Feeling bookish

Jo Bell’s a poet I admire. I may have more to say on this subject in future, but this reblog is really about Gilbert White. White’s Natural History of Selborne is one of those magical books whose mundane title conceals wonders. It sits on my shelf alongside Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (and would probably be quite comfortable with Thoreau, if I could stand him). White’s gift was to observe with care, and to make us care when we read his words; his world was quite small, and parochial, but he gave us all of it. Here, in Jo’s poem, she gives me the cockiness of rooks, and makes me regret that I’ve still never heard the nightingale sing. She’s made me want to read old Gilbert again, and that’s all to the good. (Scroll down to go straight to the poem.)

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

This Spring, I will mostly be plugging my own book. Forgive me. If you follow me for more general poetry news, there will still be plenty of that. The stream of ME ME ME announcements will soon dwindle but for now, here’s a short summary of both title and book.

It’s a plain-speaking book but not, I hope, a simple or crude one. By my reckoning a poet should be in the business of windows, not chandeliers. I want to look through a poem, not at it, to see the world more clearly.

My world may be different than yours. Mine probably has more boats in it, for a start. If Kith revisits the themes of my last book Navigation, that’s inevitable. I still live on a narrowboat, making my England both smaller and larger than that of the average bank dweller. My love life still mimics John Arnold’s description of war – “long periods…

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Spring at last, or so the blackbird says

flowering cherry

Over the last few weeks there have been several days when I’ve thought to myself, sun – check; not raining – check; flowers appearing – check; oh, it must finally be spring. Snowdrops have come and gone, daffodils have appeared all over the place and cheered us up with their yellow radiance. There have even been some periods of actual warmth.

But every time I start to think that spring has won the battle against winter, the clouds descend, the temperature drops and we get another blast of it. Two days ago I spent the day off sick from work: curled up on my armchair, clutching a mug of hot lemon drink and a box of paper hankies, wrapped up in a big blanket and shivering. It seemed that every time I glanced out the window, it was snowing again, or sleeting, or snailing, or fleeting – or some other variation on winter precipitation.

Today is different. Okay, it rained a lot during the night, and now it’s grey and cool and drizzly, but there’s a promise of mildness in the air, a new freshness. And when I walked up the hill from the post office this morning everywhere I turned my ears I could hear birdsong.

In my garden it’s not only the usual suspects – chaffinches, tits and blackbirds. When I put my head out the back door I saw that the hedge was crammed full of the little local flock of sparrows, which I’ve hardly seen over the winter. Jenny Wren is back on the fencepost, and there’s a new robin patrolling the lawn (replacing the one my naughty cats ate in February).

Up the hill at the back, an entire army of blackbirds is pulling out the dead, long grass to line their nests, and tits are swooping back and forth in every direction. Even the hooded crows up in the old tree sound a little less mournful now that there’s light in the sky and a sense of warmth behind the clouds.

Out on the roadside there seems to be a nest in every tree, and the battle for territory and mates is hotting up. Bluebell spikes are pushing through (down south I expect they’re already beginning to flower, but here in Bonnie Scotland they are true May denizens) and pussy willows and hazel catkins waft their yellow pollen over everything. Yes, it’s definitely spring. The anti-histamines in my medicine cabinet confirm it, whatever the weather.

And down on the Main Street there’s not a parking space to be had; the cafes are full of damp tourists knocking back Death by Chocolate and giant pieces of gateau, and every house painter on the island is hard at work on one façade or another. We may yet be blessed with another flurry or two of snow, or a run of hard-frost mornings, but the tide has turned. Spring rises, on moontide or storm surge or sun-drenched sea mist, or maybe on a week of sunshine to mark Eastertide. No matter – it comes, regardless, as the blackbirds know. There’s no stopping it now.