flights of fancy

DOUGLAS OLIVER / THE HERON
(In memoriam: 1937-2000)
ecopoetics 1

I like this poem very much. At first reading, I felt an old-fashionedness about it, that caused resistance. I would call it Romantic. Looking again, it is an examination of mind moments, particularly mind moments around birds. I have a lot of them, too, and it intrigues me that this poet put them together and made a poem. Maybe it’s nostalgic, maybe it’s instructive. He touches on the stasis of memory, peculiar enough when it’s a memory of birds.

Low moment: two comparisons of flocks of birds to litters of puppies

High moments: two.

First, a reminder of a word without using the word, quite a neat end run around a lurking cliché.

Together, they would pack the sky like moving embroidery
in the white silks, browns and blacks of their great tribe,

This is quite skillful. The poet uses embroidery and silks, and this metaphor stayed with me as an odd choice for a couple of days, until the word “skein” rose up in my mind and I said Oh, yeah.

Second, the description of heron takeoff. Anyone who has seen a heron take off knows it is a spectacular moment among moments of bird observation. Daring of a poet to take it on, and I think this captures it well.

Its shoulders unshackle and heave, legs become the addendum,
the beak stabs out purposefully from the sunken neck.
It sails.

I like how he doesn’t describe the big wings, but “shoulders unshackle” really does it for me.

So here we are with an invitation to craft a descriptive poem from a lot of moments of bird memory. Romantic. Shouldn’t I be writing about birds covered with oil?

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