Tag Archives: poetry about birds

Sunday Poem – Gerry Cambridge


There was a period last year, in the last couple of months when I started to feel a bit worn out and fed up of blogging every week.  I was really busy in October/November and it was a struggle to keep up my reading so that I had a poem each week.

Today, there is something comforting about settling down to write my blog again after all the madness of Christmas and New Year.  I’m pleased to be easing myself back into a routine again.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I have changed the format again – I tried out starting with the poem and talking directly about that, but it never felt quite right, so I’ve decided to go back to my old ways of wittering on first, before introducing the poem.

This week we have been decorating the living room and landing in our house.  The carpets, which have been there since the 1950’s have been taken up and we are having new ones fitted tomorrow.  Today has been quite stressful because we have a leak in a pipe, the boiler won’t ignite and the gas fire won’t ignite either, leaving us with no heating or hot water.  I am very glad I have a busy day tomorrow and am hoping to come back late tomorrow night, after my reading at the Puzzle Inn in Sowerby Bridge and it will all be fixed by the husband.

This might sound a little heartless, but today I sat for an hour with my finger over a hole in the pipe so the water didn’t gush out everywhere while he ran about trying to turn the water off and finding a temporary repair kit so I feel I have done my bit!

After the trauma of sitting with my finger over the hole in the pipe, like some character out of a fairy story, I retreated to my writing room and worked on my poems this afternoon.  I’m currently working on a pamphlet, which will hopefully be published late 2017.  I’ve sent the poems to the publisher so will see what they say – they haven’t seen any of them yet, so they could turn around and say they hate them.

The other thing that has happened this week, in between buying curtains for the living room (again, getting rid of the green suede 1950’s curtains was tremendously exciting) was I started writing a novel.  I am quite surprised myself because I’ve never wanted to write a novel before.  Actually, that’s not true.  I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I’ve always convinced myself that I haven’t got a story that I want to tell, or anything interesting to say.  Anyway, I started thinking about the sort of novels I like reading, and my favourite ones are fantasy fiction, where the writer creates a whole other world.  So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m not going to say anything about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but I will be updating you all with a word count each week, whether you want to know or not.

So I suppose that is one of my resolutions – I want to finish a first draft of my novel this year.  I have no idea if it will be any good or not, which is hard for me, but I think it will be a good discipline for me to have to believe in my own writing and to not be able to seek confirmation from other people all the time.

Tomorrow I’m the guest speaker at a luncheon club in Grange-Over-Sands.  Their usual speaker cancelled so they have me instead – as far as I know the group are not into poetry at all.  I get to have lunch with them first so I’m hoping to convince them that I’m normal in the course of having lunch and then win them over to poetry when they are all chilled out after having eaten too much.

From there, I’m going to find a cafe somewhere and sit and write all afternoon and then I’m reading at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge in the evening.  I’m really pleased that the venue was not affected by the recent floods, and hopefully there will be a good crowd of people turn up.

On Thursday I’m reading at the Red Shed in Wakefield – there are more details on the Readings and Workshops page on the blog but it would be lovely to see some of you there.

On Saturday I’ll be running the second of my monthly poetry workshops in Barrow in Furness – if you know any Cumbrian poets that might be interested, please pass on the details.  There are a couple of places left, and again you can find more information on the Readings and Workshops page.

So I have gradually wound my way around to the Sunday Poem which is by the wonderful Gerry Cambridge, who not only is a fantastic writer, but is also the editor of The Dark Horse.  Those of you who regularly read will know I’ve recently subscribed to the magazine and really enjoyed the first issue of my subscription.

I met Gerry in March 2015 at the StAnza poetry festival.  Gerry was running a stall and impressed me with his sales techniques – I think he managed to sell all of the copies of The Dark Horse magazine that he had with him, but I also bought a copy of Aves, which was published in 2007 by Essence Press.

I was sat at my writing desk a couple of mornings ago, watching a rather clever carrion crow trying to unhook the bird feeder and drop it onto the ground so that he could eat the bird food.  He, or one of his brethren had already managed it the day before.  When I turned to my rather overloaded ‘poetry books I’ve bought and haven’t read yet’ I noticed Gerry’s book and thought I would start with that.

It is a series of prose poems about different birds – observations and glimpses into the life of birds.  The left hand page in the book has the Latin name of each bird, and the right hand side has the prose poem that goes with it.  Not being an expert on the Latin names of birds I had to look them all up to make sure I was thinking of the right bird.  I do love obsessions though, and you can tell from reading the poems that Gerry is clearly obsessed/fascinated with watching birds – the passion is evident and comes through strongly in the writing.

One of the ideas that really stood out for me which is something that threads its way throughout the book was the idea of birds as thoughts.  The last poem, the title poem of the book Aves finishes ‘thoughts, with feathers on’ which I think is a lovely idea. In Troglodytes Troglodytes the poem finishes ‘And here’s the nest, in November, the empty/cave without a fire’ – again that idea of the birds being pure energy is a really compelling one.

In a way, I feel like I’m shortchanging you all, only posting one poem, as the poems taken together really build up momentum.  You’ve probably already guessed that I went for the poem about the carrion crow. You’ll see from this poem how vivid and energetic the language is – ‘a/black hunch at a skullburst rabbit on distant tarmac’.  This poem also has humour as well – and this is true of many of the other poems: ‘A room with a view: three hundred and/sixty degrees’ to describe the crows nest.  I also love that the nest is described as a ‘blatant noun in a high fork’.

You can order Aves from the London Review Bookshop for the mere sum of £7.  You can find out more about Gerry Cambridge at his website here.  His latest collection was Notes for Lighting a Fire, published in 2012, which you can buy from HappenStance

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Gerry Cambridge for allowing me to use it.

Corvus corone corone – Gerry Cambridge

Modernity’s favourite.  A pragmatic syllable.  No
troubadour disguising its urge for land with
a lyric tinkle.  Hack-beaked, scale-legged, sponge of
colours, with a blue, brillianteened sheen.  A synonym
for “gloat”.  Sacerdotally unsettling.  The nest of big
twigs, a blatant noun in a high fork, sometimes in
a roadside ash, easy to spot before the leaves’ green
sentences.  A room with a view: three hundred and
sixty degrees.  What vertical is that, for instance,
enlarging across the fields? And there is the mate, a
black hunch at a skullburst rabbit on distant tarmac,
tugging out lines of devastated guts.  Here, on this
April day of all-over cloud, grey but calm, four, a feel-
right number, under the contented high black breast
sunk in the deep cup lined with horsehair and the
wool of sheep, a salubrious cradle to rock bleak beaks.




Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

Evening all – this will be my last blog post before Christmas Day unless something immensely exciting happens between now and then and I can’t keep it to myself.

I’ve already had one very exciting thing happen to me this week though, so it seems unlikely that anything else will happen.  A couple of months ago, I was invited by Ledbury Poetry Festival to take part in a EU funded project they are running in conjunction with 8 or 9 European Poetry Festivals.  I think it is a kind of exchange program – Ledbury have chosen 5 young/emerging poets to take part.  I had to send poems, biography etc to Ledbury and they pass all this on to the other festivals and there is the possibility that we might get an invitation to read.  I say possibility because it was made clear there was no guarantee – and because of this, I put it to the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it.

And then this Thursday an email drops into my inbox and I’ve been invited to read in Croatia in March 2015.  Cue much jumping about and dancing in my living room.  I hope I never stop feeling amazed and thankful and grateful about the wonderful things that poetry has given me.

Other lovely, but less dramatic things have happened this week as well.  I finally felt well enough after this long, drawn out cold that I’ve been moaning about for a while to get back to running.  I’ve returned slowly and it’s been quite painful in some ways.  I’m having to run slowly because I feel tired and run down still.  My legs feel heavy and I haven’t yet managed to recapture the feeling of effortless movement, the feeling I keep trying to write about when I write about running, when you feel that you are merely a passenger in your body.  Still, there are other things about running that I love – the conversation, the sympathy and knowing afterwards that you have just done something wonderful, if a little slower than usual.

Feeling better also meant I was up to driving over to Ambleside for the open mic last Wednesday, hosted by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust – although this was tinged with sadness as well.  I couldn’t stop worrying about what will happen next year at the Trust when their funding runs out – no more open mics, no more Tuesday readings.

Despite this, it was this night, which came before the email that invigorated me.  I’ve not read much poetry for the last couple of months.  Or at least not much for me.  I’ve hardly written any, apart from two that went into my sequence and my running poems, which I’ve been filled with self-doubt about.  I’ve not been going to my regular writing groups much because I’ve been so busy, and I haven’t been to any open mics for ages, so all the old outlets where I used to try new work out have been closed.

Wednesday was great because there were lots of poets that I enjoy spending time with – Jennifer Copley, Mark Carson, Andrew Forster, Lindsey Holland, Polly Atkin, Kerry Darbighshire, Barbara Hutson, Pauline Yarwood – I’m sure I’ve missed somebody out and if I have, I hope they’re not too offended.  The combination of these people and their commitment and enthusiasm for poetry, and just their general companionship I found so invigorating.  I read two of my running poems out and then tried my sestina out and got some lovely supportive feedback and went home and wrote till 1.30am in a burst of enthusiasm.

Then it was Thursday and the excitement of being invited to read in Croatia gave me another burst of confidence and I sat down again to try and finish the bloody sestina once and for all.  The ending had been eluding me for days, but I think I’ve finally finished it now.   I sent it to lovely Amy at Seren and she thinks it should go in the collection so in it goes – it is part of the sequence – the obsessive structure of the sestina fits the topic of the sequence well and my way of thinking about domestic violence, which is very circular and repetitive so I think it works.

This week work has really eased off in regards teaching as many of the schools I work in spirited the children off to the cinema or threw Christmas parties for them.  I have done two sessions of playing carols with my junior band this week – once in Tesco’s and once at Barrow Football Ground in the cold and the wind and the rain but apart from that, it has been a relatively easy week and I’ve had the time and the inclination to get back into reading again.

This week I’ve finished off the Thomas Lux ‘Selected’ that I talked about last week and I’ve read ‘Bright Travellers’ by Fiona Benson, which is a wonderful, wonderful first collection.  I’ve also read Karen Solie’s first collection ‘Short Haul Engine’ which I enjoyed as well.

On to the Sunday Poet – the lovely Pascale Petit – who I’ve met a couple of times when I’ve been to see her read.  I’ve been eagerly waiting for Pascale Petit’s new collection for a while now.  She is a really interesting poet, tackling difficult and challenging subjects in her poetry, but always with grace and precision of language.

I’ve been trying for the last ten minutes to sum up in a short paragraph the territory that Fauverie explores and have found it impossible.  I’ve started and restarted this paragraph six or seven times.  I think the reason I’m finding it tricky is that Fauverie covers so much ground – childhood trauma and family relationships, in particular parent/child relationships, an exploration of art and colour and throughout all this, a connection to the natural world, in particular big cats.

Pascale Petit is a poet who has her eye on the long view.  Her collections clearly stand alone and on their own two feet – she’s been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize four times now – but I can’t think of another writer whose seperate collections seem to enrich each other and the reader.  The concern with animals, art, trauma and violence thread through all of her collections but in each book she circles back to these same themes and tackles them in a different way.

Fauverie explores a connection and relationship with a dying father.  There are poems threaded throughout the collection which are portraits of the father – ‘Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier’, ‘Portrait of My Father as Saint-Julien le Pauvre’, ‘Portrait of My Father as a North China Leopard’.  Animals and birds are used as a way at getting at an emotional truth throughout the collection.

I was on my way to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival when I read this poem, on the train between Barrow and Preston.  It made me sit back and take a breath and hold it in.  And then breathe out again when I got to the end.  I found it so moving.  Looking back now, I think it’s the combination of the clear, precise instructions at the beginning and then that beautiful image: ‘Let/the sun burn the top of your head/as if it’s a candle, a whole day/for it to ignite’.  It was that line that made something move inside my chest.

There are so many beautiful, gentle moments in this poem.  How about ‘You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline – /a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market’.  I love the use of the word ‘galaxy’ – it could have been a heap, except it isn’t.  A galaxy is so much more accurate and describes the way the seeds are spread out.  It even captures in my mind, their different colours.

In the centre of the poem, and I’m sure this is deliberate, there is the line ‘Rilke is just a shade’ and again, this made me stop and catch my breath.  I love poems that have other poets, or other people’s poems standing like shadows behind them.  I’m not talking about plagiarism here, I’m talking about influence, and poetry conversations which can go on between the living and the dead.

I don’t know Rilke’s work half as well as I ought to, but a quick Google on my phone led me to ‘The Bird-Feeders’ by Rainer Maria Rilke.  This is one of the reasons I like poems that reference other poets or poetry, because I would never have found this beautiful piece of writing by Rilke if I hadn’t been reading Pascale’s poem.

It is interesting to see the angel in Rilke’s poem is transformed into a seraph in Pascale’s and then our gaze is transferred to the stone angel on the nave of the Notre Dame.  The solitary man in Rilke’s poem by the end is called an ‘old weather-beaten doll’ and this is picked up in Pascale’s poem when the father is instructed to stay still ‘until your flesh is stiff as wax’.

I love the ending of Pascale’s poem as well with its ‘messengers of darkness and fire’ and then the return to that beautiful image of the candle, which appears in the Rilke, but is developed and explored by Pascale to remind the reader that the poem is an instruction to a dying man:

‘They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.’

Fauverie is currently shortlisted for the 2014 TS Eliot Prize and a portfolio of poems from it won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize.  Pascale Petit has published six collections, four of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize – surely that is some kind of record? Three have featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Observer and Independent.  Her previous book, What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year.  Pascale was born in Paris and spent her early childhood there.

You can find out more information about Pascale on her website but she also has a really interesting blog in which she writes about her work as a poet and tutor, often with travel writing and references to art thrown in as well.  You can buy any of her collections directly from Pascale through her website or from Seren, her publisher.

Thanks to Pascale for allowing me to use her poem here, and I hope you all have a great Christmas!


How to Hand-Feed Sparrows
(Instructions to My Father) – Pascale Petit

Stand at the box privet
just in front of Notre-Dame,
hold your arm high, your hand out flat,
the fingers bent back
so your palm is generous.  Let
the sun burn the top of your head
as if it’s a candle, a whole day
for it to ignite.  And when
a sparrow lands, keep stock-still,
even though the flame is lit
and your scalp is melting.
You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline –
a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market
and she has chosen one of the elliptical grains;
it glows in her buff and saffron beak.
Rilke is just a shade
but you know he’s there when she
takes off, then returns with friends
who hover and join in.
You can feel the draught from their wings
like a blessing across your cheeks
and the poet’s words have tiny claws
that have gripped your skin.
If the crowd could vanish, in the end
even a seraph would come down and feed.
From your post on the low concrete wall
you can just see the stone angel
high on the western gable of the nave.
Keep your hand steady, support it with
your other arm, until your flesh is stiff as wax
while messengers of darkness and fire
fly down to taste your offering.
They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.