I've been telling myself to explain the thought process behind the name of this column. The first entry for a new year seems like an opportune time.
It began in the mid-1980s. Around that time I noticed that a number of the poems I was writing dealt with and stemmed from my observation of birds. Eagles, hawks, crows, jays, robins, bluebirds, swallows, sparrows, starlings, gulls, loons, ducks, swans and so on, and so on. I tried to put together a manuscript with the working title In the Words of Singing Birds (but it didn't fly ... ). All punning aside, several of the better poems found other places.
One of those was a little imagist poem entitled "Birdsong." It was first published as an illustration for a "poetry calendar" and later over an image of a perched bird as a People's Poetry Poster. (Ted Plantos)
The poem began when I made a distinct effort to find the Eastern Bluebirds which had become nearly extinct but, with the help of special bird boxes, were making a comeback in the area where I grew up. (Leeds Co., Ontario) I found my first bluebird along a dirt road I had often walked to school, before the one-room schools were amalgamated. The experience moved me greatly and became that poem.
But the poem, though almost minimalist and simple, began to take on, for me, more meaning than I had ever imagined. In time it became for me my poetic statement, a distillation of my personal poetics. Here is the poem:
on the rail fence
beside the dirt road
fire on his breast
throws his song
to the sky
in the dust
two little whirlwinds
Now for an explanation, of sorts.
Imagine the bird as the poet, his song as the poems, his means of expression. The bird has two colours, blue and red, and each of these colours has its own connotation. The red is the emotional, the heart-feeling; the blue is the rational, the mind-shaping. The birdsong begins in the breast, in the emotional, and is shaped in the body, the rational, before it is expressed. So too, for me, the poem.
It begins as an emotional action/reaction/observation and then is carefully formulated and shaped in the rational mind. I don't remember ever writing a poem without putting it through several workings and reworkings, no matter how good I thought the first draft was. Then, like the bluebird's song, it leaves to become a separate entity.
The setting also becomes important. It is open country, fields and woods, but touched by some components of human involvement with the fence, the road: a combination therefore of the wild and the civilized. The little dust whirls are also important. You would like to think that they dance as a result of the bird's song and that the poet's expression has direct results outside himself. However, it doesn't matter. The importance is that bluebirds create song and poets create poetry.
So, you see, this place has become for me a space for my inner bluebird to fill with song.
Feel free to listen. And dance.