Posts Tagged ‘Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries’


And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

Seamus Heaney
The Spirit Level (1996)

Listen to Seamus Heaney read “St. Kevin and the Blackbird

Fall 2004 – British Columbia, Canada to Chicago, IL

I was flying back from Canada to
Chicago, from the Pacific Northwest,
full of rainy pines, to the Midwest where
it was much colder. But my heart in my breast

was warm. I was sitting beside Kevin,
who told me of his Irish name-sake saint,
a man who opened his palms to pray at Lent
and held so still, a blackbird built her nest

in his hands, and all her hatchlings were born
safe in his prayers and in his gentle palms.
The baby blackbirds grew and flew far ’way
from the patient saint–to new lakes and lands.

This all happened long ago like a dream,
like a kiss that leaves you wond’ring what it means.

Jane Beal
The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries, 2nd Ed. (2011)

Read Full Post »

“Think of the wren and how little flesh is needed to make a song.” – Galway Kinnell

Yesterday, I found a new bookstore here in Wheaton. I don’t know how old it is, actually, but it was new to me. Naturally, I found it irresistible. It had quite a fine selection of poetry, including one of Galway Kinnell’s volumes, Strong Is Your Hold (A Mariner Book, 2008). Tucked in the back of the book was a CD of all the poems introduced and read aloud by the poet. Last night and this morning, I listened to Galway Kinnell’s voice, and his thoughts, as he recorded them on the CD, and I felt drawn into the world of his soul.

One of Galway Kinnell’s best-known and best loved poems is “After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps,” and I’ve included that poem here on The Poetry Place in a past post. The poem does embody Kinnell’s tenderness toward his family, his hearty awareness of what is material, what is natural, and what is good in the world, and his power to make his readers and listeners resonate with his–and their own–lived experiences. His ethics of grounded awareness are everywhere evident in his poetic work.

Kinnell’s wife is a bird-watcher, and his poems “Feathering,” “Insomniac,” and “Field Notes” in this volume are about her: about  him watching her, being with her, and experiencing the world with her. I love this about Kinnell’s wife, to whom he dedicates this book, and I love the way her awareness of wild birds–of swallows building their nests, of wrens and of common loons, of books like The Human Nature of Birds–has entered into his awareness and caused him to shape words, like a potter shapes clay, into the form and appearance of birds he remembers because he remembers her.

Kinnell himself is clearly a bird-watcher, too, as his poem “Ode and Elegy” makes readers vividly aware. The poem celebrates a hawk, fiercely seizing its prey, and grieves over the jay who died in its grasp. Looking at Kinnell’s poem again now, I am reminded of a jay I spotted under a backyard bench, “lifeless, torn apart, wing unhinged from wing,” last spring. In a way, that bird’s cruel death and broken body gave life to the book that became THE BIRD-WATCHER’S DIARY ENTRIES.

Kinnell’s world looks both above the earth, to the skies and the wheeling swallows, and below it, to a vole mouldering in beetle-rich soil, and, of course, across it, to meditate on the experience of sexual desire and the reality of death–both together, never far from his consciousness in this book. A section of his poem on the fall of the Twin Towers reminds me in its rhythm of Joy Harjo’s poem “She Had Some Horses.” Kinnell’s words intersect painfully with our own memories of September 11th:

Some died while calling home to say they were OK.

Some called the telephone operators and were told to stay put.

Some died after over an hour spent learning they would die.

Some died so abruptly they may have seen death from inside it.

Some burned, their faces caught fire.

Some were asphyxiated.

Some broke windows and leaned into the sunny day.

Some were pushed out from behind by others in flames.

Some let themselves fall, begging gravity to speed them to the ground.

Some leapt hand in hand that their fall down the sky might happen more lightly.

I know many poets, musicians, memoirists, reporters and everyday diary-keepers have written about that day. I wonder if, for future generations, this poem might have more power to evoke an emotional understanding of the trauma than a high school history textbook or a video documentary. I hope so. But I also know that my generation — in America and around the globe — did not understand the significance of the Battle of the Somme or D-Day or Viet Nam, nor even, I think, the Persian Gulf War or the current conflicts in the Middle East. If we did, I can’t help but believe the history of the world might be re-written in an entirely different, more life-giving, death-denying way. Is it too much to think another generation might be able to understand or emotionally enter into the experience of September 11th … if it happened before they were born?

There are other poems in Kinnell’s collection that I enjoy, and many individual words that stand out to me (“hirpled” and “glidder,” “scummaging,” “Laudate Dominum,” “self-pollarded” and “quenelles de brochet”). But the interplay and interpenetration of the written and oral forms of these poems struck me, too. The series of small changes Kinnell made to his lyrics, detectable when listening to the CD and reading the book at the same time (so that I can know clearly the poems exist in two forms, one spoken and recorded, one written and revised) caught my ear and my eye at once.

They will catch yours, too.

Read Full Post »

My new collection of sonnets about the wondrous life of wild birds is now in print! To explore my new interactive, multimedia website celebrating this book–to listen to recordings of the poems, learn more about birding, connect to other resources on birding and poetry about birds–please visit:


To purchase this new book and begin enjoying poetry about birds for yourself, either in e-book or hardcopy format, click: THE BIRD-WATCHER’S DIARY ENTRIES.


Read Full Post »

After kicking off National Poetry Month with a radio interview on the 88.1 WETN show “Joy in the Morning,” I’ve continued to celebrate poetry all month long.

I joined the Brotherhood of the Briar for a second time in April and recited a little bit of Emily Dickinson, the poem that begins, “Success is counted sweetest …” Later, I celebrated poetry with student poets at Wheaton College at the release parties for two publications, The Pub and Kodon. I was particularly delighted with the recent work of one of my former students, Peter Strand, who shared his poems “World Records” and “Avocado.” Peter’s talent first impressed me when I read “Los Que Saben Las Garífunas,” which I originally posted last summer – a sensual, beautiful poem! I also enjoyed listening to the music of Gabriel DiRicharde, whose lyrics are genuinely poetic, as can easily be discovered at his blog: “i am the outlaw.”

Yesterday, the last day of National Poetry Month, I gave a poetry reading and flute performance at the BGC Museum for, as Milton would say, “a fit audience though few.” I was delighted to be able to share poems from my forthcoming collection The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries as well as my in-progress collection Birth-Song. Some other poems I truly enjoyed sharing were … “Man Friday’s Girl” from Made in the Image, “Angels on Jacob’s Ladder,””Sea Turtle Song,” “Garden Hoses,” and “Bridge” from the newly expanded version of Love-Song, “The Horn of Amalthea, the Last Unicorn” from Magical Poems for Girls, and “Meditating at Nelson Cove: Rancho Palos Verdes, CA – 30 August 2009,” an experimental haiku sequence, which I published in Tidepools.

As I prepared the poems for the reading, I saw a theme emerging that related very closely to the fact that I am severely directionally challenged. For example, I set off to go to Sky Yoga Studio last Sunday. It is literally fifteen minutes from my house, but I’d never been there before. I made four wrong turns and arrived a half an hour later than I intended. Sigh. But that’s me. It seems, though, that this literal difficulty sometimes extends to the metaphoric journey of my life. Where am I going? Where have I been? Will I ever arrive at my desired destination? Where is the harbor of my life? I love to sail out to sea, but I also want to find my rest at home.

So several of the poems I chose related to this theme, and so did one of the songs I played with on flute, Rascal Flatts, “Broken Road.” It’s a beautiful song worth listening to if you haven’t heard it. Like so many love songs, it could easily be sung to a lover or to the Lover of our souls, which is comforting to me.

Although I originally intended to end my reading with “Song to the Mapmaker,” I forgot to read it! Fortunately, in the blogosphere, it’s possible to make certain changes in the record of events, so here is the poem from my collection, Sanctuary:


Even when I do not know where I am going, God knows. He knows the map of my heart because he drew it. He understands the map when I do not. He knows how to help me follow it even when I get lost. And most beautifully, he is walking with me on all the roads upon which he has set my foot.

Read Full Post »