Poetry blog: The birds and the bees

Let nature inspire you at this creative time of year. Photograph © Alex Wigan
2 May 2017 @ 12.01 pm
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Spring, and the poetry blog is back. Carried away by the sudden sunshine and light evenings and inspired by Bernie Cullen’s winning poem, Birdsong, I’m thinking birds and bees as a theme. Or spring or even just nature poems.

Bernie’s poem works brilliantly because she listened. Using your senses is vital in poetry and the best way to write about nature is to get out there with your notepad and really look, listen, breathe in, observe.

Here’s that winning poem to give you the idea. Try closing your eyes and imagine yourself in that spot at the Yorkshire Arboretum as the birds tuned up for the morning.

Birdsong by Bernadette Cullen

bleep bleep bleep

bleep bleep bleep bleep

we were finished        we were finished
so was he           no it’s not   no it’s not


could it not  could it not be you     could it not  could it not be you
yes it is     it is      it is       it is  it’s true  it’s true  it’s true  it’s true

was your fault      so they say     was your fault       so they say

no it’s not   no it’s not     come along come along       come along

yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes                                   gerrrofff

dream out   dream out                    stay with me          stay with me


I never get to seeeee you
I never get to seeeee you


what’s wrong with you all the time
what’s wrong with you all the time

I’m frigid        I’ll get my coat

I’m frigid  I’ll get my coat  cute

it’s broken don’t you know            it’s broken don’t you know

it’s broken don’t you know look look look   look look look look

when I want a kiss    it’s just you       it’s just you       it’s just you

I    couldn’t      even      contemplate        you ‘re not       you’re not


give it back give it back

give it back give it back


bicker bicker bicker        repeat

repeat repeat       peat peat peat

I told you I’ll not take the blame
I told you I’ll not take the blame

I need help            I need help

need need read  read read read

help                           help

give it up   give it up   give it up

Better still, visit the arboretum, choose a quiet spot, sit down, look around you and write. You might just make notes and take a few photos or you might find yourself writing a poem.

Oh, and they do great cakes there too. What’s not to like?

A wonderful sight

Magnificent – a red kite. Photograph © Red Kite 16 on Wikipedia

Of course the arboretum’s not the only beautiful spot to study and admire nature. Here’s one I wrote recently after a walk in the woods at Harewood. I had not seen the red kites close up before and it was a wonderful sight.

Red Kites at Harewood by Carole Bromley

With beak and claw and ragged wing,
they own the Yorkshire air, riding
its currents, shrugging off cold winds that bring
leaves rattling and children pedalling
on Boxing Day bikes, and couples hiking
hand in gloved hand, not looking
up at where they tremble on taut string,

then stoop to snatch at carrion
or worms or sometimes a vole skittering
or a hedge sparrow foraging.
And now the low sun is dipping
behind the hill, trees are shivering,
oak, birch and beech, Storm Conor’s coming
and in their tops Red Kites are roosting.

A couple of poets who really know how to write about birds are David Morley and Kathleen Jamie.

Here’s David, who is an ecologist as well as a poet, reading his poem Goldcrests on the Poetry Archive.

And here’s Kathleen Jamie, also on the Poetry Archive, reading her poem about a hawk.

Notice how both poets really observe closely and then try to put into language what they see and hear and sense before them. Not what they expect to see and hear but what they actually see and hear.

It is not easy to evoke in the reader the response you had to some aspect of nature but this is the only way to do it!

And here’s one by Paul Farley which has one of the best and rudest metaphors I’ve come across and doesn’t it work wonderfully?

Try and put a metaphor in your poem which no-one has ever used before. It beats straightforward description every time. I love that ‘huge overcoat across the earth’ too

Woods in spring

Ray Wood at Castle Howard. Photograph: Tony Bartholomew

You may be interested to know that Fair Acre Press is running a British Urban Birds project, involving poetry, this summer – running May to September – with poetry and art book to be published (free submissions welcomed) – go to their website.

Of course, your poem doesn’t have to be about birds. It could be about woods in spring, Farndale daffodils (give my love to the Daffy Café), your own garden waking up, that first butterfly, a snail on a path. Anything. Just so long as it’s not man made.

Ted Hughes was a great nature poet too. Listen to this recording of Hughes reading his poem, The Thought Fox which is partly about a fox and partly about the process of writing a poem.

Helen Mort is another contemporary poet who writes wonderful nature poems.

A few years ago she was the youngest ever poet in residence at Grasmere and here’s one poem which came out of that residency and which shows the benefits of time spent close to nature.

Read more of Helen’s work in her two collections, Division Street and No Map Could Show Them.

Better still, track down Helen’s beautiful poem, The Deer, a delicate piece which sadly is famous for being plagiarised by Christian Ward.

Here it is as a Guardian Saturday poem.

Big influence

‘I heard a cough as if a thief was there…’ Photograph © Jonn Leffmann on Wikipedia

Another really fantastic nature poet is Alice Oswald. Seek out her collections, especially Woods etc. and Weeds and Wild Flowers. Here’s one about a fox.

I was interested to hear Bernie at the award ceremony saying what a big influence Alice Oswald had been on her work. Perhaps it was that that gave her the courage to write and submit such an astonishing and unusual poem to the competition.

Now I really want to read your nature poems about birds, bees, daffodils, trees, any aspect of wildlife or the countryside which grabs your imagination.

Send them to me via email at [email protected] – either as an attachment or in the boxy of the email – and I will publish a selection of the most interesting.

The deadline is Sunday, May 14.

Go on, the sun’s out, the birds are singing, the woods are stirring. What are you waiting for?