Our second featured writer, Hugh Dunkerley, talks to us about the relationship between his poetry and the 'more than human' world.

What are your experiences of bird hides? Do you frequent them?                                                              Hugh

I really like bird hides. There is something intimate about being in one with other people. Often there is no conversation, just a shared enthusiasm for birds. They are a bit like sheds, but you can smell the weather, feel the air currents, hear the sounds of nature around you. But sometimes they can be a bit strange. The first time my son went in to a bird hide, aged 9, he got the giggles.  I once wrote a poem about a couple caught kissing in a bird hide. It's in my first collection, Hare.

Do you find bird hides welcoming or intimidating spaces?

I find bird hides welcoming. If they are empty, they usually carry some trace of others who have been there before, even if it's just a muddy footprint. If there are others in the hide, there is usually a quiet camaraderie. I've certainly never found one intimidating.

Have you ever used a bird hide in a creative capacity, to write, draw, think or create? If not, would you like to?

I did once run a writing workshop in a hide in Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. It was good venue for writing, though we did get some funny looks from other bird watchers. I find hides quite meditative, which can be a good creative state.

Are there any other manmade structures within nature that you are drawn to or which feature in your writing? (bothies, cabins, caravans, sheds, huts, pillboxes etc)

I have had a long relationship with pillboxes. When I was a child growing up near Bath, my brother and I used to regularly play in old WW2 pillboxes. There was always something slightly sinister about them. To get inside, one had to negotiate narrow steps, then often feel one's way around in semi-darkness. The floors could be inches deep in water, or covered with sheep droppings. Sometimes we would come across rags and old bedding. I still find them fascinating. Last year I was in Brittany and visited a neolithic burial chamber which had a WW2 German bunker built into the top of it. The whole effect was very strange - the neolithic dead just feet below this symbol of Nazi invasion.

How would you describe your relationship with nature? Does the natural world inspire your work?

The natural world really got me started as a poet. After finishing my first degree, I worked in conservation for a year. At the same time I began to write more seriously, usually about some aspect of nature. Ted Hughes's poetry was a huge influence on me at that time, opening up new ways of seeing the natural world. Now I think of nature in a different way. It is still central to my writing, but I see the human and the natural as inextricably linked. This isn't just because of climate change and what we are doing to the 'more than human' world. It's also because I see humans as emerging from nature, not as separate from it. I believe we are much more animal than we sometimes like to admit.kin

Finally, your poem Song for the Song of the Common Starling features as part of the Hide & Seek Project, could you describe the inspiration behind the poem and your process in writing it? 

I have always written poems about birds. I am fascinated by the ways in which they inhabit the air, the land and the sea. There is also something very 'other' about them. In a poem in my first collection I wrote about how magpies seem like little dinosaurs, which of course they are in a way. 'Song for the Song of the Common Starling' was in part inspired by the work of Canadian poet Don McKay. A keen birdwatcher, McKay has written a number of poems entitled 'Song for the Song of...' The title suggests that the poem is not a recreation of the bird's actual song. How could it be? Rather it is a translation of that bird's being into human terms. I tried to do something similar with my poem. Starlings are fascinating birds. In Brighton, where I live, they often gather in the trees in my street in noisy gangs, before heading off to the pier where they come together with hundreds of other birds in huge murmurations. Eventually, they settle to roost on the girders of the pier. No one is quite sure why they gather in such huge flocks, but one suggestion is that it is to confuse predators. In the spring I did see exactly this activity in Dorset. A peregrine flew towards some bushes where starlings were roosting. As it did so, all the starlings took off and gathered in a swirling murmuration.

Hugh Dunkerley grew up in Edinburgh and Bath and now lives in Brighton with his wife and son. His first full collection, Hare, was published in 2010. His latest collection is Kin, which appeared earlier this year. Kin is inspired by the experience of becoming a parent and explores our wider kinship with the more-than-human world. Hugh is also an ecocritic and environmental activist. He teaches at The University of Chichester, where he is Reader in Creative Writing and Contemporary Poetry.

Our first featured writer, Suzannah Evans talks to us about the magic of bird hides and themes within her poetry.

SUZANNAH EVANS 27 copy

What are you experiences of bird hides? Do you frequent them?  

My Dad is very into birdwatching and so I have sat in many bird hides over the years. Some of those experiences have involved waiting for creatures that never materialised  – I remember waiting in one in Scotland for what felt like hours, before we all got grumpy and gave up. However, some of the most exciting things I have seen have been from bird hides – marsh harriers and avocets in Norfolk, and a bittern at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. Last year at Leighton Moss I saw an otter from a bird hide, with my partner and his mum, and that really was something special. It chomped a great big eel right in front of us.

Do you find bird hides welcoming or intimidating spaces?

I like the quiet of a bird hide but I am not a big fan of crowds so busy, cramped ones aren’t great. It’s also great to enter a bird hide and be really surprised by the beautiful view you might get out of the other side – it’s a bit like going into the tardis or some other sort of magic.I think there is something very creative about the atmosphere of alertness you get in a hide where everybody is on the lookout for something. I think that is a mood that writers are in more often than most people.

Have you ever used a bird hide in a creative capacity, to write, draw, think or create? If not, would you like to?

I would definitely like to but I never have. The anticipatory quiet would be good to write in I think. I’d really like to write about that otter but I don’t know what I’d say – apart from my respect for it as a fish-killing machine, despite its cutesyfied identity.

Near Future CoverAre there any other manmade structures within nature that you are drawn to or which feature in your writing? (bothies, cabins, caravans, sheds, huts, pillboxes etc)

I am drawn to bomb shelters and bunkers (unsurprisingly perhaps given that Near Future contains a lot of apocalyptic poems) I have visited two – Drakelow tunnels in Worcestershire and Hack Green in Cheshire which has been renovated and is more like a museum. I’d really like to go in search of some abandoned ROC outposts though, some of which are exactly as they were left when the cold war ended.

How would you describe your relationship with nature? Does the natural world inspire your work?

I see myself (and all humans) as a part of nature rather than something separate from it, and this is something that is becoming very important in my writing. I don’t think the idea that we have to ‘conquer’ nature, or that nature somehow exists for humans to enjoy, has been particularly good for the planet thus far. We take long haul flights to see the best views, we litter the sides of mountains with empty oxygen canisters. I think we should see ourselves as working together with nature to ensure that we have a future together. I like the challenge of trying to write from a non-human viewpoint, too, although using words means this is a bit flawed. Climate change, and animals and landscapes, are all in my writing a lot.

Finally, your poem Swallows features as part of the Hide & Seek Project, could you describe the inspiration behind the poem and your process in writing it? 

Swallows is quite a few years old now (I last edited the Google Doc in 2011, so eight years). I wrote it after reading a section of an illustrated children’s book, which I found in Westgate End bookshop in Wakefield (and didn’t buy, so I read all this in the shop) about how it was once thought that swallows didn’t migrate and spent all winter keeping themselves to themselves in the beds of rivers and lakes. I thought this was a striking image, and idea, and so that’s really where the poem comes from. It also, looking at it now, feels like it could be a comment on those antiquated ideas and what they reveal about people’s attitudes to foreignness, and migration, which depressingly in these times don’t even seem to have changed that much.  

Suzannah Evans is a poet, creative writing teacher and tutor based in Sheffield, and director of Sheaf Poetry Festival. Her Pamphlet Confusion Species was a winner in the 2011 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, and her poetry collection Near Future was published by Nine Arches Press in November 2018. For more details on her work please visit: www.suzannahevans.wordpress.com

bird box2We are bringing together a collection of featured writers, all of whom write around the themes that wetlands inspire. Visit one of our Hide & Seek hides in the Avalon Marshes on the Somerset Levels to pick up your poem from one of our featured writers, award-winning poet Suzannah Evans.