The Singing of Birds

Posted on July 16, 2012

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Last night I stood outside in the dark, the garden still hot from another day of drought, softly steaming with the good watering I had given it.  It was quiet.  Too quiet.  Where were the birds?  Where was the birdsong? Were they all bedded down for the night in the heavy branches of the lindens, poplars, oaks, spruce and firs rising up there at the edge of the forest, just before the ground descends toward the Green River and the marshes below?

I brought my laptop outside, punched up birdjam.com, and started playing the calls and songs of the birds I knew to be in our woods: the Northern Cardinal, the American Robin, the Goldfinch, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, Cerulean Warbler. Red-winged Blackbird. Northern Flicker. Cedar Waxwing. You can play them, too: Sounds of the Northern Cardinal.

[Special note to purists on the subject of bird name capitalization — whether to, or whether not — this link’s for you.]

So, back to my experiment. Within moments the birds hiding in our trees responded.

They had heard the tweets of their virtual fellows, and they’d answered all at once and in glorious polyphony. Pretty soon I couldn’t tell which was live and which was Memorex.  It was a delicious symphony. Rather like that flash mob Ode to Joy that sprang full-blown from the Placa de Sant Roc, Sabadell, Spain this past May 19th.

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And I got to thinking: isn’t this — this exactly — what we as writers need as well: to hear and answer the calls and songs of our fellow artists? Don’t we want to feel that we are not alone, in the dark, with our blank pages and our quiet, barely-spoken songs?

In a way — in many important and enduring ways — every poem we write is an homage to the poets we’ve read and loved, sung back to them, sung back to all of them, to those whose classics are now carved into the bone, and all the way through to the work of contemporary poets whose lines have dazzled or moved or instructed or otherwise deeply satisfied us – so much so that those lines, or whole poems, or maybe just the lingering “feel” of them, have taken up residence in our bodies and live there, singing to us, distinctly or faintly, like the songs of so many songbirds from near and distant treetops or rooftops.

Come to a Tupelo workshop and retreat. The next one is in mid October, in Truchas, New Mexico, a gorgeous place to connect, write and revise.  (Have I mentioned the 12,000 volume library on premises?) Join Jeffrey Levine & Ellen Doré Watson as mentors.

You may even hold over for the “Extended Stay” – five more days, four more nights of writing, working together, of teaching something old to sing, and of making new poems out of nothing. Bring ten poems into their best possible shape. Leave with three or four new ones. Ready your work for submission and learn where best to send it, how, and when. Ready yourself for the songs ahead.

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Posted in: Poetry