A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 9 June 2008


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.


Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff!
I've always seen Birders as basically benign. A bit bonkers, but friendly and harmless on the whole.
Curiously, I don't think of myself as a birder, despite my own abiding interest.
Your poem certainly creates vivid images. I'm amazed that it could be just the work of minutes - it seems so polished.
A great post for the 'relaunch'.
Welcome back.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks - it's good to be back. I suspect you're a generalist at heart, like myself.

I really did write that in a very short period of time (revised slightly later, but essentially it came out in one surge). A very rare event, a bit like being possessed by something.

Though possession can also be a destructive force - as I've found of late.

Rachel Fox said...

I really like this.

However I will say to you what a wise woman once said to me...if you're going to rhyme in a traditional way then keep it really tight (e.g.shrinks/drinks - not drink...quick and something that rhymes with quick!) and the effect is heightened. I think you could rework some of your rhymes and rhythms here to make it an even better piece. Sometimes you will find you come up with a better line than the one you had before...it might be quite different.

I changed a few rhymes in poems after that advice and I have not regretted a single one.

Or just ignore me! This could be, as people always say to me, a really good one to read to an audience.

The Solitary Walker said...

Not sure I completely agree with you on this one, Rachel - Larkin, for instance, uses a mixture of true rhymes and half-rhymes in 'Toads Revisited' and other poems to great effect.

Rachel Fox said...

No...I'm not saying it has to be like that for every poem with rhyme (and it was someone else's advice really...not mine). Just for some poems...making it very tight can increase the effect (can work particularly well with humour). And it can make you look harder for the right word or phrase.