Slate blue cover with a picture of seedpods and flowers and swallowsFledge, Jonathan Humble

Maytree Press, 2020    £7.00

Winged witness

There is so much to enjoy here! Each poem is an excursion, a vivid pictorial account of the English countryside. Taken together they convey the poet’s journey through life — and the winged creatures that populate the poems are important players.

‘Dandelion Sun’ shows a world in which

The wings of friends unfold to test the air
with thoughts aloft in stretching skies

In ‘And Yet’, the birds are

arrowed shrieks slicing through a wintered condition,
lifting the darkness of a season’s sadness

That things are interconnected, and present in the world in different guises, is a strong feature. So there’s a gruesome and wonderfully observed account of bird as predator in ‘The Safety Of Clouds’, as a wayside grub meets its grisly end:

Meal fixed in a yellow ringed eye,
target acquired, locked on, the beak cared not,
its sudden action initiating a hopeless animated letter S
on the pavement

There are flashes of down-to-earth humour too. In ‘Elegy For A Peevish Bee’, a bee butts itself up against a pane of double glazing to get to the snapdragons in the window box, but cannot ‘cross this hidden veil to the other side’. Unlike the poet who sees beyond to

my mother leathering the window,
complaining of muck and dust and dry weather

Later poems draw on Irish and Norse mythology, and focus on the idea of birds as messengers who are tasked with reporting the thoughts of men to the gods — they don’t necessarily survive this. In ‘This Work Is Done’, a bird is caught in the image: ‘dark rags hanging, strung on wire.’ The poet asks:

Which lore or gods apply?
Would it help to free your feathers,
wake thought and memory in cold skulls
Am I now a familiar to a Norse god,
with spying eyes in new watching brief
Does a messiah hang in this unkindness?

These elegant poems approach their subject with a light touch, but the scope of the work deepens — by the end things seem to be in the balance, and the messengers brought down by what they have witnessed.

Anne Bailey