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Birds and Nature in Poetry

Double-crested Cormorant

BirdNote is thrilled to feature poets who write about our feathered friends. Assistant producer Mark Bramhill spoke with Traci Brimhall and Sidney Wade about their work and their love of birds. Check out these new BirdNote stories — and meet the poets who inspired them.

Blue
While birding in Florida, Sidney Wade discovers something new and unexpected about the Double-crested Cormorant. Her poem, Blue, captures the sense of wonder in that moment.

Intimacy and the Everyday
In this extended episode — featuring three poems — Traci Brimhall shows how poetry can bring us closer to nature.

Remembering Mary Oliver
Traci Brimhall honors the life and work of fellow poet Mary Oliver by reading Oliver's poem, Wild Geese.

Meet our featured poets:

Sidney Wade

Sidney Wade

Sidney Wade is a poet, translator, and professor residing in Gainesville, Florida. Her most recent collection of poems is called Bird Book.

“I’ve always loved nature,” Sidney says. “Landscape is an incredibly important motif in my work.” And birds have been central to that motif — for much longer than she realized.

“When I was putting together Bird Book, I included a few poems that I’d written earlier because they were about birds,” Sidney recalls. “It was stunning to me to go back through my earlier books and see how many times birds appeared in my poems, even before I became obsessed with them.”

While birds appear so often in poetry as to be almost cliché, Sidney points to an even more common subject: love.

She says writing about love is, “absolutely fresh and new, as long as the voice is distinctive. [It’s the] same thing with birds. I think it’s the individual poet’s distinctive voice that makes all the difference.”

For Sidney, listening to birds helps inform that distinctive voice in her poetry.

“Sounds mean a lot to me,” she says. “When I go out by myself, I pretty much go out bird listening rather than bird watching, because sometimes I have a very hard time seeing them. But I have come to know the songs and the call notes and the chips of a great many birds.”

Learn more about Sidney Wade and her work at http://www.sidneywade.com.

Traci Brimhall

Traci Brimhall

A native of Minnesota, Traci Brimhall is an assistant professor of creative writing at Kansas State University. Her first published collection, Rookery, features many poems about birds.

“Birds just seem to have a kind of spiritual or symbolic weight,” Traci explains. “They feel somehow ancient or ethereal – timeless in a way, and I think poets are often attracted to things that have that sort of feeling.”

But her interest in birds began with a common bird, the Red-winged Blackbird. “Perhaps that's part of the greatness of common things,” she says. “They’re so accessible, so ever-present.”

Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese is one of the first poems Traci ever memorized — and one of the few that she can still recite by heart. Traci says geese are “a touchstone for most people. We know them, we’ve watched them migrate, we’ve heard their calls announcing the change in the seasons. And in this poem, they’re telling us we have a place in the family of things.”

Mary Oliver passed away on January 17, 2019, leaving a legacy of evocative writing about the natural world.

“While I grieve her passing and it is a loss for the new poems that won’t be made, there’s still such a beautiful and generous abundance of what she has already given us,” Traci says. “I think she gave us tons of beauty and love and affirmation in her poems.”

Learn more about Traci Brimhall and her work at https://tracibrimhall.wordpress.com.

Canada Geese taking flight

This series is made possible by the generous support of Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, the Horizons Foundation, and many individual donors who believe in the power of great stories to help tune listeners in to nature. To help BirdNote produce more shows like these, please make your gift today. You can make a difference for birds and for the future of our shared environment. Thank you.

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Photo credits:
Double-crested Cormorant © Nick Shere CC
Canada Geese © Mike Hamilton

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