the poetry of birds

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

 

Our special guest this week is the wildlife photographer, author and poet, Andrew Fusek Peters.  His stunning photographs often appear on the front page of national newspapers, and in the last two years he has won Highly Commended in British Wildlfe Photographer of the Year twice, won Commended and 3rd in Category in International Garden Photographer of the Year, and made the top 100 in the inaugural Close Up Photographer Of The Year and finalist in Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

His book, Dip,  tells of a year of wild swims and stories from the Borderlands and is both a sustained, year long piece of nature writing, and a meandering meditation on landscape, ecology, wildlife, myth and memoir. Dip is set mainly around the the Shropshire borderlands. It is exquisitely moving.

Andrew is also a respected poet, and a much-loved writer for children, with many collections to his name, and his new book Hill & Dale, My Shropshire Year, will be a 200 page full colour hardback to be published this year by Yew Tree Press.

Having already generously given permission for Poetry Breakfast at Home to use his photographs to illustrate the themes of Hope is the Thing with Feathers  and Green, so green we are delighted to welcome Andrew as both poet and photographer to this week’s theme.

Welcome, Andrew.

Next week our returning guest poet will be Pauline Prior Pitt, with the theme ‘Be an Angel’ – any suggestions of poems to include? Just email or use the comments function at the bottom of the page.

Just before we start – Might you like to listen to The Lark Ascending while you read?

Anna

Poetry Breakfast

The Murmur of Dusk 

Follow the law, keep close to your kin

No crash as you dash through the feathering din

Safety in numbers, the gathered agree

Turning and tumble invisible scree

Furl like a flag of furrowing silk

Spill from the sky in a spatter of milk

The sun has migrated far to the west,

Now forest and field shall lull you to rest.

At the dusk, you are flung like a catapult loosed

Your target the willow tree warmth of the roost,

when many be one, so song settles down,

Poured like smoke to a canopy crown.

Murmuration Reflection by Andrew Fusek Peters

House Guests

What is it with the birds at dawn

Where dark made dreaming dim?

The darting dunnock on the ground, 

The goldfinches with their bullion

Squabbles that vanish like pilfered jewels in the morning light

What is it with the birds?

The dainty siskins, aerial doilies, etiquettes of the air,

Yet suddenly spitting, a suspended cat’s claw

That scratches a foodie territory.

Yes, what is it with the birds?

The green finch, that neon matador

Bruiser with a beak

Pumped up on verdant steroids.

Or the elongated long-tailed tits, rudders at their backs,

Sky steering, clumped on balls of fat like a font

Yes what is with the birds

By dusk, hidden houdinis hounded by the leaching of light

That robs feathers of flight,

Round breathing pegs for the shadow hedge hole,

Nails hammered tight to the roost,

All in a sudden sigh, gone from us like a grieving,

How is their dreaming, and whence their thoughts?

What of the birds, those clothed radiators, hearts beating slow

In the clamp of cold.

Walk past, returning from evening perched at the pub, 

and raise a small warning song, 

birds sleep-squawking.

Till they, come the new day, the birds, whatever it is with them,

Be blessed again: 

blackbird, the worm angler and tail poseur;

nuthatch, upside wire-walker, with a head forged from curiosity,

and sparrow the street corner gossip,

the bullying know-all.

All take to the air like a newborn

Singing, caterwhauling, screeching

oh the round and round begin again

what is it with the birds?

Photography during the pandemic.

This has been a time of tragedies, both great and small. I could not go to see my mother celebrate her 88th birthday in a local nursing home and for many social distancing and lockdown meant far worse and a whole world of grief.

And yet. And yet, the proscribed walks we were allowed for me became prescribed walks – both medicine and filled with the possibilities of creative well-being. I had never found bird nests before and suddenly, every tree was filled with holy/holey possibilities. Long lenses meant I could get in close without disturbing sitting mums or feeding parents. And that has carried on. It seems I’ve got my eye in, and my ears too, to hear the chit-chit-chit of calling woodpecker chicks. Our community has come together in a good hearted way – helping out those shielding, shopping, dropping stuff off or even not bumping into each other when out and about. The flow of words is feathered – it flies and flies between us all and we are glad of it, this chatty hope that leavens the dull grind of days. And suddenly I am a repository for many to tell me what they’ve seen, be it bird or butterfly or the beauty of our local landscape.

Andrew Fusek Peters

Yesterday, I saw a notice on a door to a magical walled garden. Something about nesting birds and then I realised. This brave and determined mother-to-be had woven a nest around an ancient iron hinge. Even more amazing that the door is in use, leading to a bunch of allotments. How miraculous is such persistence and what my lens finally reveals is that the very shy spotted flycatcher has made her temporary home, shielding in the shadows under a 19th century brick overhang. Her nest is woven around the door hinge. I am flabbergasted at such fragility and pray that the notice makes people careful at this precious doorway. I am sitting at a careful distance, my remote control in hand. Soon, when it gets too hot, there might be a dip among the lapis lazuli of damselflies. Heaven might not be at hand, and to feel positive feels almost dangerous. But let us grab what little and natural joys we can.

Swans Mating by Michael Longley

Even now I wish that you had been there

Sitting beside me on the riverbank:

The cob and his pen sailing in rhythm

Until their small heads met and the final

Heraldic moment dissolved in ripples.

This was a marriage and a baptism,

A holding of breath, nearly a drowning,

Wings spread wide for balance where he trod,

Her feathers full of water and her neck

Under the water like a bar of light.

from Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, included by kind permission of the publisher.

Chosen by Kathy, Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Swallows by Kathleen Jamie

I wish my whole battened

heart were a property

like this, with swallows

in every room – so at ease

they twitter and preen

from the picture frames

like an audience in the gods

before an opera

and in the mornings

wheel above my bed

in a mockery of pity

before winging it

up the stairwell

to stream out into light

from The Tree House, Thank you to Kathleen Jamie for allowing us to include this poem.

Chosen by Alix, Poetry Breakfast at The Poetry Pharmacy

Ali chose a few of her favourites: Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins and (from the many she could have picked) Curlew by Gillian Clarke, to whom grateful thanks for again allowing us to include one of her poems. (And Happy Birthday, Gillian!) and A Blackbird Singing by RS Thomas.

Ali

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

      dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

      As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! 

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Curlew by Gillian Clarke

She dips her bill in the rim of the sea.

Her beak is the ellipse

of a world much smaller

than that far section of the sea’s

circumference. A curve enough to calculate

the field’s circle and its heart

of eggs in the cold grass.

All day while I scythed my territory

out of nettles, laid claim to my cantref,

she has cut her share of sky. Her song bubbles

long as a plane trail from her savage mouth.

I clean the blade with newspaper. Dusk blurs

circle within circle till there’s nothing left

but the egg pulsing in the dark against her ribs.

For each of us the possessed space contracts

to the nest’s heat, the blood’s small circuit.

from The Sundial, published by Gomer Press

A Blackbird Singing by RS Thomas

It seems wrong that out of this bird,

Black, bold, a suggestion of dark 

Places about it, there yet should come

Such rich music, as though the notes’

Ore were changed to a rare metal

At one touch of that bright bill.

You have heard it often, alone at your desk

In a green April, your mind drawn

Away from its work by sweet disturbance

Of the mild evening outside your room.

A slow singer, but loading each phrase

With history’s overtones, love, joy

And grief learned by his dark tribe

In other orchards and passed on

Instinctively as they are now,

But fresh always with new tears.

Char March, a previous guest poet at Poetry Breakfast has allowed us to include Kestrel Versus Crow from her collection, Full Stops in Winter Branches, published by Valley Press.

Char March

Steve, as always, brings a different perspective to the proceedings! Thank you Steve for your originality and wit, and for this very good poem.

Steve Harrison

Poet-in-Residence, Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Kestrel versus Crow

I am fence-post turned to glide

I follow black line across

hard white ground 

my eyes are flicker

tree-light-tree-light-tree-light

I am soar

white ground is hedge-squared

the line where ground and air roost

is pylon-pinned is tilt-tilt-level-tilt-level-tilt

my eyes snag black-flap

I am hunt

black-flap is below

black-flap is caw-caw

black-flap is slow flap

I am pursuit

I am hedge tree sky 

I steer in scream-wind

tilt-tilt-level-tilt-level-tilt

I am tension 

I am dive-strain

I am scream-wind

I am talons 

black-flap is caw-caw

he is flurry-swerve

twig-crash

I am thump, snatch, roll, neck-nip

black-flap is ground

my beak, blood

by Char March

 

 Canal-side birds by Steve Harrison 

Handsome Hooded Crows

and well-preened Ravens

flock-filled Birmingham yesterday

folded in their black graduation wings.

 Proud fingers tilted cameras,

Canal bridges framed these fledglings.

Prints will hang on walls in celebration

of this day in their migration.

 Their juvenile faces will examine mine

measure its pressure

feel for its pulse

by-pass my heart.

Four and forty years since I took flight

grateful for grants and The Grateful Dead,

now wishing these new wings don’t get clipped 

avoid the stench of smoking feathers.

And now two poems by Christina Rossetti: A Bird Song is chosen by Alison, thank you for the photo Alison,  and A Green Cornfield is Tim’s choice this week, although Tim says his second choice is that he is looking forward to Simon Armitage‘s current project of a translation of The Owl and The Nightingale (from 8-900 years ago, written in Middle English) when he’s finished it; should be fun, by the sound of it.

A Bird Song by Christina Rossetti

It’s a year almost that I have not seen her:

Oh, last summer green things were greener,

Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.

It’s surely summer, for there’s a swallow:

Come one swallow, his mate will follow,

The bird race quicken and wheel and thicken.

Oh happy swallow whose mate will follow

O’er height, o’er hollow! I’d be a swallow,

To build this weather one nest together.

 

A Green Cornfield by Christina Rosetti

The earth was green, the sky was blue:

I saw and heard one sunny morn

A skylark hang betweent he two,

A singing speck above the corn;

A stage below, in gay accord,

White butterflies danced on the wing,

And still the singing skylark soared,

And silent sank and soared to sing.

The cornfield stretched a tender green

To right and left beside my walks;

I knew he had a nest unseen

Somewhere among the million stalks.

And as I paused to hear his song

While swift the sunny moments slid,

Perhaps his mate sat listening long,

And listened longer than I did.

Thinking about lyrics, poetry, and music, it seems to me that lyrics specifically written for a song are more able to be isolated as poems than poems can be set to music. I think of A Shropshire Lad and others where the impact of the words is lost in the musical setting. And of course, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature …

Incidentally, Eric Maschwitz who wrote Nightingale and These Foolish Things was a secret agent with MI6 in WW2 in the USA!  Britain was trying to get the USA to join the war which only happened after Pearl Harbour. Otherwise, he worked for the BBC.  Linda and I heard all about it at the Ways With Words festival in Southwold in November. Worth a google.

Philip Browning

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Let’s hope Glyn Maxwell isn’t looking – he has very strong feelings about lyrics not measuring up as poetry (read On Poetry if you’d like to know more) – but I think these are beautiful, so thank you Philip!

Here’s my choice…. It’s Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Kingfisher’ acrostic accompanied (and enhanced) by Jackie Morris‘ incredible artwork, featured in The Lost Words, published in 2017 by Hamish Hamilton. Below is a poster of the poem and artwork, freely available through the John Muir Trust’s website.
I love this poem; it celebrates the very many and very evocative names we give to birds – specifically, in this poem, the Kingfisher. ‘The Lost Words’ as a collection harnesses the power of names and naming as a way of re-connecting people (children especially) with the natural world. If we have a name for something, we seek it out, observe it, engage with it. The poem acts as a spell, conjuring the bird. It comes alive. Just magical.

Jude

This a beautiful ‘Spell songs’ version of Kingfisher. Hypnotic, lilting folk music…amazing!

And the lovely Beth Porter, of The Bookshop Band, is playing and singing on this track.

Anna

So that’s it for another week!  Please send us poems on this, or any of the themes by email  or you can use the message function at the bottom of the page.  You can also follow us using the social media buttons just below.

And right at the bottom of the page you can sign up for our monthly newsletter! (Can you tell that we really want to keep in touch?!)

We would love to hear (and share) your suggestions!

Anna

15 Comments

  1. Pat Morrison

    What a delightful feast of words, pictures and music. Can’t thank you enough Anna.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Pat, so glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
      • Jude Walker

        This anthology has been absolute indulgence.

        Funnily enough, I’m reading ‘Dip’ at the moment so I’ve enjoyed reading Andrew’s poetry. Such a great name for a nuthatch… Upside wire-walker!

        Thanks Anna, Andrew – and all X

        Reply
        • Anna Dreda

          Thank you Jude, and for taking us in the direction of The Lost Words!

          Reply
  2. Carol Caffrey

    Another gorgeous Poetry Breakfast, wonderful poems and images, all beautifully put together. It’s such a pleasure to read , watch and listen to, a welcome haven in the current storm. Thank you, Anna, and all the guests and contributors. (Can’t wait for Andrew Fusek Peters’ new book!)

    PS I think I might be with Glyn Maxwell on the song lyrics/poetry debate (!) but I enjoyed the videos, nevertheless!

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you so much Carol. That means such a lot. Glad you enjoyed the videos, I think I agree with Glyn, too – even Joni Mitchell (my absolute hero) doesn’t seem to work without the music, but as you say, these two songs are lovely!

      Reply
  3. Alison

    A very refreshing read, gorgeous photos. Thanks for all the work that goes into the virtual breakfasts

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Alison, it’s a very collaborative process – well, I just work with what people send me! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  4. Alix

    Lovely selection, Anna with wonderful photos AND music! From the great Hopkins to Longley’s poem that brings tears.
    It’s good to see that Christina Rossetti still appeals as she did in the 19th century, and perhaps not that differently from what made her popular then. Her most well-known poem, ‘A Birthday’ has echoes in Macfarlane’s ‘Kingfisher’:

    My heart is like a singing bird
    Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
    . . .
    My heart is like a rainbow shell
    That paddles in a halcyon sea

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you so much for that Alix, lovely to see this connection. I’m so glad you enjoyed the selection – and the music!

      Reply
  5. Gill McEvoy

    I love birds and I so loved these poems, and I did listen to the Lark Ascending. Such pleasure, thank you all, especially Anna for putting it all together. This online event is becoming a weekly delight, something to look forward to.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Gill, so glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  6. Christine Brown

    Just caught up with this Poetry Breakfast this morning. What a wonderful way to start my day. Birdsong and calm, calm thoughts. Thank you Anna for what is so obviously a labour of love.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Christine! I’m so glad you have enjoyed it, good to have you along.

      Reply

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