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Book Title: The Names of Birds|
The author of the book: Daniel Wolff
Edition: Four Way Books
The size of the: 31.21 MB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: April 7th 2015
ISBN 13: 9781935536529
Format files: PDF
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Reader ratings: 5.5
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The last poem (“Black Duck”) concludes with the line: “There’s only the sound of what might be language.” Daniel Wolff made sure this was the book’s last line, of course, and it’s as much about all of poetry as it is about what’s in The Names of Birds.
Wolff understands bird names are themselves a beautiful language, so the poem titles are the book’s first and simplest joy. And then, from the first poem, “Yellow-Crowned Night Heron” on, we hear the sound of the birds’ own language: that yellow-crowned night heron’s call is “a hollow qwok”; later, house sparrows crowded in a hyacinth “gossip in the green space”; a herring gull “wails, wheeling” and “cries at the edge of what works”; a red-winged blackbird announces spring “by announcing itself: a series of clicks, a rising song”; still later, “amidst the mockery/and borrowed song,/the mockingbird speaks with its own/white wing-flick (which only its mate would know?).”
This chatter is confounding. Listening so carefully to that red-winged blackbird at the beginning of spring, Wolff “still can’t decipher the wreck of winter.” Now that the season has changed, he wonders: what’s gone? “And how do we/know? By naming, I guess. By numbering the days./Our version of praise.” Sometimes this mind-chatter mimics the insistent rhythms he hears in the sky: “What heals hurt?/Time? Okay. When?”
These poems are the sound of man communing with nature, man marveling at nature, man trying to understand nature by interpreting it. He sets this mission for himself in that first poem, which isn’t so much about the yellow-crowned night heron as it is about the arrival of night: “Evening doesn’t fall,” Wolff notes. “The light leaves till it’s lead gray,/ and we fill that change with feeling,” he writes, and then proceeds to fill deliberate moments in nature with feeling. This can get intense, as when Wolff considers a common loon, presumably dead, stuck between between tidewater rocks
as if sometime in the storm last night,
the loon had gone under in fast pursuit
and, overwhelmed by what? by depth?
had just kept hunting:
chasing the fury that moves through the quiet
that’s always under the fury above.
It’s a profound metaphor for human behavior — one that, it turns out, is probably wrong:
Wedged, now, at the edge of the sea,
the loon still is what it was.
And the tide keeps asking its mindless question.
Inspiring questions it fails to answer, nature frustrates and disappoints the man who’s trying to commune with it. In “Looking Down From Ground Level” Wolff encounters an eighty-foot white pine, recently toppled, now lying flat. Next to what had been top of the tree he can (he believes) stand “where clouds once caught.” From this vantage, he supposes, “I should be able to see me: tiny, peering up.” It’s the book’s most striking feat of imagination, but one that fails: the tree is flat, he’s standing not in the treetop but on the ground; he can’t see himself at all.
Ultimately, The Names of Birds is man using nature to try (futilely) to understand himself. In the woods where he once saw a barn owl, seeing it again, Wolff asks:
Why would it sit
where I know it will sit
if it weren’t trying to share some secret?
History should have taught me
the answer to that.
I keep asking the same question.
Man keeps asking questions, the tide keeps asking questions, all of them recurring like the seasons. Even if we never learn the answers, to not ask is to no longer be in nature.
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Read information about the authorGrammy-nominated author Daniel Wolff's latest book is "Grown-up Anger: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913." His previous books include "The Names of Birds," "The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back," "How Lincoln Learned to Read,""4th of July/Asbury Park" and "You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke.""
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