Reading T.S. Eliot to a Bird

Friday Poetry: David Chorlton: Bird on a Wire and Shatter the Bell ...THE BOOK: R
eading T. S. Eliot to a Bird.


THE AUTHOR: David Chorlton.

THE EDITOR: Jared Duran.

THE PUBLISHER: Hoot n Waddle, based in Phoenix and with 2018 as its first year in action.

SUMMARY: The poems contain largely references to birds and other wildlife from moths to jaguars, as well as weather. There are reflections on change and the threats to natural systems. The title poem promises more humor than is generally present, but it works with the premise that birds and animals cannot anticipate the way our/their world changes as a result of actions made now.

THE BACK STORY: Most of the poems are from 2014 to 2016, a part of whatever occupied my writing mind at the time. They were picked out for their companionship to each other in addressing the era of climate change. A few earlier poems are included, as they relate to the themes present here. The uneasy relationship between humans and the rest of living systems is the major common issue of our time. I don’t set out to write a “book” as much as notice the way subjects of individual poems reflect on each other.

WHY THIS TITLE?: When I had raised my first rescued starling, I did try to amuse him by reading. As the book I used has rough paper, he was able to walk on open pages! From an unserious observation, I reflected on the greater concerns for any bird or animal.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? They should read it for the poetry, not for didactic reasons. There may be something here that awakens interest in watching and caring about animals in general.


“There is language so beautiful, so ‘plain-speech’ beautiful, it will touch everyone. In ‘Rainforest Time’, David writes about “the leaves that want to grow here/ from the fleshy to the frayed ones/ and the ones that narrow/ to a point on which/ a drop of moisture hangs/ like a minute ready to fall’. I could give you many examples, beginning with the first poem and ending with the last. . . . Not once did I turn a page and frustratingly think “where’s the end of this darned poem?” I just read, turning pages as necessary, until the poem was done. I’m not talking about a gazillion pages, just enough so that the poem said what it needed to say. And it was perfect. — Tobi Alfier

“In ‘A Black Witch Suite,’ the black witch moth assumes mythic proportions, a sign whose presence transcends time’ — ‘In the Aztec twilight / many souls turned into / moths. To this day / they have endured. / Whenever an empire burns, / flakes of the ash / float through the centuries / on the breath of immortals.’ . . . ‘While Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird’ confirms that the waste land is indeed upon us, these poems are studded with moments of quiet, immortal beauty. A flower, the night-blooming cereus, has the last word—’they break open for a night / in which perfume overpowers / the form, the promise / takes the place / of the promised land.’ In the tradition of great nature poets like W. S. Merwin, Chorlton uses his mastery of language to help deepen our relationship to the natural world—just when we need it most. — Cynthia Anderson

“These poems raise semaphores of praise and warning. Their message: implicit. Their beauty: extraordinary. Using image and voice Chorlton infuses these pages with truths that we absorb through our skin as we read and in so doing he has created a book of real importance.” — Joan Colby.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Born in Austria in 1948, David Chorlton grew up in Manchester, close to rain and the northern English industrial zone. In his early 20s he went to live in Vienna and stayed for seven years before moving to Phoenix with his wife, Roberta, in 1978. In Arizona he has grown ever more fascinated by the desert and its wildlife. Much of his poetry has come to reflect his growing concern for the natural world. In 2008, he won the Ronald Wardall Award from Rain Mountain Press for his chapbook The Lost River, and in 2009 the Slipstream Chapbook Competition for From the Age of Miracles. Other poetry collections include A Normal Day Amazes Us (Kings Estate Press), The Porous Desert (FutureCycle Press) and Waiting for the Quetzal (March Street Press). The Devil’s Sonata (FutureCycle Press) appeared in 2012, and in 2014 the same press published David Chorlton: Selected Poems. He is represented in Fever Dreams (an anthology of Arizona poets from U. of Arizona Press), New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press), and has a poem in BIRDS, an anthology from the British Museum. His A Field Guide to Fire was part of the Fires of Change exhibition, a collaboration of artists and scientists addressing the role of fire in forest management in the age of climate change. He translated poems by the Austrian Christine Lavant, which appear as Shatter the Bell in my Ear from The Bitter Oleander Press.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I used to think of “nature poetry” as something intended to comfort and reassure us, but that impression came from long-gone school days. The strains we humans continue to put on the natural world make writing about nature into a much more tense affair. As much as we might wish art could repair what greed and politics have damaged, it has limited powers. For all that, I believe that poetry is better for being relevant to greater concerns and want to spend my creative time dealing with what I feel to be important.


The Future

This is the bellowing, whimpering

world with stripes and dark spots

that appear in the snow

when it sparkles and crunches

beneath a firm paw. This is the world

whose wingspan is wide,

where a wolf chills the dark

and light is a drop on an ocelot’s eye.

It has tufts on its ears, a ruff

and a fin, and a dangerous glow

in a dart frog’s skin. This is

the chattering, whispering world

with canyons and caves,

snow around its edges

and fire in its deepest parts.

From saber-toothed centuries on

through jungles of steam, down rivers

that crested and soaked

into memory, by high tide and low,

wildfire and drought, its bright

feathers shone and the sea turtle’s shell

bore the weight of time

through distance and days

to the mysterious night

when she pulls herself ashore

to lay the future’s eggs in sand.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Changing Hands Tempe 6428 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85283

Changing Hands Phoenix 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013


CONTACT THE AUTHOR: My web site is:

There is information about books there, and I can be contacted (for sales too) at

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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