Pascale Petit
Publication Date: 
Monday, September 15, 2014
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The Fauverie of this book is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo. But the word also evokes the Fauves, ‘primitive’ painters who used raw colour straight from the tube. Like The Zoo Father, Petit’s acclaimed second collection, this volume has childhood trauma and a dying father at its heart, while Paris takes centre stage – a city savage as the Amazon, haunted by Aramis the black jaguar and a menagerie of wild animals. Transforming childhood horrors to ultimately mourn a lost parent, Fauverie redeems the darker forces of human nature while celebrating the ferocity and grace of endangered species. Five poems from Fauverie won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize and the manuscript in progress was awarded an Arts Council England Grant for the Arts.

“No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.” Les Murray, Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year

“Pascale Petit creates forms and strategies that go beyond common knowledge of what a poem can or should do; her poetry never behaves itself or betrays itself; and contemporary British poetry is all the livelier for it.” David Morley, Magma

“Our winner was chosen because of the un-reproducible bite of the images, her brilliant understanding of human psycho-drama, the sustained accomplishment of her metaphorical imagination.” Adam O’Riordan, Chair of judges, Manchester Poetry Prize

"Pascale Petit's Fauverie is astonishing, one of those books that breaks new ground in how to approach writing about the unwritable." Ruth Padel, London Review Bookshop


Review by Adam Learmonth, Dundee University Review of the Arts

Monday, December 22, 2014

I know you must be surprised, it says,
but I will die soon and want to make contact.
“Arrival of the Electric Eel”

With these lines – the closing couplet of the collection’s first poem – Petit makes an immediate emotional impact, eliciting a sympathetic connection with her reader. Already a winner of the Manchester Poetry Prize, and shortlisted for this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize, Fauverie is the Franco-Welsh poet’s sixth published collection.

The title is the name given to the big cat house at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and the central conceit intertwines a memoir of Petit’s father, focusing on his slow deterioration and death from lung cancer. A menagerie of species symbolise her changing perspectives of him and her emotional responses; though diverse, these symbols most frequently take the form of the jaguars, lions and leopards that inhabit the eponymous enclosure. Over the course of the book we are also taken through Parisian food markets, around Notre-Dame Cathedral, into the heart of the Amazon and even into space; besides animal imagery, space metaphors feature heavily.

Early poems initiating the comparison of Petit’s father to a black jaguar are arresting – “stars for a coat / and his mouth is a sky gate” – and the fleeting mention of a “jungle cough” is one of many portents enveloping each page. Even when presenting the illness from her father’s non-animalistic eyes, the images impress:

I need all my concentration
not to fall off the ledge
of this mountainous breath.
It’s as if I have to swim
every river of my body
just to wake up in the morning.
There are parks that I pass
by ambulance every few months,
unable to tell if what’s clogging the trees
is snow or cherry blossom.
“Lungs (Father Speaks)”

Petit is masterful with the poetic punchline, or tierce de Picardie as she might prefer it be called. Often the final line lends a new light to the preceding poem, reframing entirely the context of the earlier images; “My Father’s Mirror” and the excellent “My Father’s Wardrobe” are good examples. She also makes probing use of form to explore different viewpoints; “Portrait of My Father as Saint-Julien le Pauvre” is a palindromic poem by lines, the second stanza reflecting the first precisely – another allusion to reminiscence. Another short poem, somewhat like William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just To Say”, is a clever pseudo-concrete form; the arrangement symbolises the narrator’s view moving down the torsos, the cut between the two stanzas appropriately situated at the midpoint:

The black eyes
of skinned rabbits
sawn at the waist

stare at their lower halves –
just opposite them
on the chilled tray.
“Grenelle Market II”

The most delectable aspect of Petit’s writing is the richness and vibrancy of her images, especially her appreciation of colour. A macaw’s feather is the blue of “earth’s arc / as it tilts into space” on one side, and gold as “a palette / where cadmiums roil” on the other; at the operating table, her father’s lung is “tar-black, colour of a secret night / I can touch without gloves”. A personal highlight, in which the visceral and celestial themes unite, is the vivid portrayal of a big cat’s white underbelly:

[…] a wrestle

of light-year-long blizzards,
space where time reverses

and stalls, springs back, licked
by the tongue of stellar winds.
“North China Leopard (Tao)”

By the time her father is bed-stricken, “etiolated” and approaching his end, the collection feels more like a gripping novella – a remarkable achievement for a collection of poems that initially seem discrete, but then reveal an overlaying narrative depicting the transformation of a “black jaguar” into an “old leopard”, and beyond into Petit’s contemplations and grieving moments in the days and years after his passing. Fauverie is a poignant, captivating and courageous reflection on love and endurance in the face of bereavement.

Review By Noel Williams, The North

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pascale Petit is not afraid to take risks in her poems, but I doubt she thinks they're risks. To her they'll be irresistibly apt, whether capuring incomprehending innocence through a child's vocubulary('tummy' in 'My Mother's Salmon Skin Nightdress', 'bunny' in 'Lapin à la Moutarde') or stretching to metaphysical extremes and the yoking the everyday to the celestial, exposing the mythic in the mundane:

He paces and turns, his flank

falls and rises

with black holes, pulsars,

a host of them, and the white

under-belly's wrestle

of light-year-long-blizzards,

space where time reverses

and stalls, springs back licked

by the tongue of stellar winds

('North China Leopard(Tao)')


There's no arguing with poetry like this. It's not poetry of ideas nor of observation. It's imagery is not an attempt to pin down the quiddity of the world nor find emotional objective correlatives we can all get to grips with. It's trying to do more than this, more than language is perhaps capable of, to present a way of seeing which is also a way of feeling, to open up the rich mess of connotations in the eel-basket of language, and let slick shiny rainbows of slippery connotation loose.This collection explores the relations of child to father, as the father dies. Father is loved and is hated. He's the power of a big cat, in which the universe resides:

let me pout my lips through the mesh,

my palm-spine whiskers brushing yours

as I plant a kiss on each cheek.

(Kissing a Jaguar')


He's a sexual tyrant:

I ride up to the altar,

into the stained-glass womb

of your cathedral mother.

('Notre-Dame Father Speaks(Palm Sunday)')


He's a cruel source of childhood trauma:

He took out a handkerchief

and whispered that darkness

was wrapped up inside it,

passed it over my face.

('Lord of the Night')


These poems seem to come from intense personal experience, grounded in Petit's familiar Paris and the animal primitivism of the Fauverie(the big cat house in the Jardin des Plantes), but they're not simply biography.They go well beyond her own feeling. She explores, I think, the cruelty, love, hostility, dependence, resentment, hatred, fascination, mystery, resistance, neediness and conflict perhaps experienced in some measure by all children and fathers.

Petit was trained as a sculptor and visual artist Her visual acuity fills these poems with painterly colour but that colour in turn seems to transcend observation, as she steps from the specific and trivial to a, literally, cosmic perception:

Just a feather on the aviary floor-

I hold it to the light. Sapphire

one side of the shaft, lapis

on the other, like earth's arc

as it tilts into space.

('Blue-and-Gold Macaw Feather')


But it's hard to do real justice to this collection, for it overlays the concrete with the mythic, the personal with the natural and much of the tim(and for me, this is a huge strength) it's difficult to tell where in these continua a given poem actually sits. It does have to be read as a collection, though, like a gallery of stained glass, where each poem illuminates the others.

Noel Williams is a Professor of Communication at Sheffield Hallam University, and his poetry has appeared widely in magazines and on two CD's, The Tuesday Poets and Speakers. He is a writer- in- residence at Bank Street Arts, and a founding editor of the on-line magazine Antiphon.

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Review by Dave Poems

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For an indepth review of Fauverie by Dave Coates on the Dave Poems website follow this link:

18/02/2015 - 11:24
Anonymous's picture

Review from Ofi Press Magazine

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Pascale Petit’s sixth collection, Fauverie, is the already award-winning follow-up to The Zoo Father; in it, childhood trauma is being transformed, the vanished father appears in stories about the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris, taking shape of majestic, lovable beasts, endangered species, worth forgiveness and compassion, giving consolation. Choosing this father, the right father is the poet’s voluntary act (in fact, she performs the transformation herself): ”The man with aviary – the one / sparrows follow as he shuffles along, helping him with caresses of their wings. / The one a nightingale serenades /just because he is in pain – that’s / the father I choose, not the man / who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes/ so their songs will carry for miles.” (Portrait of my Father as a Bird Fancier)

Paris has an important role in the book. For the poet, it’s not the nightmare place of childhood anymore but a beautiful romantic city. Her father’s city (My Father’s Wardrobe, Notre-Dame Father Speaks, My Father’s City, Emmanuel) – its secrets are his own, therefore hers as well.

They also share meals, father and daughter. Never have I read so much about food (but also about anything related to eating: appetite, swallowing, feeding times, instructions how to feed, even nausea and force-feeding) in a poetry collection.

The daughter (“my younger self”, says the poet) compares herself to a “duckling preparing / for the great migration, her liver / gorged to ten times its weight / so she can survive the flight”; pâté de foie gras makes her remember:

“I’ve seen the duck farms of the Périgord,

that each memory has a cage –

so many of them – some with broken beaks,

torn throats, maggots in neck wounds,

one with her tongue lolling from her mouth,

all of them panting in their tiny coops

below the funnels,

their heads that back off when the man

clamps his hand over their eyes

and stuffs the gavage in.”

(Pâté de Foie Gras)

Feeding is mentioned as a form of bonding, that between vultures and humans and also that between the poet and her vanished father:

“(…) I found a king vulture chick

and a keeper feeding her through a glove puppet

so she wouldn’t bond with humans.

I still feel those newborn mice in my mouth.

They squeak when Papa feeds me scraps

I’ve coaxed out of him, my beak down his throat.

I digest everything – eyes, bones, tails –

but when I sleep they climb back up.”

(Self-Portrait with King Vultures)

In the same poem:

“(…) I am the Vulture-Father,

I eat death, N’Golo whispers, I eat grief.”

Even the nuances of the relationship between the poet’s parents are shown through a metaphor of a market display:

“(…) each night she lies like a gutted fish

for Father the fishmonger. He strokes her

as if she’s a salmon on a bed of ice

that should be dead but is still twitching.”

(My Mother’s Salmon Skin Nightdress)

The daughter’s heritage is to be explored through flavours:

“We looked inside the lit-up cave

and our cheeks almost touched, as you pointed

at possible courses: venison in deer blood,

calf’s liver in cream. Blanched asparagus

for hors d’oeuvre, or twelve Bourgogne snails.

For dessert, lemon sorbet, or the pièce de résistance:

a box of petit fours.”


All senses are food-bound in not-so-delicious but evocative examples of synaesthesia: “The counters smelled of raw light,/ of butchering and fiesta.” (Grenelle Market III); “the smell of half-eaten mice” (Lungs (Father Speaks)); “so as not to suck/ the flame into his mouth” (Sainte-Chapelle).

Identity can be shaped by the consumed territory: “He seems to have sucked / the whole Amazon/ into its being.” (Black Jaguar at Twilight)

The father is eating up a songbird – it’s a reference to Franҫois Mitterrand’s last meal:

“(…) He thinks

that death will be like this: a singing in the dark

then the pop of a few last bubbles, while the

olive-gold feathers of his body are plucked,

his feet snapped off. (…)

The crispy fat melts,

the bones are crunchy as hazelnuts. When

the bitter organs burst on his tongue in a bouquet

of ambrosia he can taste his entire life – heather

from the Kabylie mountains, Marseille’s salt air,

lavender from Provence – he’s flying through

his clouds to his nesting ground.”


The poem Lapin à la Moutarde is full of time shifts and juxtaposition. The daughter is asked at the dinner table to describe what feeding time at the zoo is like. She starts to talk about the snow leopard and his rabbit but suddenly her father announces the news, her mother is dead. Time leaps forward and back, the daughter’s confusion is being solved in the cluelessness of the leopard:

“There’s a reel in my head of a leopard

who doesn’t know what to do with the gift of a rabbit.

Every now and again he interrupts his circuit

and darts his face forward, startled,

then he’s back into the loop, perhaps

needing to bury his bunny for later or

take it somewhere where no one can watch him eat.”

The title of the book, Fauverie evokes the painting method of the Fauves, putting harsh colours on the canvas right from the tube. Pascale Petit’s poems are vivid, strong, rich in surrealist imagery. Trauma is being transformed into beauty, finally the vanished father can be accepted and mourned.

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10/10/2014 - 10:10
Anonymous's picture

Guardian Poem of the Week

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The big-cat house at the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris is the focus of Pascale Petit’s new collection, Fauverie.

Previewing the collection on her blog last year, Petit explained that the word “fauverie” also conjures “a ‘fauve’ wild beast painting, a habitat of primal colour and encagement”. This week’s poem, Caracal, comes late in the collection and forms a moment of reflection, a cool breathing space, where quiet earth colours predominate and match the elegiac tone.

The caracal (also known as the desert lynx) has a coat of “fawn-rust” that resembles the “sandy loam” of Papa’s grave. When Black Ears leaps for his steak in the third tercet “it’s like a desert doing a somersault”. The bold synthesis of the animal’s natural absence of markings and the curiously “unmarked grave” of the speaker’s father leaves much unsaid. The poem itself makes some agile leaps within its tidy framework: in stanza two, for example, the almost-taboo question of line one (“What happens to a body after fourteen years?”) is followed by a jump-cut allowing the uncomfortable equation of corpse and steak to be registered and defused almost simultaneously.

The conditional “If I am your keeper” queries a metaphor which has been asserted more robustly elsewhere: the transformation of the caracal into the father’s soul, and the speaker into the zoo keeper, is only provisional. Tact prevails, even in the delicate, pattering percussion of stanza four (“temporary” ,“tempts”, “soul”, “meal”).

“After great pain a formal feeling comes …” Emily Dickinson’s majestic poem describes numbness, the “Hour of Lead”. Petit shows a reverse psychological movement – from great pain to an hour of beautiful airy lightness, a formal feeling that’s also release. In the last line, however, the poem effects a “turn” and the unexpected goshawk, invisible but causing the air to quiver with its cries, reminds us of predation. The poem’s last word, it reinstates the carnivorous cycle of nature and art. Even the most graceful flight paths lead to the fauverie, it seems.


Fawn-rust coat, no markings,
like the sandy loam I gathered
from your unmarked grave, Papa.

What happens to a body after fourteen years?
The keeper throws a steak
into the air and Black Ears

jumps ten feet to catch it –
it’s like a desert doing a somersault.
If I am your keeper,

the temporary owner of this plot,
let me tempt your soul
with a meal, throw it higher

than the horse chestnuts,
into the clear blue air that quivers
with the cries of a goshawk.

Carol Rumens

29/09/2014 - 16:09
Anonymous's picture

Review from Tuesday Poem

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This is one of the poems from Pascale Petit's newly published collection Fauverie, from Seren Books. Emmanuel is the big bell that hangs in the south tower of Notre Dame in Paris and the poem, like others in this collection, concerns the death of a father and the powerful pull of a great city, as well as memories that are going to 'reverberate through a life'. But things are not exactly as they seem. The Fauverie is the big cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris - a city portrayed in these poems as ‘savage as the Amazon’. At the centre of the collection is the big Jaguar, Aramis, beautiful, wild and dangerous in every cell of his powerful body. And there is also the poet’s father, now weak and dying, but still able to arouse turbulent emotions and painful memories. There is ambivalence and ambiguity in everything - ‘ferocity and grace’ exist side by side - the wild can be both savage and seductive. Humans are also animals. There is a direct reference, in the title of this collection, to Fauve painters who used raw colour straight from the tube and were regarded as 'the wild beasts of art'. Pascale Petit was also a visual artist and she is fascinated by the idea of ‘wild beast poetry’ that looks at the primitive and the spiritual at the same time. Fauverie follows, and references, her second collection, The Zoo Father, published 13 years ago. The poet is now less angry and more compassionate than she was when her father died, but still unflinching and much more complex. Pascale’s father is also Paris - a city that is, for the poet, both full of pain and full of joy. This is transformative poetry which comes from what Les Murray called Pascale Petit’s ‘powerful mythic imagination’. The poems are informed by a deep knowledge of art, mythology and psychology, though you don’t need to understand any of the references in order to understand the poetry. The sub-text is exactly that. But there is a keen sense of danger. Every line is liminal - you walk precariously on the edge between worlds, on the thresholds of different visions. The dictionary defines liminality as: ‘the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.’ Here Liminality is the right word, because the great beauty of these poems is the power that they have to disturb and disorientate the reader. We feel the destructive strength of Aramis, marvel at his beauty; we are pierced by the poet’s grief for her dying father, revolted by the way human beings kill and consume other animals, by the way they treat each other. Who is the predator? Who is the prey? This is poetry that is going to change the way you look at things. The collection tells a story - beginning with the arrival of a letter, ‘Never before has a letter been so heavy, growing to two metres in my room, the address, the phone number, then the numbness, I know you must be surprised, it says, but I will die soon and want to make contact.’ And then the meeting between estranged father and daughter, described in 'Kissing a Jaguar' The first meeting was like I’d had Virola snuff blown up my nostrils. Alone with my father in a room he called ‘la jungle’. Back in her hotel room the poet ‘retches all night’, but next morning is up and walking the streets of Paris All paths lead to the Fauverie and this is where I come to, again and again, to where Aramis has stars for a coat and his mouth is a sky-gate the jaguar shaman climbs through. There is incredible cruelty in the poems - a darkness that reveals childhood traumas. For me one of the most horrific poems was Pate de Foie Gras, which describes the conditions where ducks and geese are force-fed, ‘broken beaks/torn throats, maggots in neck wounds’ and spend their lives waiting in fear, but also in hunger, for the moment when the ‘gavage’ will be thrust down their throats. But the whole is constructed as a metaphor for the childhood memory of being made to eat Pate de Foie ‘part cooked, a whole lobe’; when the farmer clasps the neck of the bird, it is the small girl who is being force-fed. Much of the darkness in the poems is expressed in food - a milk fed piglet (cochon de lait) sawn in half and wrapped in cling-film for sale in the market, (Grenelle Market 1). In another, the child who has been locked in the cellar comes up for air in the food market where ‘The counters smelled of raw light/ of butchering and fiesta.’ One of the most horrific is ‘Ortolan’. Apparently Francois Mitterand’s last meal was an Ortolan and the poet imagines her father eating one before he dies, the small bird drowned in Armagnac, grilled and eaten whole. In the poem Blackbird, the poet, locked in the cellar as a punishment as a small child, is personified as a bird. Pascale Petit was born in Paris, where her mother lived, but partly brought up by her grandmother in Wales. She has always been very open about her parent’s abusive treatment, which included being locked in a cellar regularly as a punishment. The suffering of animals becomes a metaphor for the suffering of the child. In Paris the plates are piled high with ‘lambs’ tongues’, but it’s only when the poet, older now, has come to the safety of Wales that she can allow herself to ‘hear their bleats’. The connections between her childhood traumas and the preoccupation with the animals of the Fauverie, and particularly Aramis, are very clear. In Self-Portrait with King Vultures (N’Golo and Margot), there is comfort; . . . I am the Vulture-Father, I eat death, N’Golo whispers, I eat grief. The connection is more explicit in the poem Le Sang des Betes, where the poet is in a train; My carriage moves on, past the dangerous work of the mind as it sorts through memories - those that must and must not be remembered except as flashes from the train-tracks of history, or only confronted in animal form. Pascale admits the ‘element of the supernatural’ in her work, attributing it to her Welsh grandmother’s influence. This collection is further exploration of the way that childhood trauma can be transformed into art, which was so carefully probed in What the Water Gave Me - Pascale’s collection of poetry around the life and work of Frida Kahlo. Pascale, who studied at the Royal College of Art and was at first a sculptor, clearly identified with Frida’s ability to make great art out of suffering. But this is definitely not ‘art as therapy’, nor is it about taming savagery or the healing of wounds – it is the transformation of ugliness into beauty and vulnerability into power using words and images. In a recent interview (available online here) Pascale talks about her work and in particular ‘writing the personal’. (6.34 minutes in) ‘It is very hard to write personal and painful subjects in poems ... I don’t feel that I have a choice... That’s what I need to write ... I don’t think my work is just about autobiography, what I’m really interested in is investigation’ particularly ‘exploration into what we call good and evil’. Her ‘difficult’ and abusive parents gave her intense material. Travelling to the Amazon as an adult artist gave her new ways of looking at it. ‘I want to take my parents into that rainforest place . . . and try to see what there is about them that’s good and what’s bad and why and to try to make them somehow beautiful - the amazon is beautiful as well as ‘a green hell’. ‘People have an extraordinary mythology .... Putting my parents in that kind of context ... gives them a new light.’

29/09/2014 - 16:08