Friday, January 26, 2018

I Wish I'd Written This

Dark Bird

What do you want with me today, dark bird?
Why are you flying low, beneath that branch?
I know your shadow: you were long since gone,
My killdeer, tough-winged swallow, mourning dove,

Death plays its flute with all your bones, dark bird,
You brood within my nest of breath, dark bird,
Your razor claw is in my eye, dark bird,
Sweet finches are in blossom here, dark bird,

My father’s dying now, dark bird, you know, 
He feels your shadow now, dark bird, you know,
His bones are hollow now, dark bird, you know,
He’s turned to feathers now, dark bird, you know,

Take to another land, dark bird, fly now,
Go snap sweet sunflower souls, dark bird, fly now,
A thousand deaths await you there, dark bird,
Fly fast dark bird fly fast fly past dark bird.

– Kevin Hart
from Morning Knowledge, University of Notre Dame Press, © 2011.

In Australia we like to think of Kevin Hart as an Australian poet, though he was born in England and didn't come here until he was 12, where he did the rest of his growing up in Brisbane, Queensland. He is usually referred to by critics, reviewers etc. as a British-Australian poet. He also has strong connections with America (though obviously is not to be confused with a US comedian of the same name).

He was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Monash University, Melbourne from 1991 to 2002, when he left for the United States to become Professor of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Notre Dame until 2007. He then took up his present position as the Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Christian Studies at the University of Virginia. 

Since his move to America his poetry, not surprisingly, often contains references to that environment – such as the mention, above, of the killdeer and mourning dove, birds not found in Australia. I suppose we must now view him as an international poet.

In an interview following the publication of Morning Knowledge, he is asked:

You are considered an Australian poet, and yet you were born in London, lived there until you were 11, and have now lived in the US for several years. How has this international perspective informed your work and in what way do you consider your poetry Australian?

He replies:
I live inside my poems, like a pip in a ripe pear, taking little notice of what goes on in the world of poetry. I read poems all the time, though I don’t do much to ‘keep up’ with American or British poetry. I hear myself as Australian, as someone who comes after Ken Slessor, Judith Wright, Alec Hope, Frank Webb, and David Campbell …
He is equally distinguished as a philosopher, theologian and literary critic, but it's as a poet that I know him. I can't claim any real acquaintance, though we sometimes ran across each other in our Melbourne days. I mean that I know him through his work. He's a beautiful poet – as I exclaimed in delight when a friend recently gave me this book; and as you can judge for yourself by this poem.

Harold Bloom, the eminent American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, is a great admirer of Hart's poetry, calling him, on the cover of this book, "The most outstanding Australian poet of his generation". With all due respect, I think I might be better acquainted with Australian poets than the Professor, and I believe that is excessive praise. I wouldn't presume to give anyone the guernsey, but I do think there are other contenders. However, Hart is certainly very good indeed, and has won numerous prestigious awards for his poetry over the years. (From what little I know of him, he seems to be a nice person too, and not big-headed as someone so greatly admired might easily have become.)

You can find out more about his career at Wikipedia and in this YouTube special.

The book this poem comes from, though it also includes love poems, nature poems and others, is largely concerned with his father's dying. (So the book's title is a play on the word "mourning".) These poems are deeply moving.

I like this particular one for its mystery – which nevertheless becomes all too comprehensible by the end of the poem. I love the culmination, and the way he makes that last, unpunctuated line move fast, as he begs the bird to do.

Mystical and religious themes might be expected of a theologian. It's worth noting that he is also known for intensely erotic and sensual poetry. The back cover blurb of this book refers to his "unique interlacing of the spiritual and the sensuous."

You can find this and his other poetry books at Amazon, including his next volume, Barefoot, which is due to be released on 28 February and is available now for pre-order.

I'd like to show you what he looks like, but I can't find a photo that is clearly free of copyright; and although I can post poems here "for purposes of study and review", I don't believe the same applies to photos. However, you can see his pleasant face if you follow the links (above) to the interview and/or YouTube.

There is a photo of him as a young man with this article on Poetry International Web, as well as a clickable list of several lovely poems that I'm sure you'll enjoy reading.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. How gentle, deeply internalizing ghazal-like in 4s, not 2s! I love the hollow bones, the flute. I love the surprise and truth of this poem.

  2. "Death plays its flute with all your bones, dark bird." How very lovely. Thank you for this, Rosemary. A very beautiful mourning poem.

  3. Ah. Yes. I can see why you like it so much. Marvelous. Thank you, dear Rosemary!

  4. This poem is brilliantly constructed - moving from somewhat emotive to poignant ... from somewhat nuanced to impactful. Fantastic writing. A wonderful share, Rosemary.

  5. I love the images of killdeer, mourning dove and sunflower soul in the poem giving a shade of darkness and light as it were. Thanks for the share Rosemary.

  6. A fine poem and a clear and measured appraisal of the poet, Rosemary. Thanks once again for contributing to my poetic education.


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