Here's a poem I wrote a while back after an afternoon's bird watching at Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve on the North Norfolk Coast. (If anyone doesn't know the North Norfolk Coast, I really recommend a visit. Its stark and subtle beauty will haunt you for ever thereafter. When young we had family holidays at Cromer and Sheringham - so I've got potent childhood memories of it too.)
I suppose this poem's more about a certain type of upper-class or upper-middle-class bird watcher than the Norfolk location or the birds themselves. I remember I was in a peculiarly twisted mood - probably quite a good state to be in for writing poetry. I stopped at a pub on the way home and wrote this very quickly in an intense, concentrated burst of energy at the pub table. I was completely oblivious to everything else going on around me. Sometimes a poem can take minutes to write; other times it can remain incomplete for years. Paul Valéry said that poems were never finished - only abandoned.
It's an unusual poetic form for me (silly limericks aside) - being in rhymed 4 line stanzas - but I think it suits the subject. Hopefully the poem sets the scene, then cynically widens out into more of a universal comment on class history, competition, predation and blood sports - and perhaps other things too. (Wow!) At least, that was the intention...
A serious game, this, with its coded rules.
As wolves hunt in packs and sharks in schools,
So birders gather in high-precision groups,
Kitted in Barbours and old army boots,
Hunched on windswept headlands, bitter coasts,
Spiky with tripods and telescopes,
Displaying their far-seeing tubes and pods,
Like high-tech altarware, to sea-born gods.
Strong-jawed, posh-speaking, ex-Sandhurst types,
Purposefully striding up the dykes,
Boardroom bullies, private healthcare shrinks,
Anglican clergy, purple-veined with drink,
Pounce on a flick of rump, a mid-air jink,
Quicksilver flourish. 'Buggering Christ! I think,
A flock of golden plover! Focus quick!'
A rush of wingbeats, then soft raining shit...
They vanish in a gold and silver flash
Over the marsh. Our twitchers make a dash
In Goretex gear and guano-spattered hats,
Raking brackish lagoons and fenland flats.
These confident, loud-voiced, long-vowelled toffs
Parade their arcane lore of reeves and ruffs,
Bitterns and bearded tits, ever compete
To classify what flies and has two feet.
The peregrine claims as right the pigeon's breath -
Link in the chain, cycle of life and death,
Dog eating dog. A necessary part
Of nature. No premeditated art.
Our human predators, safe in snug cars,
Drive back to manses, mansions, stag-hung bars.
Once armed with guns to shoot the common p(h)easant,
Now name not maim - just marginally more pleasant.