Wednesday, 4 July 2007


One thing I forgot to add to the Farley on Clare post last week. When talking about the differences between Clare and Keats, he pointed out that Clare's nightingale was recognisably real, not least because he attempted to accurately convey the bird's song in words.
Now, that's a very difficult thing to do, and I suppose it's pretty subjective as to whether a poet succeeds. Comparing field guides, there are sometimes quite startling differences between how they transcribe even a fairly short, familiar birdsong, so it's a very problematic area.
But anyway, a few days before the reading, I'd been flicking through the channels late at night and came across a programme called Why Birds Sing, based on this book by David Rothenburg. Within a couple of minutes, Rothenburg was interviewing Farley, briefly, about birdsong in poetry, and specifically in John Clare's poetry. It so happens that I have a copy of the book (it was a review copy for a magazine I used to work for), so I've just started reading it. I'm not sure whether Rothenburg is inspired or a crackpot, but it's really quite intriguing.


Ben Wilkinson said...

There was a show on BBC4 last night on this very topic, Matt, and if you didn't see it I'd highly recommend it as being right up your street. It was called 'Why Birds Sing', and featured many scientists, musicians and artists, including Paul Farley talking about Clare's interest in accurately capturing the sounds of birds within poetry and its rhythmical phonetics. There's a link to it on the BBC website here:

Matt Merritt said...

Thanks for that, Ben. I think that must have been the programme I caught a couple of weeks back. I only saw a bit of it, though, the bit with Paul farley fortunately enough, so I'll have a look at the link, and if it's been on BBC4, it'll probably get repeated on BBC2 fairly soon.