Saturday 6 March 2010

Infinite Difference, sampler no. 9: Elisabeth Bletsoe's "Birds from the Sherborne Missal"

Bletsoe's poetics statement is helpful here: "A missal contains the text and often the music to conduct the Christian Mass throughout the year and the one at Sherborne was created c. 1400 for the monks of the Benedictine abbey there. It is unique for its remarkable marginal series of naturalistic birds, most of which are native to the area and given their dialect names. Studying and writing about the birds allowed me to explore my favourite themes. I observed each bird in its real habitat around Sherborne or its outlying villages and then linked it back to the missal by means of religious iconography, imagery relating to books, pigments or methods of illumination and bird mythology, the latter often subverting the original Christian intention. I employed my version of the Japanese haibun as the roughly similar-sized blocks of text looked pleasing to me on the page and the haiku allowed for a brief word-sketch of the bird itself to literally 'illuminate' the whole."

Roddok, Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Becoming secretive & depressed in the later months, before the vigorous reassertion of autumn territory. Stakes & ties. Paths of observance newly laid through contusions of aster, sedum & verbena bonariensis, helmeted with bees; offertories yielding a roman tessera, three pebbles from Chesil Bank & a tennis ball. A smell of burning moxa. Sulphur being ground with mercury to form vermilion; glazed with madder, sealed. Red as a releaser (your fat cherry lips), the impossible fury of it all. Oscillograph of the throat, that bob bob bobbing thing. Boundaries constructed from scribbles of sound. Marginals encompass the crossing at North Road, where fifteen burials "very shallow & without coffins" marked the putative site of Swithun's chapel. Haunter of low places & diggings, befitting associations with early resurrection cults. A bird so hallowed such that, harming it, the offending hand would forever uncontrollably tremble. Bringer of fire from the chthonian levels, that our lives might blaze inches from shadow; burnt feathers colour of bright fame. Covering the bodies of the dead with leaves.

tweezing gray hairs
in the bathroom; outside a robin's
winter song

Elisabeth Bletsoe

The anthology is out now and can be ordered from the publisher, Shearsman Books, and The Book Depository in the UK and from The Book Depository or Small Press Distribution in the US.

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