Blogger: Matt Howard, Community Collections Scheme Officer

I was delighted to be asked by Waveney and Blyth Arts to join them on their Breydon Water ‘Poetry and Birds Walk’. The brief was simple, talk about birds in poetry and how such work brings us closer to nature, and then set a writing exercise for the group to try. This gave me a chance to think more about the connections between two of my interests, but where do you start? I mean, poetry and birds; are there any two subjects that conjure stronger stereotypes of closed worlds where only the devout obsessive gets granted admission?

Thankfully the walk didn’t over stretch my fledgling birding skills. Amongst what we saw were curlew, oystercatchers, herons and little egrets. Just putting names to these was a discovery for some of our group, for others perhaps it was making that mental note of the call that will help place a curlew the next time they go walking, or maybe on the walk after that. For all of us there was space away from the workaday, fresh air for the lungs, good company and gentle exercise.

For me the arts are a way of finding and allowing us more of ourselves. For as long as poems have been written, birds have featured. It’s amazing how much they are used in our language to help us express how we feel or think. Of course, poetry can seem or be difficult, but it can also be unbelievably simple, it’s a way of tuning in. Take ‘Adelstrop’ by Edward Thomas; he describes a simple pause sat on a train in June, just noting what happens, but builds to the simple but essential idea of the interconnectedness of all things:


And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of  Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.


Whether it’s poetry or birds, meet them on the level that you want to and each time I guarantee you will get closer, bringing back one thing, great or small, from each walk or reading. If this leads to a deep knowledge of say, curlew behaviour, or an understanding of the inner workings of a sonnet or sestina, then that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t have to. That one thing can be as simple as being stilled by the brilliant white of egrets or the individual phrase sung by the blackbird in your garden, and as in that image given to us by Thomas, there are all the blackbirds beyond it, and by extension, all of nature. Tune in, it’s all there, close by.

 Photo credit: Matt Howard