by Jane Poulton
a five oʹclock south-east breeze sweeps north shore
cooling the front to twenty one degrees
uncurling strands of cirrus pass
and wave crests break in glassy foam
as the wandering crowds swarm
on the sands beyond the pier and winter gardens
a bird breaks his silence pew pew pew he calls to a man
in a voice like liquid air distilled talk with me
the man replies in broken breaths
twenty notes in twenty seconds is all the bird can spare
before returning to his flock to change his coat
from powder black to shining black
glossed violet-blue and green
and tonight the man will brag about his matchless talent
flirting over oysters with a tower ballroom dancing queen
looking back I wonder if
the calling bird saw the goldwings glow at dusk
or the evening star break the west-south-west horizon
or the waning crescent moon waxing in the mirror ball
or if he flinched as the switch was flicked at nine
and the town was set alight or if he heard the cheers
or guessed that many childhood years had passed
waiting for dark nights such as this
when the promenade would pulse with paintpot lights
and we could ride wide-eyed on spangled trams rattling
through the gaudy razzle-dazzle
This beautiful poem, Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010, is one of the 67 poems in Watch the Birdie, an anthology published by Beautiful Dragons. Each poem is dedicated to one of the birds on the RSPB’s Red List of the UK’s most endangered species.
Where to get the Book: All profits from Watch the Birdie will go to the RSPB. Copies can be purchased directly from Beautiful Dragons: https://beautifuldragons.net/price-list
Here the poet of Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010, Jane Poulton, explains the making of her poem:
My work on the poem began with wide-ranging research that revealed serendipitous coincidences that would determine its form and content.
One of the main wintering grounds of the Common Scoter (Melanitta Nigra) is Shell Flat, a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool’s North Shore. Shell Flat was once the proposed site for a large wind farm development by Cirrus Energy. The project was cancelled in 2008, partly due to concerns about its impact on the Common Scoter population.
I found a short recording of the bird, made at North Shore at 5pm on 3rd September 2010—which also happened to be the date of the annual switch-on of the Blackpool Illuminations at 9pm that evening. Prior to the switch-on, the crowds had been treated to an additional light-show spectacle—a parade of Honda Gold Wing motorcycles, decorated in fairy lights, driving slowly in convoy along the promenade.
With further research, I was able to establish the weather and sea conditions at the time of the recording, and which stars and planets would have been present in the northern sky.
The poem contains official technical descriptors about the bird, the sea and the weather, which I enjoyed for their slight awkwardness and chose to let stand as ‘found’ words and phrases. The poem is divided into two parts. The first is about the bird, the recording of its call, the recorder of it, the prevailing weather and sea conditions, and the pre-switch-on atmosphere of the town. The second part begins with a personal speculation about the bird, leading to a recollection of annual childhood visits to see The Lights, for which my anticipation and delight never waned.
A footnote for those who don’t know it. Some people ‘get’ Blackpool and others just don’t. It’s a traditional seaside holiday resort on the north-west coast of England; colourful, loud, brazen—and famous for its annual Illuminations. Strings of coloured lights and illuminated, animated tableaux run along The Prom (the coast road) for 8km, from Starr Gate in the south to Bispham in the north. Much speculation and excitement surround the ‘switch-on’ and the matter of who will push the button. Once lit, the Illuminations shine brightly each night between dusk and late evening from September to November. Since 19th September 1879, when 8 arc lamps lit up the promenade with “artificial sunshine”, ‘The Lights’ have become a much-loved, major tourist attraction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yceBTuCqBos
Biog of Jane Poulton
As a child, I loved words and drawing. I eventually chose to study Textiles, but never stopped ‘playing’ with words. I have earned my living through visual art and design, and only began to write seriously after moving from Manchester to North Yorkshire. Here, the scope of my writing has expanded and I have become braver with words. The sea and the landscape, the dark skies and weather patterns—the enormous wonder of it all and our place in the universe—are irresistible influencers.