Friday, April 26, 2013

Poetry A-Z: A is for Avian

I'm a bit sad that I'm at the end of this alphabetic trip through poetry. I really struggled in my final choice, wavering between aquatic and avian for at least a week. However, on my daily walks to work I've been enjoying the heron, ducks, and geese every morning, so my feathered friends made the choice for me.

Before I begin, I recommend you read Adam O'Riordan's piece entitled Why Are Poets So Fascinated With Birds?. Here's an excerpt.
What is that draws poets to birds? And why have so many turned to them at critical points in their own writing? The collective nouns we all remember from childhood speak of language's innate fascination with all things avian: a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of fowls. And it's no coincidence we afford them the most poetic collective nouns: right from the birth of literature birds have been present.
AVIAN - of or relating to birds 

Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems, written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Barry Moser, is a collection of poems in which George describes a hummingbird's building of a nest in a potted ficus tree on her patio, as well as the hatching and growth of the baby birds. The poems in the book are accompanied by vibrant watercolors that exquisitely capture the world of the hummingbirds. Each one contains a date that allows readers to the see the progression of events. The poems themselves are moving and full of the emotion that comes with watching an amazing event like this unfold. An extensive author's note describes how she kept a hummingbird journal and the joy brought to the family by simply observing the birds over the course of two months. There is also information about hummingbirds, as well as a list of selected books for both younger and older readers.

The book begins with the poem, Visitor.
A spark, a glint,
   a glimpse
   of pixie tidbit.
Bright flits, brisk zips,
   a green-gray blur,
   wings, zings, and whirr--

I just heard
   a humming of bird.
What follows are poems that describe the dive-bombing of the family by a bird very determined to protect it's territory, nest building, egg hatching, nestling care and growth, flight practice and the inevitable empty nest. Poems are written from the perspective of the observer, as well as the disgruntled dog and cat. ("I'm a prisoner--because of a bird. How absurd.") Visite George's web site to  read another poem from the book. You can also listen to her read a few of the poems.

The Company of Crows: A Book of Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Linda Saport, is a collection of 23 poems in which crows are viewed from the perspective of crows, other birds, animals, and people. Here's one of my favorites.

The Movie Critic

Cemetery bird,
     there you are on the big screen
always sitting on a tombstone
     before the ghouls start to drool.
Or else you're in the desert,
     pecking at a jawbone
where someone's dying of thirst
     or something even worse.
You're on posts near ghostly castles,
You're on gates by weird estates.
You're the messenger of monsters
     on a foggy, haunted heath,
     as the creepy music blares.
What about you always scares us,
     you daytime traveler with no talons,
     you comic dancer with no teeth?
Tell me, how on earth did you get stuck
     as an image of bad luck?

Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal, written and illustrated by Sallie Wolf and designed by Micah Bornstein, is a beautiful nature journal that includes poetry, sketches, watercolors and more. The scrapbook look and feel of this book has been created using by Wolf's actual sketches and drawings that have been manipulated in PhotoShop.  The Author's Note in the beginning describes how a teacher ignited Wolf's love and passion for bird-watching.

Organized by season, the pages contain a wealth of information about bird watching, bird identification, and behavior.  Here's the journal entry and poem that give the book its title.

March 26 - I saw a cardinal & a robin perched in the same young maple, both singing.

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound

The robin makes a laughing sound.
It makes me stop and look around
to see just what the robin sees—
fresh new leaves on twigs of trees,
a strong high branch on which to rest,
a safe, dry ledge to hold its nest.
The robin makes a laughing sound.
I stop. I always look around.

Poem ©Sallie Wolf. All rights reserved.

In the back matter of the book is a section entitled About My Journals, in which Wolf describes her journaling process and how it has evolved over time. There is also a section of Resources where readers can find additional information on birds and birdwatching.

The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems, written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows, is a collection organized by season, beginning with spring. The spare form works well in these poems, highlighting each of the 24 bird species in delightful ways. The illustrations are elegant and nicely complement the text. Each double-page spread reads like a bider's journal, with notes scribbled on the pages. For example, the page for the Eastern Bluebird contains these notes.

chestnut throat, breast, and flanks
males are darker, bright blue
bluebirds are thrushes, related to robins

Here's the poem from the facing page.

on a staff of wires
blue notes inked from April skies
truly, spring's first song

The back matter for the book contains a section entitled Notes for Bird Watchers and Haiku Lovers. Here's what is written about the Eastern Bluebird.
One of the earliest birds to appear in the spring, the eastern bluebird is often thought of as the harbinger of the season. Its son, truly, truly, is a soft, garbled series of notes typically sung while flying or feeding. Since groups of bluebirds often rest on power lines that cross meadows, I imagined the lines as a musical staff with these blue quarter notes that run across spring's blue skies.
Poem and Text ©Michael J. Rosen. All rights reserved.

On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian, is a collection of art and poetry that examines 21 birds with witty word play and a keen sense of observation. Here's one of my favorite poems. It is accompanied by an illustration of the bird with wheels for legs.

The Roadrunner

The roadrunner darts
Down dusty roads
In search of insects,
Lizards and toads.
Past tumbleweeds
It speeds for snakes,
And catching them,
Turns on the brakes.

Poem ©Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.

Jane Yolen and her son Jason Stemple have collaborated on a number of poetry books with birds as the subject. To get a feel for the depth and vibrancy of the images in these books, be sure to check out some of Jason's bird photos. Here's an overview of these books.
Wild Wings: Poems for Young People - The first collaboration between Jane and her son focused on birds, this collection of 14 poems was inspired by the stunning photos.

Fine Feathered Friends: Poems for Young People - The second book on birds in the Yolen-Stemple collaboration includes even more gorgeous photographs and inspired poems in a variety of forms.

An Egret's Day - This third collection focuses exclusively on the egret. That neck! Those feet! Photos get up close and personal and allow readers to see this magnificent bird from every angle. Poems full of metaphor and keen observation tell us much about these birds. Also included is factual information. 
Bird's of a Feather -  The most recent book in the bird collaboration, contains 14 poems in a variety of forms, each accompanied by a brief bit of informational text.
One of the features I particularly like about the most recent book is the Foreword by ornithologist Dr. Donald Kroodsma. It begins this way.
As an ornithologist and obsessed with the details in the daily lives of birds, I know these eagles and chickadees and kingfishers and the other fine birds in this book. But after absorbing the poems and photographs here, I'll never see these birds again in the same way.
. . .
Scientists collect numbers and study the details, but these poems and photographs give us another angle, reminding us that birds are far more than an accumulation of facts.
Here's one of the poems.

Terns Galore

At the seaside, terns galore,
One tern, one tern, one tern more.
I tern. You tern.
My turn to fly, tern,
Overhead and high, tern.
Underneath and 'bye tern.
Why, tern, why turn?
Turning terns are all returning,
There upon the shore.

Poem ©Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

Feathers: Poems About Birds, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Lisa McCue, is a playful collection of 27 short, rhyming poems. The back matter contains some "feathery facts" about each of birds described in the poems. My favorite poem EVER about a woodpecker is in this book. Here it is.

Wake Up

No rooster to wake us.
We're not on a farm.
But we have our very own
feathered alarm.
It drums before breakfast
on shingle and pole.
I think there's some rooster
in woodpecker's soul.

Poem ©Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

This topic is so big that there are MANY more children's poetry books I could name here. While I haven't been recommending adult books in these posts, I'll end this list with two poetry books you'll find worthwhile, despite the fact that there is a bit of overlap in the selection of poems.

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, selected by Billy Collins and illustrated by David Allen Sibley - I adore this work for its inclusion of classic and contemporary poetry on birds as well as its scientifically accurate (and gorgeous) illustrations.

On Wings of Song: Poems About Birds, selected by J. D. McClatchy -This is a huge anthology with every manner of bird, from hummingbird to albatross. You'll also find such poets as Dickinson, Plath, Poe, Keats, Yeats and many more.

Finally, I highly recommend you read the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking: Poems About Birds, written in honor of the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens.

That's it for A. See you tomorrow with a mystery post! (I'll admit that I'm a bit excited to have 4 open days to play with!)


  1. This is a fabulous collection! I am familiar with many of these titles, but there are some new ones here, too. Can't wait to get Bird's of a Feather, and I love the excerpt you shared from the introduction. "...far more than an accumulation of facts." Indeed! By the way, I read this while being serenaded by the birds outside my window :-)

  2. Thanks for doing this Trisha. The whole month has been nothing but poetry goodness thanks to you. That Spinelli poem is OUTSTANDING!