Her book is available at Finishing Line Press and from Luanne Castle’s Bookstore.
Author Guest Post:
When I was a little girl and we would visit my paternal grandmother in Chicago, I would sit by her parakeet’s cage, mesmerized by the little bird so close at hand and unable to fly away from me. Over the years, Grandma must have had several parakeets, one at a time, but they were all named Dickie. When my grandmother moved into a nursing home, she was not allowed to bring her parakeet with her, so we took in the bird. Although I tried to coax it to eat, within a week it passed away, pining for my grandmother.
My association with birds, though, is not just personal. Birdsong has been a metaphor for the voice of the poet for centuries. Scottish poet Don Paterson argues that “birds provide a natural metaphor for the song all poets aspire to. We envy them their ease of expression, as their song provides a bridge into the mysteries of a world the animal in us fondly half-remembers.”*
My favorite poem is Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” a long rhythmic exploration of a young poet’s burgeoning voice as inspired by the singing of a mockingbird. The adult poet reminisces about his poetic awakening as a child when he heard the song of a special bird. He believes that he and the bird have an understanding of life and death that many do not.
Shelley meditated on a skylark; Keats on a nightingale. Whitman on the mockingbird. But are birds still important to poetry and poets?
In the Rooted and Winged poem, “Noah and the Middle School Marching Band,” I mention the “famous poet [who] chastised me / for putting birds in poems.” I was in a workshop led by Richard Siken at Arizona State University’s writer’s conference years ago. He forbade us from putting birds in our poems, insisting that birds have been overused in poetry.
Isn’t it ironic that one of Richard Siken’s poems shared on poets.org is “The Language of Birds”? I guess he couldn’t stay away from birds either. But I didn’t know about that Siken poem until after I had written “Noah and the Middle School Marching Band.
Siken’s pronouncement seemed arbitrary to me. After all, if birds are an important part of my life, why can’t I write about them? There aren’t many new subjects explored in poetry—the key is to do something fresh with them. In “Noah and the Middle School Marching Band,” I decided that I wouldn’t listen to Siken.
But you know what? I’m alone
with my paper and who will care
if I lure them in with my baton
-like pen, parading them into place
two by two like Noah and the
middle school marching band.
In addition to their song, birds, along with bats and insects, are unique in the animal kingdom in that they are winged. For the majority of birds, that means that they can fly. The wings of birds and of angels inspire me as I find myself wanting to soar above it all, although I actually have a serious fear of heights. Poetry allows me to go places that are not available to me in “real life.”
But sometimes even birds have limits.
My poem, “Without Flight,” from Rooted and Winged, describes an experience that I had soon after the start of COVID when my husband discovered a red-tailed hawk heart-breakingly earthbound in our yard. The hawk sat underneath the hanging plant on our deck. A female dove was raising two babies in that plant so my husband had to water it very carefully because if he didn’t water it at all, the plant would die and the nest wouldn’t have the camouflage that the mother intended. He called to me when he saw the hawk.
My heart thumped when I thought that the hawk was resting after eating one of the babies. We came to realize that the hawk had not eaten a baby bird and was, in fact, grounded. We put out a shallow pan of water and called Liberty Wildlife, a wonderful wildlife rescue organization. We were told to wait overnight in case the bird was just winded.
In the past, I had taken many quail babies to them when they were abandoned by their mothers. Liberty Wildlife doesn’t have the volunteer staff to come pick up all the small wildlife like quail and songbirds that people find in need of help.
The next morning the hawk had moved to a different area of the deck, but still could not fly, so I called Liberty Wildlife again. They said they would send out a volunteer because we would not be able to catch a hawk ourselves. A woman, experienced with raptors, came out to capture the bird, but our deck hangs over a decent sized wash, and somehow the bird managed to lead her on a merry chase through the wash. Even without use of its wings, the bird was determined not to be caught.
Eventually, the volunteer was able to trap the bird with the help of my husband. She told us that the hawk belonged to the magnificent species of red-tailed hawks. Later, I called to check on the hawk and was told that Liberty Wildlife does not let the public know the condition of the animals they bring in, but they did let me know our hawk was a female. It was tragic seeing her like that, and I appreciated Liberty Wildlife so much. They give advice when I call about our wildlife, and they accept any wild animal brought to them. When they take in an animal I bring them, I always give them a small donation as a thank you. That’s why when I wanted to create a fundraiser for Rooted and Winged I didn’t even have to think about what charitable organization I wanted to benefit. Here is a link to Liberty Wildlife. They often post fascinating videos on social media.
What a great guest post Luanne! I really enjoyed reading it especially the story about the red-tailed hawk that landed in your yard. I’m glad you were able to help her. Organizations such as Liberty Wildlife are so important. Over the years we have called the wildlife rescue in town to come and get birds that have broken a wing and ended up in our yard as well as a baby squirrel who actually followed my son home one summer while he was out riding his bike. This happened right after hurricane Sandy so we figured she was displaced from her mom due to the storm.
I think birds are important in poetry, they are symbolic of freedom and hope. Your post also reminded me of one of my favorite poems, Hope is The Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson.
About the poet:
Luanne Castle’s new poetry collection is Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line Press). Kin Types (Finishing Line Press), a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her first collection of poetry, Doll God (Aldrich), won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Poetry. Luanne’s Pushcart and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared in Copper Nickel, American Journal of Poetry, Pleiades, Tipton Poetry Review, River Teeth, TAB, Verse Daily, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Saranac Review, Grist, and other journals.
Special thanks to Poetic Book Tours for making this possible.
Blog Tour Schedule:
Sept. 15: Review Tales by Jeyran Main (interview)
Sept. 20: The Bookish Elf (interview)
Sept. 28: the bookworm (guest post)
Oct. 4: Author Anthony Avina’s Blog (interview)
Oct. 11: The Book Connection (interview)
Oct. 19: CelticLady’s Reviews (guest post)
Oct. 25: The Soapy Violinist (guest post)
Follow the blog tour with the hashtag #rootedandwinged @writersitetweet #LuanneCastle