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?
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.
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.