The way a cormorant must


“It takes faith to penetrate the world the way a cormorant must. If I were one I would have to promise myself every day, ‘The water looks impervious, but at the right moment it will give.’ I sat in the niche for a long time. I realised I didn’t know any more than the last time I sat there. I didn’t know anything about anything.” –M. John Harrison, Climbers

I’m starting to realise how many of my favourite quotes have birds in them. Not always flying through the text but poised, or nesting somewhere in the language. Unlike a lot of poets, I don’t know very much about crows or hawks or owls or anything feathered. Birds are alien and surprising to me, like the pigeon’s nest I discovered climbing at Agden Rocher, almost placing my hand in it, raising myself up to look at the ledge only to find a small eye staring back. That could be a metaphor for the writing process. Then again, so could most things.

Last week, driving back from Manchester late at night, a huge shape swooped in front of my windscreen and lifted away into the trees. It might have been an owl. I didn’t know, but by the time I got back I was telling everyone I’d seen an owl anyway. Careful, that’s another metaphor – a cryptic definition of poetry. Or is it? Shut up, Helen and let Maggie Nelson talk:

“For to wish to forget how much you loved someone—and then, to actually forget—can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart.” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

I’m starting to write blog posts again after a long time away. I hope there will be more grace than slaughter.


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