8TH ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 12:: CLARE JONES on ANNA JACKSON
Welcome to the OS’s 8th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 Series! This year, contributors far and wide were gathered by four incredible curators, who are also our 2019 Chapbook Poets — to learn more about this year’s amazing curators and their forthcoming chapbooks, please click here! You can also navigate to the series archive, of over 200 entries, here! This week’s curator is Knar Gavin, author of the forthcoming chapbook, Vela..
“a feather, in place / of a song.”
Animal migration. How on Earth does it work? Even scientists say, “It’s hard to say.”
Poetry migration. How about that? What makes readers and writers of poetry revisit one particular poem year after year? What on Earth is guiding them?
Recently, a poem I have returned to many times is Anna Jackson’s poem, “Kākāpō.” At first the draw was the kākāpō — I love kākāpō — but, over time, something I had not initially recognized grew stronger and stranger beneath the poem’s surface. “Kākāpō,” which appears in Jackson’s collection, The Pastoral Kitchen, has become important to me because of the subtle kinship between the way the birds move and way Jackson’s lines do.
“Kākāpō” is an example and a reminder that the imitation game is one of the oldest games living things know how to play. That we humans don’t yet have an ordinary word in English for the reverse of “anthropomorphism” (“animality” not being much use, and “flowery” even less). Mimicry is hardly a one-sided business, but our language does not often reflect this. In “Kākāpō,” it does, and beautifully.
The poem’s first three couplets start out with a speaker observing a single feather:
In our cabinet, folded
into a piece of paper,
sits a kakapo feather,
and spotted yellow,
out of context.
As the poem carries on, a harmony begins to wrap the poem up in its wings, just as this single feather is wrapped up in a piece of paper.
One element of that harmony is the pacing of the poem. The pace of the poem’s story is measured as it unfolds. Every line seems to step slowly and progress almost gingerly. For me, the poem evokes the unusual flightless walk of the kākāpō; the birds move around the New Zealand bush quite slowly and are given to suddenly freeze in their tracks if they sense danger. The poem’s measured steps also resonate with the many disrupted life-patterns of various endangered New Zealand flora and fauna, whose populations are under enormous (and on a geologic time scale, extremely sudden) pressures.
Another element of the poem’s harmony is the craftsmanship of its soundscape. The sparse world the speaker inhabits in “Kākāpō” is full of beautiful music that plays with repetition and rhythm. It is a poem full of doubles and doubled-up words: green-tipped, heartbeat, bird-rich. Lovely pairs of words and images emerge: paper/feather, filled/calls, survive/alive. The doubling of the couplets beat twice like the unique and percussive “booming call” of the male kākāpō.
Finally, the poem as a whole mediates on a single feather left in a cabinet, a feather “sweet and musty / as a clarinet case.” The interplay between the clarinet and the cabinet, as a rhyming pair and pair of human instruments, is haunting. The interplay also points to how the poem operates as a modern take on the historical idea of “cabinet of curiosities.” A feather must take the place of a song, and a clarinet fills in for a bird, and we are meant to feel the tragedy of that dissonance. As the beautiful book Kākāpō: Recued from the Brink of Extinction illustrates, the effort to make the Earth less of a cabinet of curiosities and more of a place where all life and its natural music can coexist is one we need to make together. “Kākāpō” illustrates that, too.
Animal migration and poetry migration both work in mysterious ways. The ghost of Shakespeare might be really pleased that Earth Day (April 22) and his birthday (April 23) sit side by side on a contemporary calendar. What on Earth will guide you to new and old poems during National Poetry Month? I hope one journey will take you to the special sound and story of Anna Jackson’s “Kākāpō.”
Anna Jackson is a poet and fiction writer. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies, and she has also published several collections of poetry. Jackson received a 1999 Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary and was named the 2001 Waikato University Writer in Residence. Anna Jackson was awarded the prestigious Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in 2015, and in 2016 was selected for the Residency Programme at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in 2017.
Clare Jones holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Master of Philosophy in 18th Century and Romantic Studies from Queens’ College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been recognized with fellowships and honors from the Fulbright Program, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the Poetry Society of America, and has appeared in Poetry, Sweet Mammalian, Flyway, and elsewhere. She has worked as a volunteer with the Kākāpō Recovery Project and the Hihi Recovery Group.
Clare’s podcast website (“Me, My Shelf & I” on Fresh FM)