A new festival of poetry and spoken word is coming to a town near you. Among the luminous spheres of wordsmithing at Verve, winner of the Melita Hume Prize and local PhD student, Jenna Clake, is performing at the launch of the Birmingham Anthology. Here are some words Clake ordered particularly splendidly.
The Cow Whisperer
The cows were in dissent. They said, You will not take our milk from us. The cows wanted rights. The cows wanted breaks, greener grass, more time outside. The cows wanted clearly-defined job roles. They wanted to not be stared at by people, especially when they were working. They wanted days off. They did not want to be forced into a field with a bull. They wanted a greater choice of bulls. They wanted to be paid for milk.
The cows were threatened with becoming beef. They laughed at the predictability of the threat, as a person laughs when they nervously leave their car somewhere strange overnight and return the next morning to find it stolen. The people said the calves would be taken away. The cows whispered about veal when the people were sleeping, and placed the calves in the centre of the field during the day.
The cows lay in a circle. A person would walk towards the cows and afterwards, they would say, I was walking to the cows, and then I suddenly needed to walk the other way. A few people began to believe that the cows were powerful. They tried to join the circle but could not. Most people grew afraid of the cows. Children’s bedtime stories were adapted to include cows as thieves, cows as bullies, cows as child-eaters. All books containing positive or neutral information about cows were burned at the town barbecue.
The people called the Cow Whisperer. He was said to have sorted out situations like this before. The Cow Whisperer, contrary to rumours, wore a suit. The people watched him talk to the cows. The cows stood up and turned away from him. The Cow Whisperer, in an act of desperation, is thought to have said, Give up now. Do you really think this is going to make things better? The cows are said to have looked at him blankly, as though he were a tourist asking for directions to an attraction that was directly behind him.
The people called an official meeting with the cows. The Cow Whisperer would mediate. The people served scones with jam from Tesco and cream made from the cows’ milk. Some cows cried. Some cows refused to continue with the meeting. Most cows joined the meeting and glared at the people. They let the people speak, uninterrupted. As a peace offering, the people presented the cows with sacks of improved food. You can eat this now, they said, smiling. The cows looked at each other, and began to bite the straps of the bells around their necks: We are not pieces of meat, they said. The people looked to the Cow Whisperer, who was hiding underneath a table, cramming scones into his mouth.
Verve runs February 16 to 19. And in case you're not totally sure where to start, we've been demanding recommendations from festival insiders:
Emma Wright: "I'm really looking forward to seeing Hannah Silva perform an excerpt from her feminist satire Shlock! — I've heard a lot of buzz about it."
Jenna Clake: "I'm excited to see Melissa Lee-Houghton — her collection, Sunshine, is incredible, and I've heard her readings are wonderful too."
Cynthia Miller: "I cannot wait for Mona Arshi and Helen Mort — their collections have had a real impact on me; seeing them live will be incredible." Tickets
The Cow Whisper was originally published by The Bohemyth.