A big pastime for old men in Hong Kong is keeping songbirds. There’s a large garden in Kowloon, where many go to feed birds in return for songs. I wrote this poem about that garden when I visited it in 2001.
The poem was first published in Poetry File by the Belmont Arts Centre, for teaching in Secondary Schools in Shropshire. I’m posting it today because it’s National Poetry Day.
Isn’t it great we have a day to celebrate poetry!?
Bird Garden, Hong Kong features in my poetry book, Up in the Air:
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
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
is a reader of houses
and sees this one’s ours
so retreats quickly
leaving us with only
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. It features in my poetry book Up in the Air, available here:
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.
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
This poem features in my poetry collection Up in the Air, available here: