Jul/Aug 2021  •   Reviews & Interviews

The Bold News of Bird Calls

Review by Ed Werstein

The Bold News of Bird Calls.
Edward Morin.
Kelsay Books. 2021. 102 pp.
ISBN 978-1952326707.

Edward Morin's new collection of poems, The Bold News of Bird Calls (Kelsay Books, 2021), like all good poetry, is not what it seems at first. It's about birds, but much more than birds. It is about the poet, but more than him. It is about all of us; about America; about the world we inhabit.

I was familiar with Morin's earlier work, especially Labor Day at Walden Pond, and knew him to be adept at analogy and metaphor. Blue Jays go cruising by, "carefree as sharks/ sinister as Dutch Elm disease." February is "a sallow miser." And icicles are "stilettos of ice, as many/ as stabbed Caesar."

Morin is also adept at linking the natural world to humanity's often disruptive and counterproductive effects on our own environment. The poem "Mighty Phragmites" is a good example.

Phragmites, I learned, are a common reed, a perennial, aggressive wetland grass that outcompetes native plants and displaces native animals. He names some of those displaced: yellowthroats, and waterfowl. And, "...Self-respecting muskrats won't dig/ a den among those impacted roots." Later he wonders why they can't be harvested for profit, turned into ethanol or even musical reeds. And in "Bolts in the Blue," the poet goes after the invasive junk in our own environment.

"Today junk clogs my basement, email in-box,
and attic. The corners of my study groan
under stacks of stuffed manila folders,
dead relatives' pictures, prospectuses
unread journals."

Later in that poem are what are my favorite lines in the book. A not-so-subtle criticism of America's bravado and presumed exceptionalism.

"The odd screws, nuts, and bolts I've been saving
won't fix new machines' modular, closed units
which simply get replaced, once they're broken.
It's hard to know who made what anymore.
Proud Americans keep trying to force
our nut onto some other country's bolt.
How long, and how many ways must we
keep trying to make mismatched pieces fit?"

Indeed, how long?

The book contains four sections, each titled with an avian species and an attribute the author ascribes to it. It wasn't until I read the first poem in the last section that I appreciated the arc these attributes bring to the book: noise (Jays), melody (Wrens), endurance (Robins), and passage (Swans). "India Dreams," which leads off this section, is an ekphrastic work based on a composite photograph created by the artist Nina Hauser:

"The white-haired man revealed in profile
against barren yellow sand wears all white—
a dhoti draping to his bare feet...

Hands clasped, head bowed in contemplation,
the elder stands alone, except for a flock
of swans flying past in the blue-black sky..."

The poem leaves no doubt this section is leading us to an ending. And indeed several poems here address finality and loss. There is a beautiful remembrance of his late sister, as well as a couple of poems of memories of his wife's deceased mother. The book concludes with "Season Finale," an ode to white anemones:

" ...We're here for the
swan song of summer. Enjoy the day
as anemones are enjoying theirs."

The Bold News of Bird Calls is news we all could use these days.


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