23 Jan 2015

A Call to Verse

Black Kites were the inspiration of last year's winning entry (Hero Figaro; flickr)
By Martin Fowlie

Calling all BirdLife poets! There is still time to enter 2014’s RSPB/Rialto Nature Poetry Competition. The deadline is GMT midnight on March 1: so you have six weeks to polish draft poems or versify anew. 

Last year’s winner, Colin Hughes, drew his inspiration from watching Black Kites circling New Delhi, India:  familiar sights across so many major cities in Asia and Africa.

Colin said that he stood at a window, ”watching several hundred of the city's huge population of pariah kites gathering at sundown”, reflecting that it was a day in which ”the papers had reported that more than half the world's population now lives in cities”. After Tokyo, with its staggering 38 million people, Delhi is the world’s second most densely populated metropolis and, with a forecast that 2050 will see two thirds of us living in cities, it seems highly likely that encounters with nature, the fuel of so much poetry, will be increasingly urban.  Colin’s winning poem is reproduced in full below.

In 2013, locations and species that inspired poets to enter the competition ranged widely: from China to New Zealand, from Ireland to Peru; and from cats and rats to condors and eels, iguanas and juniper trees.  All were grist to the mill of people’s verse, with many poets, as competition judge, Ruth Padel, reported, creating lines that were “breathtaking and beautiful but also painful because so many poems, underlined, rightly, what a precarious state nature is in”.

This year’s judge is the celebrated British poet, broadcaster and writer, Simon Armitage, author of more than twenty collections and co-editor, with Tim Dee, of the anthology, The Poetry of Birds.  Simon’s own work draws deeply on nature and landscape; he has recently walked the Cornish coast, a follow up to his “troubadour trek” along the UK’s Pennine Way, paying his way by giving poetry readings en route. This journey was celebrated in his book, Walking Home

Like Ruth (and 2012’s judge, Andrew Motion), Simon will, no doubt, have a great swathe of entries to consider this year, so please do join the fray!  You might find your words being celebrated round the world, just like Colin’s poem.

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Seems all the city’s sly guys pitched up at the park.

A couple of hundred pariahs, idly climbing spirals

Of dense dusk air, twisting their two-finger tails:

A devil crowd, loafing on thermals, presaging dark.

This is no free-flowing flock, no liquid shoal that wheels

As one in-unison wave:  these are scavenger anti-souls

Forming vortices of slo-mo dervishes,

Each spiky silhouette in separate gyration.

Hell-born hoodlums, who thrive on all that perishes.

Some pack out the lifeless branches of a leafless grove:

They lift lapels to check the contents of their pockets,

Correcting brown-coat buttons with a flick of their beak-knives,

Or brush the Delhi dust from their death-black jackets;

Then one by one flap up to join the anarchist claque

That cracks the abnegate sky - that lumbering bomber stack

Of cut-outs, off on a night-raid, stark-hard flags unfurled.

They soar and scorn the din, pharp-parping to damnation,

The busy-ness below, the choke-locked inner ring,

The humans who learned today they’re more than half urban.

No: this couldn’t-care-less congregation would not lift a wing

If you told them tomorrow is doomsday, and they the last left alive.

Forewarned, they’d still flop off to run their lazy rackets,

Go poke through piles of plastic trash in derelict dives,

Then gather to shrug disdain at the end of the day, or world.


By Colin Hughes, 1st Prize winner, 2013