Saturday, October 10, 2009

Air: “Cat Bird Singing”

This week’s poem is a piece by one of the best U.S. lyric poets from the latter half of the 20th century. Robert Creeley’s Air: “Cat Bird Singing comes from his collection For Love, which I consider an essential book of U.S. poetry. I’ve been a fan of Mr Creeley’s work—& of this poem specifically—since my days as a undergraduate, lo these many years ago. His poetry is “true” lyricism—it invites the idea of singing, & I’ve always found it significant that he refers to one of the English language best known poetic lyricists, Thomas Campion, in this poem.

Mr Creeley’s poetry is precise & “measured” in the best sense of the word; while he didn’t write in standardized forms or meter, his poems all convey a keenly developed sense of form, & this adds to their song-like quality. In fact, bassist Steve Swallow set some of Creeley’s poem to music on a 1982 album Home (ECM), on which they were sung by a favorite jazz vocalist of mine, Sheila Jordan; more recently, Swallow collaborated directly with Creeley on So There, also from ECM.

You can hear Robert Creeley reading this (& many other poems) on the Pennsound page here. Because there’s a generous selection of poetry on the page, I’ll tell you that Air: “Cat Bird Singing” is #53 under the heading “#53 At San Francisco State University, May 20, 1956”

Hope you enjoy the poem, & have a lovely Saturday.

Air: “Cat Bird Singing”

Cat bird singing
makes music like sounds coming

at night. The trees, goddamn them,
are huge eyes. They

watch, certainly, what
else should they do? My love

is a person of rare refinement,
and when she speaks,

there is another air,
melody—what Campion spoke of

with his
follow they faire sunne unhappie shadow…

Catbird, catbird.
O lady hear me. I have no

voice left.

Robert Creeley


  1. A good one, this. It's in Creeley's For Love, Poems 1950-1960: I picked an old copy up not so long ago in a second hand bookshop. Currently in my bedside book collection.

  2. Hi Dominic:

    Glad you liked it. That's definitely a good bedside book!


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