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.


Craig Arnold

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
impossibly useless

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
from hurt

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.


Janet said...

I absolutely love this.

Liz Steinglass said...

Yes, it succeeds wonderfully. It's a touching example of a love poem.

Linda B said...

Beautiful words, Ruth. Interesting to hear Arnold's words as opposed to the poem I shared from Chaucer.

Violet N. said...

What a lovely poem. It always amazes me how the details and particularity of experience can communicate universal truths, but they they do. This poem is proof again, if we needed it. Thanks for sharing it, and for the link to that interesting article.

Tabatha said...

So sweet! How clever Mr. Arnold is to show her how very specifically he loves her while also making a universal statement about how useful language is.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

So true, one understands the woman and her kindness, her compassion, her tenderness even, just thorough this sliver of action, of words. Beautiful, Ruth.

Mary Lee said...

Love it! (But too bad about the bird...)

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I love how you state that a love poem 'should be specific, not a generic verse suitable for a greeting card.' I completely agree, Ruth...and in fact, I'm going to talk more about this - and how it relates to writing beyond poetry - in my blog post tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration!

Amy LV said...

We both had that connection around this poem last week...which I loved!...but reading your words around specificity in a love poem was so helpful. I am holding onto this post. (I'm married to a bird-understander man...)

Author Amok said...

Hi, Ruth. I would have called this a portrait poem, but you're right -- it is also a love poem. It's always fascinating when animals cross into what we consider our human space and how people react.