It’s a zoo out there.
At least it was for Ladysmith author Penelope Allen who penned the book Zodiac Zoo.
The book features poems about the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
The first copies of the book were for sale starting Dec. 20.
Allen said she found her inspiration for the poems from a series of stamps when she worked at the post office.
“Every year, I would look at these beautiful stamps and the year of the pig there was this beautiful happy pig and it just kept resonating with me,” said Allen.
Since she was already a published poet, Allen decided to pay homage to the animals from a Western point of view.
“I took the challenge up to write 12 villanelles about the Chinese zodiac animals.”
A villanelle is a specific type of poem that consists of 19 lines with repeating lines throughout with each turcet.
She started in January 2008 and wrote the final poem, the pig, in October of that year, but Allen admits she could have finished them earlier.
This is the first standalone book for Allen.
Having worked with many Chinese people in Vancouver, Allen has a deep respect for the culture and said the poems do not reflect the different characteristics associated with the signs.
She instead wanted to write a Western interpretation about the animals themselves.
“I’m drawing on my familiarity of what I think of when I think of the rat,” said Allen of one of the poems.
“It’s not like I’m trying to warp my views into something Chinese.”
Of the 12 poems, the easiest to write was the pig.
Her favourite poem in the book is the snake.
“It’s a nice, tight write,” said Allen. “It’s not really wordy and it has tension in it.”
The hardest was the tiger.
“That’s my sign and my mother used to recite William Blake’s poem The Tyger.
“Trying to come up with something I felt was appropriate for such an honourable animal was very tough.”
All of the illustrations are wood-cut prints done by Winnipeg artist Stephen Cassidy.
The book or prints are available at Bayview Framing and online. Zodiac Zoo is also available at the library.