Poetry Takes Flight
I hadn't actively thought about writing about birds in my poetry, but it is something I seem to automatically do. I wrote about a duck and two swans on a small lake in St George Park in Bristol who I often used to sit and watch while pondering what I was going to write or what I was going to drink at Weatherspoons. The short story in verse I've been writing for ages, Plastic Life, I described as a metaphorical pigeon when I was trying to write a synopsis for the story ... no, I've no idea what I meant by a metaphorical pigeon either, but pigeons do crop up quite frequently in the sequence, including a chapter that uses ideas from St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds.
The collective nouns we all remember from childhood speak of language's innate fascination with all things avian: a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of fowls. And it's no coincidence we afford them the most poetic collective nouns: right from the birth of literature birds have been present.
(article by Don Paterson in The Guardian, Why Are Poets so Fascinated with Birds? )
Apart from what I assume is a typo that transformed a parliament of owls into a parliament of fowls I agree that birds have many of the most poetic group nouns for a poet to draw on. A charm of goldfinches, a clattering of jackdaws, a bevy of larks, a watch of nightingales and An unkindness of ravens are just a few more.
I had a voracious appetite for poetry in my late teens. I loved the collections of Tennyson and Coleridge that I bought whilst still at high school. The Rime of the Ancient mariner was a delightful read with a sobering message: ‘This is what not to do if a bird shits on you!’ (Bruce Dickinson’s introduction to the Iron Maiden track The Rime of the Ancient mariner on the Live After Death album)
The Birds, The Birds
Swansea University's English Department have invited me over to attend a Long Form Fiction 2 workshop with Jon Gower tomorrow. The current class are in week 5 of this module so they are 5 weeks into whatever projects they are working on. I was told that the workshops usually begin with students reading out whatever they've got in progress, and that I was more than welcome to submit something for the class to read and comment on, and which I could read out when everybody else reads out. Throw me in at the deep end with a module in a genre I've not written for, goodness, 27 years, with a group who are halfway through their Masters course! ... “Sure,” I said, “something about 1,000 words?”
“Perfect,” said Jon.
So I've written something and yes, I know it needs tightening up a lot but I like its general content. I even managed to work a fragment of a poem I wrote while living in Swansea about 21 years ago into the text ... handily the protagonist in my short story is interested in poetry :) He is wandering around the city after The Big One of Eighteen has hit and decimated the city to the extent that the only lifeforms are him and a seagull.
There's a touch of poetic license being used here:
noun [mass noun] the freedom to depart from the facts of a matter or from the conventional rules of language when speaking or writing in order to create an effect: he used a little poetic licence to embroider a good tale.
(from the Oxford Dictionary of English, 2015 edition)
The earthquake that hit Swansea while I was there on Saturday 17 February was 4.4 in magnitude, enough to be noticed but not sufficient to collapse any infrastructure. But writers in any genre should keep pushing their characters to the limit to find out what they do ... I pushed the city to its limit, making the earthquake so strong that the city became uninhabitable and humans and animals alike headed for the hills ... and then I dropped a man and a bird into the middle of the city.
The bird is a seagull and the first time the human, Ralph, spies the bird was when it tried to do what Bruce Dickinson was warning about (see above). He then encounters it again when it has followed him to a bench on the seafront and he notices it is having a bad hair day, with three feathers stuck out at oblique angles (that's about as far as you can push a seagull character before it'll nick your chips!) Ralph names the seagull Mercedes and the pair spend the rest of their lives together, much in the way of this TV advert from circa 1985, when a man and a crab form an unlikely friendship on a beach.
Swansea actually has a magazine called The Gull; currently issue 2 is available to download and read free of charge. As a Bachelor’s student alumni of Swansea University, and a soon-to-be Masters student, I've been meaning to send them a few poems to see whether they can find a place to roost at The Gull.
The Gull, né Larus Argentatus, was hatched out in a working class nest in an urban terrace in Townhill, Swansea in 1974. He left school early to work in the family window uncleaning business. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied he decided to travel the world and flew around North and South America, Europe and Asia. It was during this time he fell in love with literature spending time in the most eminent belletristic salons of the day and forming close relationships with celebrated intellectuals, poets and artists of the world from David Foster Wallace to Wislawa Szymborska; from Baudrillard to Francis Bacon; from Derek Jarman to Pam Ayers. In this period The Gull formed a fruitful writing partnership with Jaques Derrida, the pair met and became close friends when The Gull mistook Derrida for Philip Scofield and approached him for an autograph in The Cheese and Plimsoll Pub in Vienna. [...]
After a brief spell settled in the Czech Republic working as a senior adviser to Vaclav Havel he left mainland Europe to return to Britain and founded the Fund for Low-income Ornithological Creatives – or FLOC – a charitable organisation designed to encourage cross-species investment in the arts. The Gull then served a brief sentence at HMP Slade for a few petty crimes (embezzlement, non-payment of gambling debts, grand pest auto and multiple counts of fried-food larceny with menaces.) during which he converted to Buddhism and became a committed pescatarian and pacifist.
Yearning to return to his beloved home of Swansea he bought a modest 9 bedroom house in Sketty and put about creating a literary magazine the likes of which the world has never seen. He spends his time reading, writing, attending theatre performances, hosting philosophical symposia, squaking, fishing, taxiderming cats, collecting antique typewriters, opera singing, wrangling and drinking in pubs which do not serve food or have statement wallpaper but do have dart boards and let you sit at the bar. His favourite writers are Richard Bach and Anton Chekhov.
(from About The Gull)
Obviously the main moral of this blog post is Be Nice to seagulls but there is a less prominent message hiding under the writing. Even a poem that has been scrawled down in a small notebook a quarter of a century ago can still receive a burst of new life. Old poems can receive fresh edits to make them sharper and more focussed, and even snippets of unhomable entities can have slices taken from them and dropped into a whole other genre. This is something I've also been actively thinking about with an idea that started as a poem and which I then decided might work better as a short story and my current thinking is that I might try and work on this idea in the Long Form Fiction modules on the Creative Writing MA course. That's what I hope you take from this blog post: let your poetry stretch its wings, even if that takes it out of poetry and prose poetry, all the way to the short story and the novel. After all, it's only a form of migration :)
#Swansea #ShortStories #LongFormFiction #TheGullMagazine @thegullmagazine