Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I discovered on passionate book blogger Bookman Beattie today the terrible news that due to the recession The Listener plans to stop publishing its weekly poem. Bookman flew into action and within hours had a reaction from Books and Arts Editor Guy Somerset who gave a considered explanation of why the 'agonising' decision had been made and promising, given the uproar (for uproar it has been) to try and revisit it. To see the full story, including comments from upset poets and others, go here.

Fingers crossed -and a plea to The Listener to do all it can to reverse the decision. The weekly poem is a tradition which has nurtured our greatest poets and continues to be one place up-and-coming poets know they can send their work.

Meanwhile Bookman has put his readers onto the weekly Guardian poem, and this week's is an exquisite poem about a hummingbird by Mark Roper. Apposite for me, given that I am currently deep inside Esther Woolfson's Corvus A Life with Birds [to be reviewed Thursday and I'll pop my notes up here.]

The poem begins:


Not just how
it hung so still
in the quick of its wings,
all gem and temper
anchored in air;

not just the way
it moved from shelf
to shelf of air ...

And ends with the hummingbird 'quiet as moss', almost glowing, in repose. Which is where I'm at with Corvus is now - Woolfson is wondering about avian thought and emotions, and whether, without the language to name them, birds can think and feel the same way we do [more on that later.]

Reading Roper's Hummingbird, I go instantly back to my school days when I discovered D.H. Lawrence's hummingbird poem which evokes the opposite of the airy delicacy Mark Roper describes but goes, again, where Corvus goes too - recalling where birds came from, once.

Humming Bird
by D.H. Lawrence

I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.

Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.

I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.

Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

Lovely, lovely poems eh? Where they take us...
Late Addition
After I wrote this post, I read this in Esther Woolfson's Corvus: 'The oldest passerine [largest order of birds often known as 'perching' birds] found in Europe, a hummingbird, dates from Oligocene, 30 million years ago. Named, originally enough, Eurotrochilus inexpectus, 'Unexpected hummingbird' ...'
Photo: Getty images


Andrea Eames said...

I had never come across that poem of D.H. Lawrence's before - it's gorgeous. Thanks for introducing me to it!

And thanks for the sound advice :)

Anonymous said...

Plus emily dickinson's hummingbird poem of course

Unknown said...

For a long time, I've been a caller on the regular New Yorker poem, and their weekly short story:


Regarding The Listener, I've not read all the letter from the editor, I will later, but how much page real estate does a poem take up? I would have thought that was the 'easier' item to keep in.