A Murder of Writers and a Poet

Photo Credit Kasturi Roy | Unsplash

Photo Credit Kasturi Roy | Unsplash

Ah! The corvids: jackdaws, magpies, ravens, rooks, crows and jays (among others). Plus three story-tellers, and a Guest Poet who gives us entrance to the magical world of the members of the crow family.

Warning: this is a long post. Inevitable, given its subject. But you also get a video which is so darn serendipitous in its arrival I think I better share it right now. I was about to write this post but was side-tracked by a friend in need with whom I wanted to share an inspiring YouTube video. Staring me in the face as I head for the channel is ‘Paul Cree - Crows’.

I double click, skip the ads and within the first few seconds Paul’s spoken-wording about ‘a murder of crows’. Watch and listen to the end. You’ll know why the Bird Garden comes before rooms full of human antics in barely half a sentence.

Paul describes himself as ‘storyteller, poet, rapper, theatre maker’ which suits this post and The Bird Garden perfectly. No, he’s absolutely not a nature or eco-poet. He writes about football, homelessness with an honest down to earth ‘child-likeness’ of the kind we need ‘til we die. Read more about him here.

When it comes to the corvids, let’s use metaphor and analogy to reappraise how we speak of them. Rather than be dogged by superstition allow ourselves to be initiated into a highly intelligent order.

A murder of writers sounds a little menacing but I’m I’m fairly sure that David Abram, Esther Woolfson and Regan Burke, Paul Cree and I are not murderers.

We writers know all too well, that language today has so weighed down and suffocated our vocabulary that words CAN kill. And corvids can kill (as befits hungry omnivores, like the vast majority of us humans). This is how nature has evolved and we ignore it at the peril of our emotional maturity. Birth and death co-exist. Both are facts of life. As Esther Woolfson says, ‘Every bird struggles to survive, to eat, to breed.’

Without delving into the scientific evidence which shows no correlation between the presence of corvids’ and the growth or decline of songbird populations, I’m going to honour this group of ‘passiformes’ or perching birds. Ironically, corvids actually BELONG to the sub-order of the passiformes - the oscines, or ‘the songbirds’!

It’s obvious to me that were writers to belong to any avian order it would be to the corvids. For we - like other oscines - speak. More than that, our craft demands vocal learning. We may like to think we were born writers, but our success is dependent on the school of constant learning and relentless crafting.

We are insatiably curious. In many ways we are mimics of society and we are able to make sounds or marks of clarity, subtlety and calls of anger, frustration, alarm among others. But what makes us more ‘corvid’ than anything else is that we ‘cache’ - we hide or store things. Things we find catch our eyes and occasionally make us feel like thieves.

Although I won’t assume writers have above average intelligence, corvids do.

Corvids have the highest encephalization (brain:body ratio) of any birds, sharing the honour with parrots. They have the ability to think about things not present, including the future.
— Source: Lefebvre, DrFeathered Fact: Emery and Dr Nicky Clayton via Corvus by Esther Woolfson

My murder of writers write about corvids (although not exclusively). I’m sharing links to their tales or books. I am not a true story-teller like them (yet) although heavily pregnant with a triplet of rhyming tales which will live in ‘Pearls Place’. I am more ‘Mother Goose’.

First, let’s meet David Abram - although not in his usual garb. David has already been given honourable mentions and I feel his presence throughout The Grounds of Wild Poplars. But most I feel him as ‘raven’. Because he tells the tale of how we can BE raven. [Becoming Animal, chapter entitled ‘Shapeshifting’]. In his introduction he says, ‘The body is a place where clouds, earthworms, guitars, clucking hens, and clear-cut hillsides all converge, forging alliances, mergers and metamorphoses.’ So go! Go and inhabit the attributes of Raven through David’s mastery of language. There’s just a wisp of a chance you may - as I did - vicariously enjoy what he did, ‘Stillness. Through a tangle of terrors I catch a first sense of the sheer joy that is flight.’

Our next writer is corvid through and through: Esther Woolfson. Corvids are her family and embedded into her life. ‘Corvus: A Life with Birds’ is a compendium of stories of a writer immersed in her subject. With infinite care she invites us into her home. We often find ourselves in her study with Chicken the rook. I hesitate to say ‘crow’ for reasons which would be a spoiler to divulge. Hop to your nearest independent bookstore and order Corvus. You will discover, as the Sunday Times said, ‘Nature writing at its best…’

Regan Burke flew into my window through one of the three blogs I follow (this is a self-imposed limit): Center for Humans and Nature. It slightly bends my own rules as it’s a series of essays - rich, thought-provoking, humbling in their quality. This post is like the best short story - it grabs you by the scruff of the neck and plunges you into a different world demanding some kind of resolution. Along the way it surprises (another reason to admire it) and it made me smile. It illustrates how nature so often asks us to reflect on phrases we occasionally find ourselves farting!

The piece also flew me where I will never get to - a City apartment during Canada’s big freeze, reminding me of the company of corvids. I’m delighted our exchange of e-mails and reading a preview of this post inspired Regan to expand her original piece into this even more captivating short story!

At Wild Poplars, the Black Watch (a pair of jackdaws) wait until feeding time before swinging precariously from the feeder shaking the seeds until they’ve had their fill. Their company is fleeting but we have an understanding. If they’re early they know and seem to delight in watching from enough of a distance to avoid me shooing them away, but close enough to mean I have to keep an eye on them. They know when the rest have gone, they are welcome. And unlike my other friends, they work for their reward, pecking my lumpy manure into something which is slightly more reminiscent of soil.

This post barely scratches the surface and you might be wondering why a corvid isn’t my featured bird of Bird of the Bird Garden. Hmmm, hum…(that’s a clue) because I need the presence of the bird who cannot grace this bird feeder. The one who knows how to fly backwards and is a symbol of tireless joy… This miracle comes to me on the wings of our Featured Artist, Carne Griffiths.

P.S. In its usual serendipitous way, I finish as I close, with an unexpected pair of additions to this group. Writer Louisa Archer aka @hedgeweft who describes the torn emotions of mothering a crow chick - Matches. And Tanya Shadrick @tanyashadrick whose Journal I have just followed by unfollowing another. Tanya (like me) finds signs in the sky, in this post from another friend who has not yet graced Wild Poplars, the heron.

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