Birds and Poems

02/28/2011 - 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Meets Mondays, February 28 through April 4, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
(no class meeting on March 14)
and Saturday, April 2, 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. for field trip

Both birding and poetry are great practice in patience and close sensory attention. Trying to spot a warbler flitting along leafy branches is a lot like trying to find the right word, shape, or space for a poem. Some poems are like the Cactus Wren, building a nest among the sharp spines of the cholla; some poems are little balls of energy zipping along like the Broad-Billed Hummingbird; some poems are blown off course during migration and show up where you least expect.

In this class we’ll explore the intersections of the poetic and avian worlds. We’ll dedicate half of our time to reading and discussing poems of and about birds, drawing on the long history of birds in poetry as well as contemporary work, and we’ll spend the rest of our time on poetry-writing exercises and workshopping of student poems. One class will be held in the field on a birding trip. This class is open to poets and birders of all skill levels.


Sample Lesson: Write a Bird-Like Poem

What would it mean to write a poem that is not “about” a bird but is a bird-like poem? How can the form of a poem mirror the movement of flight? What length are the lines of a poem that is like a leaf-gleaning Yellow-rumped Warbler? How about the length of the lines for a stately Sandhill Crane? What is a poem with feathers? How does a poem with hollow bones sound? How colorful a vermillion flycatcher-like poem?

In this exercise, the idea is to refrain from writing “about” a bird, but to somehow make your poem bird-like. You can pick a specific species or a general characteristic of birds to mirror in your poem. There are many ways you can take this. Have fun! How would the flight of a hummingbird look on the page? What tone would a poem have that mirrored the sound of a thousand starlings?

For an example of one way you might take a Bird-Like Poem, go to the Poetry Center’s AVL library online and see Jonathan Skinner’s reading of his “Mockingbird” poem, which he describes as a transcription of the song of a mockingbird. When we share our poems in class, we’ll see what bird-like aspects other readers pick up in your poem, as well.

$150 + $10 materials/field trip fee
Arizona Board of Regents