A poem for the day – Dave says it must have been a Humming Bird Hawk Moth

It’s the weekend, and I’ve caused enough aggravation. Time to let someone else speak…

I’ve known Moyra Donaldson since the mid/late 90s, and from my first encounter with her work admired the gentleness and under-the-surface steel of her short lyrics. They read and sound low-key, almost casual asides, throwaway observations Far from it: there’s always a bite somewhere. This one, from her most recent collection Miracle Fruit, throws its last line so strongly that you’re tempted to think – where did that come from?

But what works for me is that the sheer disproportion of the punchline throws you back to the image that precedes it, one bird eating another bird that, going back to the title, probably isn’t a bird at all…

Dave says it must have been a Humming Bird Hawk Moth

Home from work, it’s hot; summer of ‘06. Getting out of the
car I see a tiny humming bird hovering at the mouth of a blossom.
I’m watching it drink, watching the blur of its wings, astounded
that I have brought this into my garden when the robin that
lives in the holly tree, flies out and swallows it.
I have witnessed the beginning of the end of the universe.

  • “I have witnessed the beginning of the end of the universe.” .. where did that come from? .. MM

    Perhaps it was a reflection on the demise of the Community Arts Forum

  • sonofstrongbow

    Come on Martin, no “aggravation” in this quarter from your work. I simply raised a point about the ‘arts community’ as represented on Slugger appearing to come down on one side only of the local political schism.

    I have no issue whatsoever with you expressing a personal artistic worldview – and of course there is no reason whatsoever why any ‘issues’ I may have or promote should have any impact on you, or others, saying what you want to.

    You have of course absolutely no need for my permission to post. However having said that I also say: post away! It is interesting that you do so and equally importantly that you react to comments in a thought provoking manner all the while avoiding the petulant foot-stamping and name-calling of other ‘artistes’.

    You’re a better man than me Gunga Din etc

  • Alias

    “It’s the weekend, and I’ve caused enough aggravation.”

    And the problem is…?

    I wonder if the phenomena of the de-politicised poet is unique to Ireland or occurs in other countries where political perspectives are contentious between tribal groups?

    It seems that, post 69, a poet who gave a nationalist perspective in his work would be guaranteed a bad review in a newspaper (Irish and British), whereas those who were duly de-politicised would not.

  • Reader

    Alias: It seems that, post 69, a poet who gave a nationalist perspective in his work would be guaranteed a bad review in a newspaper (Irish and British), whereas those who were duly de-politicised would not.
    Surely that applies to any nationalism, not just Irish nationalism? It would be seen as a sign that the artist has failed to leave behind his baggage, and is therefore tainted.
    Though that implies that the critic thinks there should be something special about an artist besides their creativity. It might be a lot fairer not to put artists on a pedestal at all, and just let them get on with creating stuff. The various UN bodies could take on a few technocrats to take their place.

  • pippakin

    If you stop and think some of the every day things we see can be terrifying. For me the poem captures a momentary horror. I look no further than that…

  • Alias

    Reader, I think there are a couple of reasons why it is particular to Ireland.

    There was a government campaign in Ireland during the 70s and 80s to censor political views that were regarded as supporting Irish nationalism with legislation being designed for the prupose, whereas there was a corresponding agenda to import political views into Ireland from the UK that were regarded as supporting British nationalism, with legislation to allow British broadcasters and media unfettered access to Ireland. So, the problem isn’t nationalism in itself but Irish nationalism.

    If a celebrity or a public figure in the UK expressed views on NI that were not in accordance with the official view they were savaged in the British media for it. It would be interesting to know to what extent this censorship agenda extended to the arts. Media-savvy poets such as Heaney avoided commenting overtly on political issues as did ambitious music groups such as U2.

    In NI, political comment is tolerated if it is supportive of the aims of British nationalism or, failing that, if it positions itself in a politically neutral or ‘pox on both your houses’ observer space. Folks are especially sensitive to any ‘bias’ that they might detect in an artist that isn’t bias in their favour. As an immediate example, the forensic imperative to detect if Mr Mooney is a nationalist or a unionist or a ‘neutralist’ and his own reaction to that.

    For a whole generation of ambitious artists it is as if ‘The Troubles’ never existed and as if the only exist so that ‘neutralist’ “isn’t it just awful” ditties such as Sunday, Bloody Sunday could be warbled amid the acceptble defilement of an Irish flag and not a Union Jack…

  • Pippakin, ‘momentary horror’ is a great phrase: precisely what’s going on in Moyra’s poem. Re-reading it, I think it’s trying to put into words a sense of the possibilities of escalation from a glimpse of momentary horror, as if the incident could be the first in a series. I think thed poem has two interesting antecedents. It harks back to James Wright’s great ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota’, another short lyric whose apparently-unjustifed last line kicks off a reappraisal of what went before. And I can’t help thinking of that other great vision of carnivorous apocalypse, ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…’

    I envy such visionary moments.

    As to the other discussion on this thread, SoS, I should have put a big winking smiley beside ‘aggravation’. It’s been pretty stimulating to engage with you guys in this environment. Without getting into more dissection of the ‘arts sector’ (a phrase I really, really despise) it’s rare for poetry to be discussed outside the rarified world of the poetry magazine or the broadsheet newspaper book section, and even rarer for it to be discussed as if it had something to say to its culture other than take five minutes out and think about beautiful things… So thanks, all.

    On the nationalist/unionist/neutral thing: it’s possible to be ‘none of the above’. Isn’t it?

  • Alias

    That’s a subset of neutralist, and isn’t possible when you live in a sovereign state. Contrary to recent myth, that doesn’t exclude that part of the UK known as NI. That said, the politics of the heart are more suited to poetry…

  • pippakin

    There was an old woman who swallowed a fly is not one of my favourites, even set to music.

    Wrights poem seemed to me to be about regret. I almost answered it with a much older one by William Henry Davies “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

    I’ve enjoyed your posts, I Like it when a book falls open on a page containing a poem I haven’t read for a while. Its almost like reading it for the first time again! I post one or two on my blog in the hope that others feel the same sense of surprise and pleasure (at least its not by me…).