An Otter For Earth Day

hairy-nosed-otter_7950Welcome to Earth Day #46, and NaPoWriMo day #22. Tasked with celebrating our planet or an aspect thereof, I was drawn to researching a different species of otter, specifically the Hairy-Nosed Otter. Indigenous to Indonesia and South-East Asia, dweller of peat swamps, solitary and shy, prized for both pelt and meat – unsurprisingly, this otter is one of several otter species that are critically endangered. They are under very severe habitat threat as fires continue to ravage the formerly lush peat rainforests of Indonesia, thanks to the almost totally unregulated global palm oil industry.

Now, this is an emotional day for us all. Victoria Wood is dead, Prince is dead, I won’t deny I’ve wept a little weep already, and it’s not that I want to add to the gloom, it’s just that, you know, unstoppable peat fires, mass extinctions, 93% bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, argh……

Happy Earth Day.

The Hairy-Nosed Otter In Danger

Don’t speak to him of tiger economies.

The burnt umber tigers are long-ghosted,


sepia kill-shots snapped where, today, earth burns.

Don’t pronounce stearate, octyl palmitate, glycerol.


Doritos matter more than his water snakes.

Lipsticks and instant whip more precious than frogs.


He sprains himself into puddles of peat-swamp,

grieving for mangroves, cool vaulted aquifers.


Acrid, the air bites back. Muzzle-hairs

shake like children locked in nightmares.


My heart, what nasty thing frightened you?

It is coming, it is coming and it won’t stop.


Norwegian Otters Are Shapeshifters Too

904f3ef70320dc267d6487cdd4666d05Day 21, another milestone moment! I didn’t manage to stay on-prompt yesterday, today I have cunningly combined yesterday’s instruction to write using kennings with today’s prompt to re-tell a myth or fairytale. So here is a Norse myth, incorporating some Norse-style kennings.

The Stone That Slew The Magician Otr

Were I a stone of the road, I would have known to edge away

from the tread of  the trouble-reapers, like all the stones of Midgard.

But I was idling at the river-hem, lazed back on sand,

like an otter I was half and half, my belly sun-warming.

I didn’t call Loki to reach for me and turn me into a flying axe,

I didn’t want to be death for the happy midstream water-tumbler.

Had I voice or breath I would have cried out there and then –

That is no more an otter than am I! That frog-chomper you think

to stew, he is shape-shifter, hidden wizard, heir to power! He is Otr,

and his slayer will pay a heavy price! Loki, be satisfied with the silver rope

of trout now fringing your shouldered pole, or you’ll lose twice that in gold!

I could not speak. I had no choice but to be the end-blow

of a god’s unlucky throw. Bleared and drowned in remorse, I saw

through the glass hall of the river, the mighty Otr skinned,

and the gods depart unwittingly to lay son-flesh on his father’s table.

Even this water won’t deafen me to the righteous roar to come,

the screams for bloodgold enough to bury a beloved pelt.

So consequences run ahead, for where can Loki find ransom

but by forcing the underwater cave of the dwarf-king?

I can see the entrance glint through the pike-patrolled weeds,

the future shining with it in fragmentary lights like warning beacons.

Here comes greed, and curses, and the death of lovers.




No jokes here today, just otters

Aniaks-pup-31-Jan-b-009-1024x819I usually love writing ‘How To’ instructional poems, they can be a great excuse to get a bit surreal. I’m sure a ‘How To Be An Otter’ poem would have gone to a happy place, had I not clicked on an otter anatomy site in my research and been indelibly scarred by pictures of dissected sea otters killed by ingesting crude oil from a tanker disaster. I am not giving you that link, people. It also made for a slightly angry poem.

How To Care For An Oiled Otter

First, put aside any notion that otters swim,

agile and unblemished, through an ocean

pure as tempered starlight.

Pollute your vision with plastic frags,

run-off, effluent, and the crude suppuration of oil

bleeding out of smashed tankers,

venting from mismanaged seabed hellmouths.

Don’t like it? Suck it up.

Tar patties will clog your sentiment until

finally it sinks in – your buoyancy

is fatally compromised.

Now you are ready for the work.


Dip-net for speed, Kevlar-gloved

in case they break open caustic-ravaged mouths

to bite, in case they have some vestige of sight.

Use the stuff-sack, the holding-box, the heat-lamp,

and wash, wash, wash, wash, wash.

Soft water makes a difference. So can you.

For two hours each otter, this is all you do,

care for something that can never

thank you or profit you or forgive

our species rendering them collateral.

And if their pelage softens and restores its guard,

if their temperature ceases its giddy rollercoaster,

if they have guts enough left unblistered to digest clams you shuck,

if you have used masks and blinds and feeding chutes

so after all of that they are still sufficiently wild,

release them, and wait for the next time.




An Otter For My Friend’s Birthday

Today, we otter off-pist3d97acb4d3e8c3b3daf4f52d97918188e, off-prompt, and a little bit off-the-cuff. For today is the birthday of a certain Nicola Sky Hawkins, and she needs an otter.

For inspiration, I have looked to ‘New Girl’ actress, the ultimate manic pixie girl herself – Zooey Deschanel. Not content with having her own bonkers name, last August she named her new-born daughter ‘Elsie Otter’. But I like that. I like that, when quizzed, she said her choice was based on otters being “playful and smart”. These are good qualities to wish for a daughter, and I salute her, just as I salute Sky.




Celebrity Baby Names

Celebrity parents, curb your whimsy

when burdening your child with names

they must struggle to fit, or else outrun.

The Apple may not fall far from the Paltrow,

she may yet fulfil all that glossy promise,

but fruit does go bad. Look at Peaches.

Better to slip in a middle name like a sixpence

under a pillow, a good fairy’s cribside blessing,

a seed that may be revealed to the light, but later,

at the needful point of greatest growth.


A Nicola could punk it up to high-kickin’ Nikki,

but what if her mum had tucked away a token

reading ‘Sky’? She could kiss it and unfold,

become a thousand times herself more blue

and beautiful when the storms tear through.

So this parting thought for tiny Elsie Deschanel,

one day loving the granny chic her name suggests,

but underneath coy necklines, playful and smart,

always knowing she is Otter at her heart.


Ode To A Diving Otter


Challenged by NaPoWriMo to use ten words from some hypothetical specialist dictionary I am meant to have lying around the place, I sniffed miffily and went online to play with Scrabble dictionaries. Prepare yourself for a short, sharp burst of alliteration. Ooooooooo…..

(Also, this video of a diving sea otter)

Observe the otter oscillate

and over-roll, obsidian-wet,

ogive-headed oceanaut,

oligarch of oysterbeds ornate

as origami from the Orient,

his ogee-outline oiltight,

ombré, opalescent.


Apologies to Sam


One of the lovely, yet slightly unnerving things about writing obsessively about otters is that people pretty soon start sending you little-known factoids about otters and otter-related subjects. For example, did you know that my great, great, great grandmother by marriage came from Ottery St Mary in Devon? Of course you didn’t.

Anyhoo, today’s prompt was an interesting one about imagining place, so I decided to write an imagined Ottery, using as my template one of the most famous poems by the town’s most famous son, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Read the original Kubla Khan here)

(The Tumbling Weir is a real thing).




In Ottery did otter-kind

A wat’ry romping-ground decree

Where through a cunning aperture

Slid the silver’d river pure

Down through the Tumbling Weir.


So culverted and dug about

The river wound both in and out

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills

Where spawned many a succulent-tasting frog

And here were fish untouched by heron’s bills

Plumply fall’n in paws of bitch and dog.


But oh! those muddy chutes that slanted

Down the green banks athwart the tender willows!

A joyous place! as playful and enchanted

As e’er beneath the Hydra’s stars was vaulted

By otter leaping in a dwindling oxbow!


And down these mudchutes, with ceaseless squeals of pleasure

As if their merriment could last forever

The otter brethren happily did slide

Amid whose swift free-spirited glide

The plashy mud did bounce like blessed rain

And all who slid cried out ‘again! again!’

And waiting at the bottom, cool as ever

Ran the deep and sacred Otter River.

Five miles meandering with mazy motion

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran

Diverted from the settlements of man

By otters navigating to the ocean.

Hark, ‘cross the waters that they float upon!

Ancestral otters prophesying fun!


There was no shadow in the land of play

Cavorting on the midway of the flow,

All that could be heard by night or day

Were the otters paddling to and fro.

It was a miracle of harmony,

A place where creatures lived so cheerfully!


An otter with a mandolin

I saw once in a waking dream

It was an Amazonian

And on its mandolin it strummed

Singing of distant Andes.

Could I revive within me

Its simplicity and song,

To such a deep delight ’twould win me,

That by digging deep and long,

I would build that romping-place

Those water-slides! That Tumbling Weir!

And all who came should be of cheer,

And all should cry, hooray! hear! hear!

This splashing lark, these waters clear!

Encircle him most utterly

And keep him close unto your hearts

For he has travelled off the charts

To bring us all to Otterly.



Now Double Your Otter

Halfway through my self-imposed month of otter-themed NaPoWriMo poems! Time for something ridiculous, I feel.



Double the otter is double the fun,

if you could have two, why would you have one?


Double again so your otters are four,

That’s eighty sharp claws on your new parquet floor.


But four is no party, let’s make it eight,

And if you consider their full-grown weight,


That’s almost three hundred and sixty kilos

of otter, pissing all over the dado.


Imagine the stench when you get to sixteen!

Never again will the hearth rug be clean,


The destruction that one thirty-two-otter raft

Can wreak on a free-standing cast-iron bath!


When the sum of the blighters hits sixty-four,

Flee from the mayhem and move in next door!


Just pray that they don’t take up playing bassoon,

This one-hundred-twenty-eight-otter commune,


You may be afflicted by pains existential

If otters keep breeding at rates exponential.



Keep Your Fur On

8038cc4f764c80709cc2f5a417360389Honestly folks, two straight weeks of otters is difficult enough, but the NaPoWriMo prompt today featured a very spurious poetic form with many rules about rhyme and repetition that are just too dull to explain to you right now. Suffice it to say, I have done it with 43 minutes of the day to spare, so if I’ve got the rules wrong then tough!

It’s inspired by the fur of the sea otter, which is the thickest on Earth, and which was the reason they were nearly hunted to extinction. Try this little video for more info. The picture for todays post is the only kind of otter hat people should buy nowadays.

Fur Trade

Diving, they are comet-tailed, a plunging silver fizz

of bubbles as the pressure wrings them sleek as fish,

flattening the under-fur that crowds a million to the inch.


One pelagic pelt could mean good silver to the thief

adept to plunge the knife in, to strip the sheath

from vibrissae to tail-tip, so some millionaire can swish

fur-hatted, fizz-swilling through crowds that enviously seethe

Oh! to wear an otter! it is our dearest aim and wish!



Do Otters Wonder What the Future Holds?

otter_love____by_seb_photos-d5i3x28.jpgTasked by NaPoWriMo with writing inspired by a fortune cookie, I delved into an online repository of those aphorisms and found this implausibly long, but entirely appropriate fortune – “Hidden in a valley beside an open stream- This will be the type of place where you will find your dream.” It really does sound like it was written with otters in mind, doesn’t it?

It reminded me of a story my lovely friend Lil told me. She was walking her dog on the banks of the Tyne river behind her house, when she saw an otter floating on its back in the water, for all the world looking like it was daydreaming. Lil was convinced she was imagining her future mate and family, and behold! some months later she saw the otter again, this time playing with two pups. They were on the opposite bank, and had found a red ball, which they were rolling to one another. So this is a poem for Lilly’s Dreaming Otter.

she dandles herself in the current

with her drowsy webfoot flutter

all whiskery contentment

she is as sweet as doing nothing

upriver and down, fishing and floating

balance in her belly and her heart


she watches the wind sift the sky

into its several selves

nested clouds, ribbons, tufts

some dark enough to cry themselves

back into the ever-slippery sheets

of her water-bed, this river

where she is dreaming up

a spry dog to share it

a glinty rogue, a playmate


they will make a home

where the river bank is scalloped

with beaches of pelt-brown sand

they will make pups, a proper romp

nose to tail to nose to tail

they will make a carousel of love


Sound Advice For Otter Trawling


It may surprise you to know that I don’t have textbooks about aquatic mammals lying around the house, so I was hard-pushed to find an index from which to write today’s NaPoWriMo poem. Fortunately, Newcastle Library had a magnificently arcane handbook for commercial fishermen, from which I gleaned these wise words…(which should have been heeded by this fishing boat in Shetland)

The Trawlerman’s Handbook, p.89-91

Otter Boards divert water flow into your nets.

Keep your Otter Boards well-adjusted, don’t spoil them.

They are boards for water, but not waterboards.

Please do not waterboard your otter,

they can hold their breath for four minutes,

at best you will merely annoy them, and then

you must quickly calculate the Angle Of Attack,

which is the distance between your Otter Board

and the Direction of Flow calculated in degrees,

multiplied by your otter’s annoyance.

If your otter shows a V-shape when sideways on,

it is a British otter and remembers Agincourt.

If a piratical otter boards your vessel, repel!

Protect your salmon! Otters may become unstable

in the presence of large quantities of salmon.

Stop your otter tilting by shortening, or lengthening

their upper and lower backstrops accordingly.

Careful of your fingers!! They may strop back!

Always keeping in mind that a little tilt

is a good thing for some bottom conditions.

If you see your otter heeling inwards, and then

heeling outwards, he has begun his ritual dance

of Saluting The Salmon, and your catch is lost to you.

You should have repelled him when I told you to.