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Bird/Ways of Seeing Sequence

by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 06 June 2016
Word Count: 272
Summary: Here are the poems on birds/ways of seeing I mentioned.I've put in 20/20 again just because it really runs on from and connects the other two (I hope).The first one is the weakest I feel so any suggestions would be welcomed. Sorry it's three in one.

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Peregrine (The Wanderer)
She considers which travels
faster, partridge or pheasant, then
visualises the steady pursuit of
pochard or plover
imagines the swirl of feathers
in a headlong slant and
salivates the irresistible struggle of
the death stoop
stretches her talons to clutch
that matching yellow flower;
notices a stray swift, small as a
thumb joint when plucked.
No longer grounded in a coconut drift of gorse,
a whorl of wind trades places with a muffled clap.
Swift (The Focussed)
Flight feathers steer
the sprinter of the skies
off course to unfamiliar
Hollow boned, honed
and prepped for loops,
swirls and horizontal
speed right out of the blocks.
The planet’s fastest athlete
relaxes into his stride, looks
ahead and coasts believing
the race is won.
A few dusky feathers twirl across the field.
One day I noticed I had a peregrine’s eye.
I had to hide it from my other eye with a darkened lens.
My peregrine’s eye could weigh up my
neighbour’s heart as he walked his dog on the far shore.
It took in a tiny swift, sprinting across the Galloway sky,
 a silent sister sitting above it, summoning up the stoop.
My other eye realised and said,
‘who do you think you are, Horus the distant one?’
My peregrine’s eye knew it was as jealous
as the fickle moon when it looks on the sun’s brightness.
My other eye began to bleed.  To get attention.
The blood was an oozy blanket to keep things soft and fuzzy.
Spiteful as ever, it made me move my peregrine’s eye into
a special box marked, ‘use with extreme caution.’

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:20 on 07 June 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane – I’ve already told you how excellent ‘20/20’ is, and now I can say that I think ‘Swift’ is equally good. It gives such a vivid impression of the energy and speed of the swift. Each stanza contributes to this, especially the second. The sound of words, especially vowel sounds, can have a surprising effect: here, a variety of vowel sounds in boned/honed, prepped, loops, swirls, speed, blocks helps convey energy. Each line, each key word, is a little surprise, perhaps like a change of key in music. Needless to say, apart from their sound the words themselves are well-chosen.

I’m not saying the other stanzas are weaker, only that this is the most energetic – as it should be, as it’s about the swift in full flight. The second stanza is just the right place for it.

I also like the way you compare it with an athlete, fast ‘out of the blocks’ – like Usain Bolt – and like him too, coasting along to the finishing line when others are left far behind.

The ‘finishing line’ of course is death. Your last two lines are very well judged. I think you’ve achieved two things. With the single-word line ‘Clap’ you give the reader a bit of a shock, coming after these lyrical lines about the swift; then (if you agree with my interpretation) the last line is quite understated – which suggests something about Nature. We humans are shocked at the sudden death of a beautiful creature, but Nature takes no account of that. In Nature it’s just ‘a few dusky feathers’ flying about. Nature’s ways are what they are. So you have there the emotional human reaction and the rational view of Nature as well.

I’ll post another comment because I have to give the first poem a bit of a think. So far I don’t see anything drastic, that would need a big reworking. I assume the peregrine is contemplating its various potential prey before pursuing a swift which has slowed down at the end of a long flight. Two words I was unsure of:

Surely the peregrine’s attack doesn’t involve much of a struggle? Its prey is snuffed out in an instant and without warning.
that matching yellow flower

Why does the peregrine clutch at a flower?

But I’ll get back to you again.

Cliff Hanger at 10:06 on 08 June 2016  Report this post
Thanks for commenting, James. 

I'm so glad you get the Usain Bolt image. I was completely thinking of him when I wrote Swift. His swagger belies a lot of focus and hard working. As you point out, swagger in nature is a dangerous thing because (to use another pat sporting phrase) take your eye off the ball and you're gone. You're right about 'struggle'. Peregrine started as just a pen portrait of a bird I was watching sitting in a gorse bush so I think I need to consider what it is I'm saying there. 


James Graham at 20:10 on 08 June 2016  Report this post
'Take your eye off the ball and you're gone.' That must be cricket!

I'm now sure that 'Peregrine' needs a little rewording but not a major reworking. By tomorrow I'll have practical suggestions for you, which I hope will help fix it so it will be as good as the other two.


James Graham at 15:38 on 09 June 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane – This is how I think you can fix this poem. If you begin with the gorse as well as having it at the end, you will have a more complete picture. There are other good reasons for introducing the gorse at the start:

1. It will ‘frame’ the poem. It’s often very effective to have an idea or image at the beginning which is then echoed at the end. It’s even better if there’s a difference between the two – as follows.

2. To begin with, the beauty of the gorse can be emphasised. The huge mass of flowers,  the vibrancy of it. Flowers like sunshine or a bush like a little sun on the earth’s surface. Flowers like living gold. (Just one image like that would do.) Then at the end, turn the gorse into something more threatening, in keeping with the peregrine’s decision to attack. The gorse is now more like a fire.

Thus the poem would move from relative peacefulness, through the peregrine’s observations and anticipation of the attack, to a clear impression of violence.

So the poem would go like this:

‘Grounded in…’ (Describe the gorse in a ‘nice’ way – 2 lines at most.)

‘She considers…’ (No change from here to ‘when plucked’ – except try to leave out ‘ that matching yellow flower’.)

Then the last two lines: ‘No longer grounded…’ (Make the gorse fiery.) Last line unchanged. There’s nothing wrong with repeating ‘grounded’ – it’s part of the frame.

The form of the poem should turn out as 2 lines, 3 times 4 lines, 2 lines.

I hope this will be helpful. If you’re unsure of anything, let me know.


Remember - not 'struggle' of the death stoop!


'that matching yellow flower'. Have the peregrine clutch at a gorse twig? But keep the sunshine/fiery colour to the beginning and end.

Cliff Hanger at 08:15 on 10 June 2016  Report this post
Thanks James,

Really helpful. I will give it a think and a re-run. 



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