The last few months the poet John McCullough has posted many colourful images of amazing birds on Facebook. Other days he shared helpful advice about writing poems. It is fitting that his third poetry collection Reckless Paper Birds was recently awarded the Hawthornden Prize – the oldest of the major British literary awards (established 1919).
Reckless Paper Birds has been described as “dazzling” and a “celebration of abundance”. It was published by Penned in the Margins last year.
When I was putting the manuscript together for my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, I came across several short poems about different birds. So, these became a sequence: Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds. Here is the first half of the set.
Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds
If they’re honest
most poems are almost:
the nearly-there bird,
bowl of glowing grapes,
sun, this still life, silence.
You don’t belong here
she seems to say.
Two small black eyes peer
straight at me.
There is a shadow over
the bowl of her belly,
a pale-blue shawl for wings,
feet firmly planted
on an outcrop of black rock.
Gannet, you are wrong, I say,
like you I’m mostly in the air,
white spray, white clouds,
lifting and landing.
The in-between domain
often cold and steep.
In her dreams that night angry birds
came and pecked at the cherries,
small red stains on the grass –
it was a summer slowly
shrinking at the corners.
On the shingle barnacled white
fishing boats lie on their side.
Standing above its reflection,
a gull stares straight ahead.
The gulls are tucked into their own lives.
The honking of homeward geese,
hush of flags half-mast on a building,
the crunch of fresh snow underfoot.
In Estonia planets were venerated,
I am Stella Maris, the planet’s interpreter.
Squawking draws me from my emails.
I see two magpies closing in
turn on a young blackbird
peck peck peck
This bird gave its name to an opera.