How to conquer nature

Know the sparrow is your enemy:
you cannot prosper with his beak in your grain.

Rise up, raid nests, gather pots and pans,
ladles and spoons, clatter the branches bare.

Take aim with rifle and slingshot.
Drum at the rooftops until the weary

drop from the sky like rotten leaves.
Consider, as you leap forward,

if you’d rather eat parent or child.
Stop your ears to the song of locusts.

The title of this poem was influenced by the slogan of Chairman Mao’s Four Pests Campaign: ‘Man must conquer nature’. Part of the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s War on Sparrows began in 1958 and is now deemed to have been a significant factor in causing the Great Famine, which killed an unknown number of Chinese citizens, thought to be in excess of 45 million.


Alison Binney is a poet and English teacher from Cambridge. She has been published in magazines such as ‘The North’ and ‘Magma’, and last year she had poems long listed in the National Poetry Competition and Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize.

www.alisonbinney.co.uk 

Twitter: @AEBinney.