The Birdcatcher*

So many “heat bubbles” world-wide this summer. We happen to be in one of them–high temperatures, even at night, and barely any rain in the past three weeks. No rain in the forecast for days ahead. Drought. Temperatures in the 90s. It’s not even as humid here as it usually is in summer. But humid enough. I dislike air conditioning as a rule, but boy am I grateful for it and privileged to have it.

The sunflowers in my garden grew taller than average this year yet are now drooping from high temperatures and lack of water. Young deer show up outside of their usual territories while trying to find forage that isn’t crispy. They (and the birds) gobbled up the wild berries so quickly that I managed to pick only a pint or so of wineberries. The drought hit after blackberry season, though, so we did get a nice harvest of those.

Curled petals of a very dry sunflower.

It’s not just the deer behaving differently because of the weather. I notice that squirrels and some birds have altered their usual patterns as well. This evening, I got a panicked call from a friend who lives in a nearby city–a bird had found its way into her son’s attic room through a poorly-installed window air conditioner, and all the windows up there were stuck shut due to the humidity. The poor bird was fluttering crazily, and she had no idea how to free it. I’m guessing the bird (it appeared to be a juvenile catbird) was seeking shade and shelter, and saw the gap between the wall and the unit as a safe space as the sun began to go down.

I have not had a lot of experience rescuing caught birds, but this is the second time in a week I was summoned to assist a frightened avian. On Monday, one of our summer library assistants asked for help with a fledgling robin that was unable to clear the brick wall of our entry ramp in order to join its parents, who were chirping from a nearby shrub. That task was easier than rescuing an attic-trapped bird, but I succeeded in both cases.

I shall rename myself Papagena!

Meanwhile, we have finally taken steps to remove house sparrow nests from our damaged cedar siding, an eviction over which we have no regrets. The layers of nesting material in former woodpecker holes (which the house sparrows enlarged and populated) make an interesting study in avian biology; they also make a mess. More about the problematic house sparrow at this post. Suffice it to say, there’s a ton of work involved, including lift boom rental, that we must manage under lousy-hot conditions.

Bird-catcher, bird-rescuer, and bird-evictor. Here I am, keeping things in balance.

~

*The Birdcatcher is the title of a wonderful collection of poems by Marie Ponsot. I recommend finding a copy and reveling in her work.

Sonnets & talking about the arts

Poet Kim Bridgford is reading this evening at the West Chester Poetry Center in West Chester PA, but I can’t attend because I am tutoring a student. If you haven’t heard of Bridgford, however, you might want to look up her work. For one thing, she is currently the director of the Poetry Center in West Chester; she’s also an educator, scholar, editor and online publisher or the journal Mezzo Cammin, the major force behind the Women’s Poetry Timeline, and an excellent poet whose sonnets may change your mind about “old-fashioned” forms.

Her new book includes sonnets about classic films. Her last book featured a series of sonnets responding to items in The Guinness Book of World Records.

Cool inspirations and material for a centuries-old poetic form. If you aren’t familiar with Marie Ponsot, she’s another poet who’s masterful at contemporary language and situation while using classic forms.

I’ve been reading Peter de Bolla’s book Art Matters and thinking about art and the arts. His book explores plastic and visual arts (sculpture, painting), music, and literature and tries to posit the argument that there are–or could be–ways to discuss the inexpressible “aha!” the audience feels when encountering a significant work of art. He suggest we are possessed of a cultural “mutism” that keeps us from putting into words what it is that moves us about a work of art.

Instead, he says, art criticism and various statements about poetics and aesthetics clutter up the field of discourse so that the “average” person–the non-scholarly, non-critic viewer or reader–feels voiceless or inadequate to the perceived task of describing why he or she gets an almost physical reaction to art, or to one work but not to another work. Good point, that. It follows the I-don’t-know-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like school of art criticism. More people might enjoy talking about the arts if they felt up to the task.

Perhaps you read sonnets in high school and felt ho-hum about them. Perhaps you think old movies are uninteresting. The idea of reading Bridgford sonnets about Hitchcock might not intrigue you very much. But suppose you read one of them and, much to your surprise, you felt a kind of shiver when you reached the last line. You hadn’t expected the poem to end the way it did. You also understood the poem on the surface, its storyline so to speak, and you “got” something more from it that–you cannot explain.

Mutism. Possibly you experienced it while standing in the mural room of MoMA where Monet’s “Waterlilies” triptych is mounted, or at the foot of “Winged Victory” at the Louvre. Or when you first read Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” or saw an Ansel Adams photo full size, up close. I’ve experienced it many times: Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s “Suite Otis” rendered me speechless when I saw it. I had had some experience talking about visual art and literature; I had little vocabulary for dance. I was, simply, wowed.

De Bolla says what I experienced was a somatic response to art followed by mutism. I haven’t finished his book yet, so I don’t know if he will offer a solution to the problem of how to describe the indescribable. I also am not convinced that the language is necessary. I feel quite satisfied with the frisson.

More about art soon…Steve Tobin’s installation at Grounds for Sculpture is this weekend, and I intend to be there.