Tag Archives: bird poem


This incident with an adventurous (or possibly confused) housemartin took place when I was staying in a cottage on holiday in rural France. It was an intriguing place, in the grounds of a very small chateau, whose elderly owner used to stand every morning at one of her parapets with a huge Great Dane beside her. The first night I was terrified someone was breaking in because the electrics tripped out downstairs, making a huge cracking sound. That cottage felt like a different world, and a different time.


in through the blue window

a housemartin
hunched up around

angelic beating wings

circling the rafters

tensing our naked bodies
as we read
and drink coffee in bed –

we curl our morning papers,
prepare to drive the thing out.

this bird is no amateur,
doesn’t panic in a crisis –

no, this bird
knows rooms,
is a reader of houses

and sees this one’s ours

so retreats quickly
leaving us with only

the gift
of the beat
of his wings

in our hearts.

This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for teaching in secondary schools in Shropshire.

The Touch of Birds

Seagulls in flight

I wrote this poem several years ago on a walking holiday in the Cotswolds. I’ve written more poems about birds than any other subject. I love their fleet nature, their ability to soar the skies, then disappear in a tangle of thorns.

The Touch of Birds

At the crest of the hill,
a wall-stitched woodland fringe;
beneath, the white heads of two dozen gulls,
iconic on the broken soil.
Waiting for the tractor,
groaning up the hill.

It comes, with its blunt, hefty blades
turning up the clay, revealing
a juicy crop of worms.

The birds feast, then lift
across the buzzing forest green –
drift apart, and join –
go with them

because you can –

go –

A Bird on the Moorland


bird moorland

A Bird on the Moorland

In my dream I was a bird on the moorland.
I saw quick and sure
but with only half an eye.

Free from weight and damage
I moved through a million blistered thorns,
and gorged myself on hidden berries.

I watched dark clouds fill the sky
and sliced through growing winds
to gauge the coming storms.

When the rain fell heavily
I squatted down and ruffled feathers
to reduce the misery of wet.

In the gorgeous midge-thick summer
I swooped my signature in the blank blue sky,
and shrank up small when the great hawks soared.

At dawn and dusk I tipped back my head
and sang loud and well as I could
to the heavenly point at the base of my throat, the world.


This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for teaching in secondary schools in Shropshire. The photo is by Elliott Collwell, via Flickr’s Creative Commons.


Every Bird is Singing


A while back, whilst posting about the influence of painting on my poetry, I mentioned the artist Jocelyn Merivale who died two years ago, far too young.

Below is a sequence of short poems I wrote after visiting an exhibition of Jocelyn’s held at her home in Merton. I’ve included a few photos of her paintings, although I’m afraid they’re not the exact same ones that inspired the poems – but they give a good flavour of her talent. I would put all her paintings up here, they’re fabulous.

And a small point of clarification – these titles and sub-titles are my own, not those of the paintings.

Every Bird is Singing

I watch the painting
with its thousand yellow birds
all edged in black

and only some time later notice
that all their beaks are open,

that every bird
is singing –


Green Ghost Girl at No. 9

Who is this green limned girl
stood at No. 9’s red door?

Won’t they let her in? Are there
bundles of garlic
splashes of holy water
sprigs of wolfsbane round the frame?

Does some sudden memory
paralyse the will of the dead?

Or perhaps she rehearses her performance,
how with just the right moment and angle
she might make forever good her intent,

push her teetering target
over the edge
of a measureless chasm of fear.

Or maybe she just doesn’t have the power
to walk through.

After all there is only so much
the dead can do.


The Sea

is everywhere. We are made to think
of our edges, our rocks and shingle beaches
bee-sting Victorian lighthouses –
of hulls on tossed waters
whose fate is to break.

But the sea is also amongst us
dull green with algae host
sitting, seeping around buildings –

an urge to circumscription
we can entertain, or not.



– This is my favourite
he tells me, it reminds me
of the girl I fell in love with.

A beautiful, everything girl
full of treetop song –

with splashes of red
falling down gold beside her



And, found behind the portrait of the baby,
a mental hospital, rain, billowing trees
in iron-dark grey



The Cormorants

If I could be whisked away warmly
from this spinning sack of sleep
I would rise through the hollow rain-wet night
past the soft-touching leaves of trees
and travel beyond this cosy land.

With arms stretched out through the cold
I would come to the dark salt sea
chopping remorselessly at the moon,
and finally to Iona of peace,
and the unnamed rocks about it.

And there I would find the cormorants, with
black bills hunched in a cloak of grey, watching
watching what? as they soak
with rain and briny spray, watching for
the tides which make and seek them.


First published in Tandem magazine, no.2

Bird Garden, Hong Kong

A big pastime for old men in Hong Kong is keeping songbirds. There’s a large garden on Yeung Po Street in the Kowloon district, where men go to feed birds in return for songs.

I wrote this poem when I was there in 2001; it was published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for teaching in secondary schools in Shropshire.

Bird Garden, Hong Kong

In the new Bird Garden
on Yeung Po Street
very old men
gaze at caged songbirds.

One lifts a bell-shaped dome
from a branch,
holds it above his chest,
below his earth-worn face.

There.  Its sudden trill
could be the sound of hope
played backwards
bright beads falling from the string of time –

or the beauty of things forgotten.