Posts Tagged ‘bird watching’

“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.

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What do lovers, poets, Christians, and fools all have in common? The 1st of April, of course! Yesterday started off National Poetry Month delightfully for everyone (as far as I can tell).

To celebrate, I joined my friend Joy Curry on her morning radio show, “Joy in the Morning,” at 88.1 WETN, to talk about poetry … and Easter … and love and bird-watching (no kidding!). I really enjoyed our conversation. To listen, just click:


Afterwards, I learned that my mother (who is probably my biggest fan – love you, Mommy!) was able to listen to the interview live on the internet in California while Facebook-chatting with a friend in Jordan (yes, the Middle East, right across the river from Israel) whom she persuaded to listen to “Joy in the Morning” online, too!

You never know how far your voice can reach.

In April, I’ll be writing a poem-a-day (as I did last year), and I invite all other poets out there reading posts at “The Poetry Place” to do the same. If you aren’t writing, I hope you’re reading poetry. Poetry can bring you joy!

And I am wishing you all joy during National Poetry Month.

Jane Beal

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Songbirds live
in the old cathedral,
caged birds bought at the street market
and freed as a kind of offering.
Now doves and finches and parakeets
nest in the crooks of the nave’s highest arches,
roosting on the impossibly high
sills of stained-glass windows,
looking down into the valley of the altar
as if from cliffs.

Twice a day, you’ll hear them singing:
at dawn
when the blue light
of angels’ wings
and the yellow light of halos
flood into their nests to wake them;
and during the mass
when the organ fills
the valley below with thunder.
these birds love thunder,
never having seen a drop of rain.
They love it when the people below stand up
and sing. They fly
in mad little loops
from window to window,
from the tops of arches
down toward the candles in the tombs,
making the sign of the cross.

If you look up during mass
to the world’s light falling
to the arms of saints,
you can see birds flying
true blue columns of incense
as if it were simple wood smoke
rising from a cabin’s chimney
in a remote and hushed forest.

Richard Jones
The Blessing: New and Selected Poems 

Commentary:   I’m writing a new collection of poems, sonnets actually, all about birds. It’s called “The Bird-watcher’s Diary.” My mother, Barbara Holthuis, is illustrating it with pencil sketches of many different kinds of birds. We are planning a website to go along with it which will encourage young readers to develop the skills of observation and to apply those skills to bird-watching in the natural world.

Because of this work, I am very aware of birds and bird-watchers everywhere I go. I’ve had interesting conversations with other bird-watchers, like Lorrie yesterday and Ann a few days ago, both of whom maintain huge birdfeeders in their backyards throughout the year. Illinois is full of birdwatchers who often become bird caretakers as well.

So it was wonderful to discover Richard Jones’s poem “Cathedral” last night and realize that he was not only a fellow poet, but a fellow bird-watcher!  If I knew where his sanctuary was, I think I would try to go there to see these doves and finches and parakeets he mentions. His poem reminds me of the psalm says, “Even sparrows find a home, and swallows find a nest for themselves. There they hatch their young near your altars, O LORD …”

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