Guide A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems

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They endlessly stop mid-sentence. Through the language of poetry you become a translator for these things, your uncanny ability to sense these hidden voices, if that makes any sense. AO: Yes, I like the feeling the object and I come towards each other.


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I think what I spotted in Homer that excited me was that something actual is there. Literature tends to describe things. But in Homer you actually think that is an actual leaf. AO: Yes. The less I put in of my own voice and just kind of stand back and let something else come through. AO: Well, there is the grasshopper. And I just love them.

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I like the way they seem to be something between the animal and the plant world. Ted Hughes is much more akin to animals whereas I am more fascinated by and tuned into plants which I regard as a form of animal.

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CG: One of the other things I love about the architecture of your poems is the use of simile. You use simile so organically. One of the reasons is that simile keeps both worlds alive at the same time whereas metaphor changes one for another. So you get this beautiful kind of doubled feeling with the simile.

You get the feeling of the artifice and reality going on at the same time. I love that. CG: Yes, to me you are showing us through simile your connection to nature, your love of plants.

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How something grows from itself, changes, and yet remains what it is. Even in the unlike the like is still there. AO: Yes, but with Homer, everything in Homer is still alive and the simile is so alive it grows into its own form. To me it is the absolute root of poetry. CG: I love the way, in some of the poems, the first person emerges naturally, not necessarily as an announcement but again organically. But it sometimes takes me by surprise, that first person. I still hear your voice reciting this poem whenever I read it having heard you at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year.

I love the captivating, sinister aspect of this poem.

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The list of names too. AO: It is based on a lot of things. Based on a village where I live. All the names are taken from gravestones. He even wrote an account in a church magazine about some of the characters he knew. English villages are strange places. I love that strange combination of unlikeness. I think poems are made of their gaps. I get a sort of real chill when I think of the sound that blackbirds make in winter.

It goes right back to my childhood. Something about the sort of feeling of time get slower and slower as it approaches the solstice in the winter. I hate it. And the thing about the blackbird song is it gets so kind of… ugh. So it was a combination of hearing the CD of an actual summer blackbird song slowed down and also my remembering. But there is that feeling. If I travel like now I do take a notebook. Mostly I try to take things into my head. I really believe in the sort of inarticulate ways of thinking.

I like that process of it not yet being in language, changing your mind round.

More and more I leave my mind to do it by itself. So I will, you know, go out and be kind of shocked by all the colours and pictures and smells and then purposefully not think of them linguistically. You get down to the mind that has taken everything in. That to me is what went wrong with poetry, once it started being written down.

When it was improvised and remembered, then it was alive. The magical world. I love the magnolia tree by the way. A magnolia tree grew outside my childhood home.

A Blackbird Sings

I loved the petals, the tactile experience, the sort of juice inside. AO: They are very strange trees. My bedroom was almost in the branches of a huge magnolia, a really huge one. So every spring I mean the whole room would be pink all night, and I was quite obsessed with it.

I used to climb it a lot and there was something a bit indecent about it. I remember the slightly guilty feeling that the petals were flesh, pure flesh. So there was no specific event. The poem was longer originally. I just cut it in half. AO: Yeah. My mother is a gardener. Something about the way they speak light. They are indescribable. AO: I think it is.

They are just fascinating things. They just really are. And they seem to inhabit a different form of time. You are in that sort of simultaneous time as opposed to sequential time. AO: Yes I am. I get nervous beforehand. Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin.

Alan Bennett. Being Human. Neil Astley. Ten Poems About Gardens. Monty Don.

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