LyricInvestigations

IN THE BUSHES by Mark Fiddes

The jungle bird does not do fireworks.

He sidles along the branch,

ordinary as a poet at a bus stop, overcoated,

cap rafishly angled, a scarf stolen from a rainbow.

He plays skiffle on the bark until he gets to mate

whereupon he sings about it ceaselessly

like it was the first time it ever happened up tree.

”Get a life,” say the sloths and bandicoots.

”We’ve all been there, or thereabouts.”

(from “Other Saints Are Available,” @livecanon, 2021)

Following a lyric can be like following Fred Astaire with a chair and a flight of stairs. The ordinary is transformed in the process of an unpredictable but not obscure and exquisitely disciplined routine.

The routine is the grammar of lyric, which has been explored by poets for millennia. Meter is a big part of this but it will have to wait. What happens depends ideally on what the poet wants the reader to experience in this case. I say ideally because the particularity of the reader has a say in it. The dance takes two willing partners even when one is invisible.

The central event of this poem involves the analogy of the jungle bird and the poet. Analogies are part of the poet’s tool kit. Analogies are lopsided comparisons. The lopsidedness stretches the image almost to the breaking point. The extreme music of lyric comes from this instability.

Fiddes uses lyric structure to produce transformation. Just as Astair makes us believe he’s dancing with a chair, Fiddes follows our familiarity with lyric moves like the image “stolen from a rainbow.” That reveals the intentional consciousness of the poet in the poem AND the poet of this poem. .

Having absorbed that image we are ready for the climax (pun intended). The asymmetry of the analogy between poet and bird tops out in the psychological realism of the argument. “Up tree” is a brilliantly concise final flourish of the development, gesturing with Alastair-like precision, to transcendence.

The poem brings us down to earth— this too being the way lyrics most often conclude— but not without a touch of the equivocity of the finite real. These creatures say what we’d say had we not learned how to enjoy the mind- bending and mind-opening craft of lyric as practiced by the word-choreography of Mark Fiddes.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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