BOOKS: PICK OF THE WEEK

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Tobias Hill at The Aquarium, London Zoo, Prince Albert Gate, Outer Circle, Regent's Park, London NWI, (0171-420 9895). Wed 9 Sept, 7.30 pm, tickets pounds 8 in advance only from the Poetry Society (0171-420 9895) The French poet Gerard de Nerval was so keen on sea-life that he kept a pet lobster, which he took out for walks in the gardens of the Palais Royal on a length of blue ribbon. "And why not?" he would say. "Is a lobster more ridiculous than a dog, a cat, a gazelle, a lion or any other animal that you take for walks? I have a taste for lobsters, who are quiet, serious beings who know the secrets of the seas, they don't bark and they don't monopolise the very souls of people like dogs do."

It was a sea creature which unintentionally saved the life of Evelyn Waugh. The unhappy author of Decline and Fall once swam out to sea with the intention of committing suicide, but a sting from a jellyfish caused him to limp back to shore instead.

Recognising the undoubted literary credentials of our watery brethren, Tobias Hill has selected the Aquarium at London Zoo as the setting for the first public event of his newly acquired position as zoo poet-in-residence. On Wednesday, Hill will be reading among the conger eels and cuttlefish with dry-witted Whitbread Poetry Prize-winner Carol Ann Duffy (the ticket price includes free wine, a chance to explore the Aquarium, and interval music from a harpist, presumably to humour the angelfish).

"We could have had the reading in the elephant-house, but it's rather small and smelly," admits Hill. "Besides, I really like the Aquarium because the keepers are very chatty. I suppose you get that much less chat from a box-fish."

"It's a bit like being in a Damien Hirst in there," he adds, "with those huge tanks of water suspended overhead and all the sharks up against the plate glass. My favourites, though, are the deep-sea fishes, amazing creatures like something out of Hieronymous Bosch."

HilI is currently trying to find suitable verses to spread around the enclosures as a poetry-trail. "It can be hard finding animal poems which aren't too sentimental," he warns. "Anything with fur and not-too-sharp teeth seems to get the treatment. But luckily there are lots of good poems about fish."

Judith Palmer

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