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Friday, February 15, 2013
Poetry Friday: Bird-Understander
When my middle school students write love poems, they very rarely tell the truth of their lives, the awkward crushes they have on the goofy kid in the next seat, the way they are starting to feel drawn to other people and how lovely and painful and sweet and terrible it is. Instead, they write about Love with a capital L, informed by movies and imagination and the music they listen to (just as they write about Life with a capital L in all their wisdom gained in thirteen years on this planet). I often ask them, what makes this person special?
Craig Arnold said of this poem, "With 'Bird-Understander' I wanted to say not, as an Elizabethan courtly sonneteer might have said, 'Look, I made your words into poetry, aren’t I fabulous?' but rather 'Listen, what you said to me, it’s already poetry, better than anything I could write, and it would make me happy simply to have you see that.'"
A love poem should be specific, not a generic verse suitable for a greeting card. The beloved is not interchangeable with others, and poetry about the beloved shouldn't be, either. By that standard, this love poem succeeds brilliantly. When we read it, as people who don't know the woman being addressed, we see a beautiful quality in her, and we see why he loves her. We know what makes her special.
Of many reasons I love you here is one
the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright
so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal all the people
ignoring it because they do not know
what do with it except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death
it makes you terribly terribly sad
You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird
All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird and write
to tell me how language feels
but you are wrong
You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song
These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
you have offered them
to me I am only
giving them back
if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not
Arnold's comments about the poem come from this article.
And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.