Burdlife, Kevin Reid
Tapsalteerie, 2017 £3.00
Birds Behaving Badly
Readers coming to Burdlife for larks ascending or light-winged dryads of the trees are in for a rude awakening. Kevin Reid’s birds are seriously assertive.
Ornithologists tell us birdsong — however beautiful it sounds — is a self-interested activity. It’s designed to attract a mate or guard territory. I doubt Reid’s birds would disagree. That’s certainly what our poet-transcriber hears in their cawings and twitterings.
Their vocabulary may not be large but they’ve an impressive command of Scots vernacular. They’re constantly insulting their fellows. ‘Eejit’, for example, is one of the politer forms of address. And when they spot a ‘juicy wurm’, all hell breaks loose:
Even their first attempts at flying the nest in ‘First Flight’ set off a burst of competitive jostling (‘amfurst amfurst’, ‘itsme itsme itsme’).
Once in a while, though, you get a moment of avian solidarity, such as when one commiserates with a hungover companion — ‘nae luck pair yoo’ (in ‘Av git a hangower’).
And in ‘Watch whir yir gaun’, a more experienced bird warns another — in vain, alas! — about the dangers of that malign human invention, the window. The poem ends with the predictable ‘THUD’, followed by ‘Aw naw’…
From burdlife to burddeath? Let’s hope not. With luck, the unsuspecting ‘burd’ might only be stunned. It would be a shame if one of these straight-talking creatures were silenced before its time. They may not have the melodic gifts of all those Romantic nightingales and skylarks but — when push comes to shove — they’re a’ Jock Tamson’s burds.