Monday, 17 January 2022

Birds and poetry

I am pleased to be part of the feature on birds and poetry in the current issue of Bird Watching magazine, and to be able to share how and why birds play a part in my poems. The feature illustrates some of the many ways that birds can inspire, or appear in, poetry. 

I'm not going to repeat what I said in the feature, but you can get some idea of my thoughts, if you want, from some of my earlier posts. Likewise, there are so many great poets who you could look to, if you wanted to see more bird poetry - see eg, my post, The poetry of birds - 30 March 2020. 

My own poems which feature birds vary enormously. Most typically, they are like the following poems, the first being the one in Bird Watching Magazine, the second published in Sarasvati, poetry magazine (Indigo Dreams Publishing) in 2018.

Common Redshank

I will call across the mudflat

and answer your call.

I will search with you along the tideline

and flicker-fly with you when the sea returns.

But sometimes I will stand alone

at the end of a groyne as the waves lap round

and just stare out to sea.


in chill morning sun

grass sparkles; banks of purple

lift above the sea;

oystercatcher's distant call:

remember this was the dream

Birds and poetry both play an important part in my life, so it's not surprising that they overlap at times. I hope that others will also find inspiration from birds or poetry, or maybe even both.

Monday, 13 December 2021

2021 - A review where poetry and life are not separate

Another tough year. I've felt at times that I've disappeared from my real life, and only occasionally popped up to cry out or to give thanks from a distance. The following are the various things and people from outside my walls which/who have kept me going this year (in vaguely chronological, but no other, order).

The birds in my garden.

Victoria Bennett - To Start the Year from its Quiet Centre

Vicky Allen - Broken Things and other Tales

Michael Rosen - Many Different Kinds of Love

The birds on my infrequent trips outside.

Jacqueline Saphra - One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets

Kate Fox - The Oscillations

Simon Armitage - A Vertical Art

Julie Stevens - Quicksand and Balancing Act

BBC Springwatch and all related programmes

Louisa Albani - The Journey to my Sister's House... (with the wonderful words of Astra Bloom)

Lee Mack finally scoring at Soccer Aid 

The fox seen from my window

Daniel Sluman - Single Window

Jane Burn - Be Feared

Bird Watching magazine

Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice on Strictly

Under the Radar magazine

Sarasvati magazine

Dara McAnulty - Diary of a Young Naturalist 

All those who have supported what little writing I have put out into the world this year - including Matt Merritt, Hedgehog Poetry and Alzheimer's Society, and those supporting poetry generally including Matthew Stewart, Dave Bonta, The Friday Poem and #TopTweetTuesday @blackboughpoems.

The tweets, blogs and support of Rob @RobsBirding and all the other birders also posting wonderful photos and videos, including Paul Hayes @paulhayes55, Jack @birderjack. April @angelscherished and so many more.

Those who are fighting for Social Care and mental health and all the charities that keep people from going under.

The tweets and ongoing support of Astra Bloom and Jo Eden.

The birds in my garden.

Apologies if I've forgotten anyone - some days I can't even remember what day it is.

With renewed thanks to all, and wishing everyone a better year ahead.

Friday, 20 August 2021

A poetic exercise in positivity.

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.


Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he's dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said. 

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

Friday, 16 July 2021

Talking poetry

So what's your poem about?                             Me

Isn't that a bit...egotistic?                                  If I don't write about me, who will?

Well, if you were worth writing about...                Everyone is worth...something.

Of course.                                                        Everyone has their own story to tell.

The personal crafted to be universal?                  What?

Nothing. Carry on.                                             No-one knows me like I do.

No, they know you as they do.                           Well, I want them to know my side.

So, what are you going to say?                          I'm going to say who I am.

You're going to be honest?                                 Not necessarily...not entirely.

But then, you're not really telling...                      Well...not everything.

But you said...                                                  Yes, but... it's complicated.

You want them to see the best of you?                Maybe... yes.

And who are these people?                                 Anyone, everyone.

Why should you care what they think?                 I don't know.

So what will it achieve?                                       At least I'll have connected with people.

Who you don't know.                                           But they'll know me.

Or your version of you.                                        What if I'm completely honest?

It'll still be your version.                                       But it will be me.

They may not see it that way.                              Why?    

Like I said, people see things their way.                So you're saying there's no point?

No. Just don't get your hopes up.                         But I want to be seen.

You could get out more.                                       But if I write it, it will last.

If it gets published, and even then...                      Well, at least I'll have written it.

For yourself?                                                       Yes.

But you said...                                                     Go away.

OK, just one more thing...                                    What? 

Who reads poetry anyway?                                      


Monday, 5 July 2021

Government statement

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets and The Oscillations

Jacqueline Saphra decided to chart her responses to the pandemic and lockdown in sonnet form. These responses are now published as One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets. She used a form she knew would give her structure and focus. It succeeds in giving a structure to the portrayal of a time where structures were collapsing and where we were all trying to find our way (and still are).

The sonnets look inwards and out, and, for me, express brilliantly the whole range of emotions and responses I have experienced. Some examples:

Sonnet XIX - the day to day - 'We do our best.'

Sonnet XXVII - all the things we thought we might do (were told that we could) - that didn't happen (like learning Cantonese and reading Plato!)

Sonnet XLVIII - the things we did/do and the veering between positive and negative - 'as we fall apart, reload, re-love, rewind.'

Sonnet LXIV - hope and despair, anger and fear - what can you do? 'get up, get clean, get dressed, get on with it.' 

Sonnet LXVIII - compassion and disconnection - 'you in your ocean, me in mine'.

Sonnet XCVII - how 'a tiny thing'  (a broken tooth and not being able to find a dentist) can shut out all thoughts but for yourself - and 'empathy, the world and all its suffering recede' - anger, loss of control. 'Who will fix my life?'

Sonnet C - 'we are not done'. 

There is humanity and humour throughout (and some very sharp anger). As someone still working out how to deal with it all, this has helped me to understand and accept my own experiences and feelings.


Kate Fox in The Oscillations also looks at the effects of the pandemic and the before/after worlds we are still trying to make sense of - the swings between despair and hope, sadness and anger and the attempts to bridge distances, to communicate, to feel less isolated.

In all the poems there is a real force to the emotions because they are not shouting - there is grief and anger and pain, but so subtly written. When they directly address the pandemic they confront the horror of it and then look for direction, for hope. For example, in Stump :

'So tell us again

about what always grows back


about slender shoots growing

from blasted stumps

green fishing rods into the future 

tender rebuttals to the torn out page

that used to be tomorrow.'

Many of the poems touch on neurodiversity and the different way the world is experienced by people with, for example, autism, which the poet has. There is a real thrill to poetry where we see the world differently through someone else's eyes, and through that, understand it better for ourselves. Now, more than ever, it helps us to connect with a world which is fragmented and, at times, very hard to navigate.


Both of these collections are from Nine Arches Press.

Monday, 10 May 2021


Over the last two weeks, blackbirds have been sky-scrapping over my garden throughout each day. One declares this is his territory, another enters, a chase ensues, then the fighting begins. It's spectacular to watch, but it has a relentlessness to it I've not seen before. I'm sure in the past one has given up, but not this time. Of course it may not be the same ones every time. I get the joy of having the winner singing from dawn to dusk anyway. 

It's things like this that keep me going at the moment. It may not have been obvious from my off-beat humour and joyful tweets, though possibly more so from my more negative poetry, that I've been suffering from anxiety and depression for some time now. And it too seems relentless. It's got worse in the last few months and I have sought help - which will kick in any month now, such is the demand for help at the moment. In the meantime, I veer from real lows to somewhat forced and very temporary highs.

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I've been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn't find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now - well, always, obviously. So I thought I'd try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I'll keep fighting.

Other moments that work : a robin or a dunnock drinking or splashing in the bird bowl, house sparrows trying to decide whether to keep the feather they've collected or eat from the feeders (feeder always wins), blue tits and great tits in food relays across the garden, a magpie on daily patrol for insects, or bringing in bread from somewhere else and dunking it in the bowl before eating, a kestrel hovering over the distant fields, or a rare low fly-over by a heron. And, of course:

blackbird's song at dawn,

nature's continuity,

blackbird's song at dusk