Someone in our Friday morning group recently wrote a poem about going on an expedition to see long-eared owls on a common outside Blackpool. The poem was a journey in itself, and engaged the reader so successfully that it really felt as if we were with her, tramping across scrubby ground at twilight, prey to group dynamics, shifting cloud cover and flights of fancy. However, when we got to the final stanza and encountered the birds, it was almost an anti-climax. Although their appearance was captured precisely and well, the poem seemed to have peaked at the slightly earlier moment of is-that-them-or-not.
Searching for something, with all its attendant hope, dashed or otherwise, its triumphs and frustrations, is a playground for the imagination. I’ve spent several mornings this spring with an hour or so to kill in an old and fairly neglected part of the city, and I’ve been wandering along wooded river banks to a park with a former boating lake, all within a stone’s throw of the motorway. There have been lots of things I haven’t seen.
In particular, the number of times I’ve nearly spotted a kingfisher have far outnumbered actual sightings.
It strikes me that the poet has to be like the hunter – or rather, wildlife watcher. Idle yet alert. Focused yet open to imaginative possibility. And with the added requirement of knowing when to step back and let the reader make that final capture.
Here’s a sonogram from my 2014 collection, Map Reading for Beginners.
Listening For Nightingales
tilted to hear strands
dark as the bark of a dog-fox
over the valley
the infant river trickles rumour
in our ears
dishevelled willows murmur
a perfect place for
a robin declares itself,
a weary song thrush pegs clean notes out
on a tree
in dandelions and vetch
we lean upon a gate and hold our
Postscript: I heard a nightingale singing last night (Saturday 11th May 2019) at Bushey Coombe in Glastonbury, and it was beautiful. And I’m not planning to write a poem about it.
Photo © Dru Marland, 2012