Friday, June 1, 2018

Birds Art Life Poetry

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy's Blog for Roundup.

Last month dear friend Jeannine gave me a copy of BIRDS ART LIFE: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear (who happens to also create books for children)-- because the book helped her get through a long winter.
Appropriate, right, for 2018, Year of the Bird?
And super fitting for me, as our lives have been greatly enhanced by a new bird feeding station outside our bedroom window. Oh my, the birds we've met! House finch and goldfinch and cardinal and tufted titmouse and bald eagles (not at the feeder, but nearby!) and and and... so many birds! So I thought I would share with you a few of the passages from the book that really spoke to me:

our bird feeding station

"Part of being open, I decided, meant cultivating a better kind of attention. I wanted to achieve the benevolent and capacious attention that the be-scarfed artist and the bird-loving musician showed the world."

"My usual (nonmaternal) attention had three strains. There was the dogged attention I gave my art, the boxed-in attention I gave to my devices and screens, and the durational attention I (sometimes) gave to challenging books/art/films. All these seemingly dissimilar forms of attention had something in common: they were on their way someplace. They sought a reward, a product purchase, a narrative connection."

"Poetry captures the elusive nature of birds, but it is science that allows us to see them with precision and grace. The best books captured the sweet spot between poetic not-knowing and scientific knowing."

our bird identification book
"A spark bird could be as bold as an eagle, as colorful as a warbler, or as ordinary as a sparrow, as long as it triggered the “awakening” that turned someone into a serious birder. Most birding memoirs begin with a spark bird."

"Our courage comes out in different ways. We are brave in our willingness to carry on even as our pounding hearts say, “You will fail and land on your face.” Brave in our terrific tolerance for making a hundred mistakes. Day after day. We are brave in our persistence."

"Now when I hear birdsong, I feel an entry to that understory. When I am feeling too squeezed on the ground, exhausted by everything in my care, I look for a little sky. There are always birds flying back and forth, city birds flitting around our human edges, singing their songs."

"If the wind is going the right way, some birds like to spread their wings and hang in the air, appearing not to move a bit. It is a subtle skill, to remain appreciably steady amid the forces of drift and gravity, to be neither rising nor falling."

"The birders I encountered in books and in the world shared little except this simple secret: if you listen to birds, every day will have a song in it."
I do hope you will give this book a read! And of course it brings to mind "bird" poems. Who among us does NOT have a bird poem? Here's one of mine, inspired by grief and loss:

Life Without Birds

You appear just before dawn
to ask what it’s like
without you. I push through

the quicksand, gauging
the weight of forest
as it presses against my body,

a whole country of spruce,
pine, and cedar surrounding me.
I don’t want to burden you

with what you’ve done,
so I say I miss the birds.
Is there any deeper truth?

No wings flashing from
blackberry brambles,
no careful nest in the eaves,

no graceful, raucous Vs.
The loss of song
is the part I won’t admit,

no matter how tenderly
you press your fingers
against my eyelids.

- Irene Latham

and two more from ARTSPEAK!

Thanks so much for reading! My goal today is to write a new bird poem.... actually the goal was to post it here, but lots going on with son's college orientation, the closing for the sale of our house, and sweet husband's birthday... so I'll have to sneak in some writing time later this afternoon. Wheeee!


  1. Enjoy your busy, busy days and the poetry that sneaks in. This bird book is lovely. The quotes you selected are really amazing. I never thought about different kinds of attention and that the kinds of attention I have -- have direction. How very interesting! I'll be thinking on that idea more today for sure.

  2. The bird book sounds wonderful. Thinking of you in all your activity this weekend!

  3. Congrats on the house sale, happy birthday, and wow, orientation! That's a big day all around. Ever onward! xo

  4. Thanks for your beautiful poems, and for sharing all those excerpts from Maclear's book -- had not seen it, only being familiar with her children's books, so this post is a real treat -- and now I must find it. :) Happy Birthday to your husband and congrats on the house sale!

  5. We have had a rosy breasted grosbeak at our feeder this spring! SUPER exciting! I dip into Billy Collins' collection (he's the editor) of bird poems quite frequently! I guess I need to write some of my own!

  6. I enjoyed hearing the parts of Maclear's book that you loved, Irene, and your first bird poem where a sliver of feeling peeked out, beautiful, the 2nd that reminds us to pay attention, and the third, an inspiration. Enjoy all those good things happening!

  7. Wow, what a lot of changes all at once in your life! I send good thoughts winging your way. And I leave a bird poem link of mine.

  8. Sounds like a terrific book. I love this thought: "The best books captured the sweet spot between poetic not-knowing and scientific knowing." That's a goal for our writing, no? Enjoy your busy weekend and thanks for sharing your bird poem.

  9. Lovely voice of birds in your post Irene, and "Birds Art Life" sounds like a wonderful book! I like this quote, "It is a subtle skill, to remain appreciably steady amid the forces of drift and gravity, to be neither rising nor falling."I've seen this with seagulls, and I think it can apply to our lives too.

    Your pome "Life Without Birds," would be unbearable! I like how you closed it,
    "no matter how tenderly
    you press your fingers
    against my eyelids.
    I must have missed your ARTSPEAK poem, "After the Fire." Such a strong, melancholic poem, thanks for sharing it again. Hope you squeezed in that bit of writing too!

  10. No wonder you're a bit bird-obsessed lately, with all the changes of "nests" - :0) Thanks for sharing all, my friend. Your poem is just heart-rending, powerful and beautiful.

  11. That's a LOT for one day, Irene! Hope you soared through it all and had a bit of a rest to capture some thoughts on paper as well. The passage you quoted about courage especially spoke to me today. I felt the courage in "Life Without Birds" vividly.

  12. I love the quotes you shared! I do want to read this book now--and I even have a bird poem to share this week!

  13. It is strange to think that really we don't know what that spark will be for each person, but I believe everyone gets one...and it can happen at any age, and throughout life having more than one spark if we stay open to them!
    Loved your "Life Without Birds" -
    " I don’t want to burden you
    with what you’ve done,
    so I say I miss the birds."
    Lately that feels familiar.


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