Happy National Poetry Day to UK readers and those overseas celebrating with us!!

Just a short blog post today – with a poem, two books and a poetry microreview.

First the poem, a haiku in celebration of books generally, not just poetry.

gold-edged leather scent
tales in black bones on each page
paper ghosts wake

The first book is the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize anthology, Parenting, containing my poem ‘Blue Bonsai’, which was commended in the competition. The second is Restless Bones, an anthology in aid of the Born Free Foundation and fight against the fur trade.

My microreview is of Karen McCarthy Woolf’s collection An Aviary of Small Birds (Carcanet). I might as well start by admitting that the reason this book appealed from the growing ‘to read’ pile is the birds. I wrote a poem ‘The Body as an Aviary’ for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s ‘Notes into Letters’ project last year, which I then also turned into a poetry-film. I was curious to see how a different poet had used an aviary.

Beautifully is the conclusion I came to. The collection has a strong undercurrent of sorrow right from the opening poem, ‘The Undertaker’. The blurb on the back of the book refers to it as an ‘elegy to a stillborn son’. In fact, this is not the only death in the collection, which covers a wide variety of forms and styles.

It is, of course, the fragility of life that makes life so beautiful. These poems are full of achingly acute pain but, from beneath, around and over that, birds and fishes slip gracefully free. Like death and pain, language and beauty cannot be completely pinned down but are always moving. The poetry is crafted and light, but not without weight in that lightness. These poems leave their mark; I found them moving in all senses of the word.

Inevitably, given the subject matter, these poems do touch upon some what ifs/seeing the dead son in other people. (In this, there is a passing similarity to Carrie Etter’s moving Imagined Sons, which features a different kind of lost child, the one that is given up for adoption.) But the feeling I was mostly left with by An Aviary of Small Birds was of lament, and attempts to find consolation and move beyond this – to find beauty in pain. In ‘White’ the colour itself, through a series of simple images, becomes a lament. The collection title is a poem in the collection and there are plenty of other feathered friends here too, with the symbolic connotations they carry. Birds are not the only creatures though. Amongst other animals, there are the hare, crow, wolf – all moon creatures, and none of them very far from the presence of (birth and) death.

This poetry is, as I’ve said, very beautiful in a sad and transformational way. Fleetingly, I did ask myself if and how the intensity would have been different in pamphlet form. (My current penchant, as a reader, is more towards pamphlets.) But the repeated theme here helps to create that haunting feeling of death and sorrow being ever-present, and in that recreates perhaps something, as much as anything can, of what a mother must feel in the aftermath of such a loss.