I’m sitting at my desk with windows thrown open to the fields and the air filled with birdsong. As I sit here listening, I become aware of patterns that form and fade, tracing notes, and meditating a while. I let the music of the day silk over me and it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what these birds are communicating, the collective chatter reminds me of a room of people before a performance begins.
Our neighbour hangs generous baskets of bird seed in his front garden every day, and a multitude of swallows, sparrows, thrush, tits, crows, rooks and seagulls line up, swinging a balance on the telephone wires above the garden until their turn to feed. There is a general bubbling and flapping gathering of an expectant crowd.
It was not until I started performing at open mic poetry nights six months ago that I understood why listening is so important to poetry. I know it seems obvious. The skill of any writing is in the voice and form in addition to the language used. But listening is a part of the writing craft, it is something we can learn if exposed to gatherings and tellings, and it is essential for any poet to find his or her listening community, and also to listen to others, not just to read.
Of course I might not have heard the riot of birdsong today if I’d been busy elsewhere this afternoon, or distracted, or if I were rushing about in the car. I would not have listened to the variety of song and richness of voice of fellow local poets if I hadn’t attended these poetry gatherings. Both of these experiences feed into my developing work.
Listening to a live poem or storytelling involves active participation. All of the elements in the room combine in the moment to be heard together in context: the chatter and breath and coughing of the crowd, the background noise on the street, the vibration of speakers, and with all of this, the shared effort of each person who enters the room to be present. All of these vibrations and energies set a stage for a performance. For a witnessing.
It feels more and more important now to make the effort to share poems out loud. I find that my writing is being transformed at an earlier stage by sharing it rather than editing in the solitude of my head, though the nerves can be frustrating. I share my latest poems to an audience with a brief sigh of uncertainty. I’ll only know each time as I stand up before the witnesses in room if the atmosphere changes just a little as I speak, if I can feel my voice resonate in my chest authentically, naturally and with the music of some truth. This is what I strive for in all poetry. Birdsong.
And I am reminded today that birdsong is all the more meaningful and poignant when you see the effort it takes in the individual, and the tiny size of the trembling bird as he balances on a shivering wire calling out his name and his story with every ounce of his vibrant being.