raise and flash in alarm to warn other deer.

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White-tailed deer tail raised in alarm by Kabsik Park on Flikr.

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Photos © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts: Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

V is for Viper

Geoff Gallice

Eyelash pit viper image by Geoff Gallice on Flikr.

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Eyelash Pit Viper

Eyelash pit vipers are beautiful snakes that come in a variety of colours. They live in tropical rainforest, montane forest and cloud forest in Central and northern South America.

They are arboreal, and ambush prey – they wait hidden under leaves, and sometimes use the end of their tail as a wormlike lure for birds and other invertebrate predators.

They have pit organs between each eye and nostril and these can sense the direction and body heat of their prey.

As you can see from the lovely image, eyelash vipers are so called because they have scales that look like eyelashes. These are thought to offer some camouflage in among the leaves, breaking up the outline of their head, and also some protection from branches – they are quite rough in texture.

These vipers are extremely venomous, with large, hypodermic, fang teeth that fold back when not in use – being storable like this means they can be longer to directly inject their prey deeply with poison.

They have been shipped all over the world in consignments of bananas – be careful if you open a box from America!

They are not listed as endangered and have not been assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but like all rainforest creatures they are at risk of deforestation for timber, agriculture and urbanisation.

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Image © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts: Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

U is for Uhler’s Sundragon

Uhler's Matt Tillett sundragon

Photo by Matt Tillett on Flikr.

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Uhler’s sundragon is a rare dragonfly that lives in the eastern U.S and Canada.

Not much is known about its lifecycle, but it is seen most often flying very quickly along the banks of fast-moving streams.

Dragonflies have incredible abilities to fly up, down, backwards and forwards and can stop and hover – they have full control over each of their 4 wings and use and can control unstable aerodynamics.

Their eyes are enormous for their size, and they can see where they are going and where they have been – so it is very hard for a predator to surprise them.

They have 5 cones in their eyes and can see in full colour and in ultraviolet and also polarised light. The detail with which they can see is excellent – they can even focus on and keep attention on different places, so that fixing on more than one target in a swarm of flies is easy.

Scientists used to think that they followed their prey and tracked it to catch it, but in fact they can predict the flight pattern of their prey and intercept it. They are voracious, efficient predators that rarely miss their mark.

The females are caught by the male and held while mating – then they have to evade their predators to lay their eggs in the water to hatch into nymphs – this water stage of their lives can take up to two years.

Dragonflies were around at the time of the dinosaurs, and reached huge sizes  - they would have been a scary opponent.

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Photo © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Info: Odonatacentral.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

T is for Turtle

Logger head turtle

Image © US Fisheries and Wildlife, Becky Skiba on Flikr.

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There are loggerhead turtles swimming in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. They spend most of their time in the water – only the females come to land just for the short time it takes to dig a hole and lay their eggs on the beach from where they hatched many years before.

Females only lay eggs every 3 years or so, so they don’t produce many offspring. When the little turtles hatch, it is up to them to make their way to the sea – orientated by the brightest horizon using reflections and the moon and the stars.

They have to negotiate many predators on their way to the sea, and in the shallows, before they make their way to deeper waters to hide in weeds until they are bigger.

In the deep waters they are prey to sharks and bigger fish – many die from ingesting and getting caught in plastic and other rubbish found in the seas. If you leave anything on a beach, it ends up in the sea – plastic bags and other rubbish gets blown and taken into waterways by rain and the wind, and then it also ends up in the sea. It is very important to dispose of all rubbish carefully.

Read about ‘Peanut’ the turtle who was caught as a youngster inside a plastic ring pack here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/adoptriver/peanut.html

Only about 1 in 1,000 turtles makes it to adulthood.

Loggerhead turtles are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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Photo © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Information Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

S is for Sloth

What's The Rush?

Two-toed sloth by Marie and Alistair Knock on Flikr.

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There are six species of sloth, some two-toed and some three-toed, and they are all very endearing creatures, with their perpetually smiling mouths.

Sloths of course are well known for spending large amounts of time asleep, and for moving very slowly, and there are reasons for this.

They eat a small amount of twigs and fruit, but mainly leaves, which require a long time and a lot of energy to digest. As a way of conserving energy they have a slow metabolism, and also a low body temperature.

They only urinate and defecate once a week, climbing down their tree to the ground to do so – this puts them at great risk, as all their limbs end in sharp, curved claws so they cannot walk or move nimbly.

They spend long periods completely still in the trees, and their fur is home to algae that turns them green – this helps camouflage them. Because they cannot move quickly it is imperative that they should be disguised to predators. And deep in their algae coated fur, they are also home to a special species of moth.

Scientists have long been studying just why sloths only go to the loo once a week, and climb down their tree at great risk to do so, and why they have moths in their fur.

Scientist Jonathan Pauli, Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, thinks he has the answer. He has postulated that it is because the moth helps the algae to grow in the sloth’s fur, as its droppings provide nutrition and fertiliser. The algae protects the sloth from predators – and so the sloth goes down to the bottom of the tree to defecate and the moths use the dung to lay their eggs on.

So the moths lay eggs in the dung which fly up and populate the sloth’s fur.

The fur is then a good substrate for algae that turn the fur green in the sun and camouflage the sloths.

Thus everyone is happy!

Four of the six living species of sloth are not endangered, but the maned three-toed sloth from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the pygmy three-toed sloth, from a small island off the coast of Panama, is classified as Critically Endangered.

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Photograph © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information Wikipedia and The Independent science news.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

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