What I’m Reading
I’ve always had a thing about wrens. I think it may have had something to do with being small myself, and the fact that wrens were usually known as ‘jenny’, which was something of a rarity in the macho bird-watching culture I grew up in. Later I rather liked the fact that they are pretty loud for such a small bird, though this was somewhat damped by the revelation that it is the male who sings, claiming his territory. I like the effrontery of the ‘king of the birds’ story, where the wren hitches a ride on the eagles back so it reaches the highest flight, and I love the association of wrens with druids and bards.
But what I’m reading just now is a monograph, The Wren by Edward A Armstrong, a summary of the extensive research Armstrong carried out over several years from 1943-48. It is an exhaustive study, explaining a lot of what has puzzled me about the wrens I see and hear, and with a lot of information about territory, nesting behaviour, and why I’m hearing wrens singing now. Wrens are going to be significant players in the long poem, so it has already paid off.
But also, while I’ve been running about getting to readings and so on, I’ve been catching up on other things. Common Ground by Rob Cowen was pleasant, if slightly heavy, but covered familiar ground – a man’s personal growth reflected in his engagement with an area of wild land.
More interesting, though a slightly frustrating read, was the twin volumes of poetry by Sean Borodale Bee Journal and Human Work. There’s something about a man discovering the inner meaning of jam making and stewing apples that is going to be a bit irritating if you’ve put in forty years of domesticity to the accompaniment of people telling you your perspective is too narrow and over-familiar. And yet, I nonetheless found myself fascinated by the focus of poems written in the middle of the process – what Borodale calls ‘lyrigraphs’. Physically the manuscripts are marked with splashes and pollen and mud and flour, but more importantly, the lines are shaped by the pauses and rhythms of the work in progress, and the perspective – very close observation, but without the baggage of repetition, tradition or the many other conjoined tasks of a kitchen – made me think again about the possibilities of writing – the capacity of poetry to transform and re-engage with received wisdom.
The long poem is taking me into strange places and making many new discoveries. I have a lot of research to do, but the first twenty lines are written!