Grief is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter is a very clever and engaging book. If you have two or three hours to spare I can recommend it. The subject matter is potentially painful, but the way the book changes points of view from the dad, to his two sons to the crow, representing grief, is very well done. There is pain and humour and a sense of love within the whole family. I think that it is a book that is worth re-reading too, as there are plenty of moments worth savouring, particularly as grief is something I have had to address as life as ticked on.
The author has felt a need to acknowledge the debt to Ted Hughes for the crow character idea, which I understand. I don’t know about you, but it would be nice to read a book that doesn’t have to cross reference other writers and other books. Just tell the perfectly good story as best you can. No need to get all literary on your readers.
As an aside, there are words that I see in poems, for this book is part poetry, part prose (prose poems) that make me wince. If I see another poem that uses the phrase, “a lick of…” I may throw it out of the window, unless the licking is so ordinary, or extra-ordinary that it merits the use thereof. There are an awful lot of bones these days in poetry too, as well as throats and lots of tasteof… phrases.
I had some interesting comments on a poem I wrote recently that included the phrase “I caught a flash of frightened girlhood in your brown eyes”. Several of the other writers wanted me to jazz up the brown eyes. Well, I didn’t because they were very beautiful brown eyes and they were beautiful for their distinctive brown colour. Simplicity is poetic too, isn’t it? There was enough in that line already and I did want to distract the reader with ornamentation.
So, today has been a quiet day. Warm enough to have the balcony door open for most of it. Quiet enough to hear the blackbirds calling up the dusk as afternoon wore on.
Of course, as luck would have it, the day I decide to rest from writing about the local wildlife and environment, when I am out on an evening cycle ride in rapidly-failing light, I spot a herd of red deer. They are happily rooting around in a harrowed field. They have dared to amble right up to the edge of the local market town. They stand in the last field before the parish sports field.
The antlers of the dominant male are obvious, even in the heavy shadows stretching from trees lining the far side of the field. There is also a smaller male in the group whose immature antlers are just visible. The rest of the herd contains at least three adult hinds.
As is their way, the deer gather in the centre of clearings and open spaces for safety. Such a position allows them to see, hear and smell what is approaching and gives them plenty of options for a safe exit. Aware of me stopping to watch from the roadside hedge, several of the deer look up and the large male moves nervously around the herd, before they set off in a higgledy line towards the darkening wood. One of the younger does was grazing by the top edge of the field before I arrived, but she silently and quickly re-joins the herd as soon as the other animals become twitchy.
The adult stag leads the unhurried retreat, although I sense that they are on a knife-edge, ready to run for cover at the slightest excuse. The dryness of the ground is noticeable from the dust that these nine big beasts kick up as they dissolve into the gloaming.
The sunset reveals the strength of the west wind. Long thin fingers of pink cloud extend high across the darkening blue sky.
The sun disappears, but from beyond the skyline, sends a single red beam powering straight up. A trick of the light; a crimson spotlight backlighting an emptying stage.
Following the arc of the heavens, not far behind the Sun bleeding over the horizon, Venus. The stark brilliance of Venus. The sky still too light for other stars. No moon. Just the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Evening Star for now, but like a passionate lover, soon to return as the Morning Star to greet me at dawn.
In awe of what lies beyond our atmosphere, I turn up Purdy Street. A bat flickers from somewhere over my shoulder and twists a helix in its flight chasing midges across the lane and over the red tiled roof of a flint cottage.
I meet no-one on my walk.
Warm lights illuminate several of the cottages, but many are cold, empty shells. Holiday homes, second homes, retirement homes, investment homes, unfinished farm building conversions. The cluster of active family homes is found in the close of social housing on the right of the lane. Here children’s bicycles, a colourful football, a red and yellow Wendy House, litter the small gardens and collect evening dew.
My news of seeing the bat, when I return, provokes a dark joke, “I hope you weren’t infected by it.”