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The brush of leaves, the sound of birdsong, the flutter of feathers—these are a few features that Bryan Walpert pinpoints with focus and clarity in Native Bird. As an observer of nature, Walpert uses this insight to investigate what it means to be native.
Much of the collection consists of ‘found’ poems, poetry made from other texts. For example, ‘Nearly about birds’ is a poem inspired by lyrical descriptions from nzbirds.com. It is this blurred distinction between fact and fiction that I found the most interesting. Despite the strict language of some of these sources, Walpert’s language assembles these poems in a way that turns the source material into beautiful and striking pieces. He transforms the ordinary into poignant images; in one poem, he describes empty pockets and “how silly they seem now… turned out and flapping and scattering lint to the early evening air like all the falling things you could name if you had to.”
My favourite poems were the ones part of a mini-series titled ‘A beginner’s guide to birding’. With touches of Walpert’s poetic language, these poems turned into more than just the instructional guides they came from. Walpert beautifully explains how binoculars are a useful tool in birding because “magnification is sometimes necessary for true identity”. Even when the facts got out of depth—“You can use angular field to calculate the linear field by multiplying the angular field by 52.5”—Walpert uses the right amount of lyrical language to balance this out. These poems become not only instructional guides on birding, but also tips on experience and how these “moments are slips in your pocket”.
I also felt that ‘Kea: daughter’ was a crucial poem for understanding the collection as a whole. Walpert uses the kea to describe her daughter, since unlike him, “she was born in this country” and therefore more fitting to the native bird. It considers the very meaning of the bird, both in a metaphorical and physical sense. This train of thought leads to musings on the effect of growing up in different places and what’s to come.
I also loved the way Walpert played with language. Included in Native Bird was a paradelle for moving that repeats itself in a way that mimics the repetitive action of packing away. The image of nature is present throughout the collection and here, even amongst the description of old furniture, the birds make their appearance; they “fly yards like flowers”. It is the consistency of these birds that string Native Bird together.
Although the language could be considered too thick at times, I enjoyed Native Bird as a highly compelling read. Each poem came together nicely to form the whole that was the collection; I loved the addition of Walpert’s many found poems, and the way he identified native birds in an attempt to understand New Zealand as a new and different home. It seems that with the appropriate language, even instructions on bird watching can become beautiful and poetic pieces in their own right.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
by Bryan Walpert
Published by Makaro Press (part of the Hoopla series)