Tuesday, 25 December 2007

"The William and Mary of Orange of birding"

... is how Graeme Gibson and Margaret Attwood described themselves on their appointment as joint Honorary Presidents of the Rare Bird Club of BirdLife International.

Ramona Koval, the host of ABC Radio National's Book Show, interviewed them on their love of birds. The audio (about 35 minutes) and transcript are available here. I'm not sure for how long they will be available, so get on to it quickly.

Here's a taster.

Ramona Koval: I am thinking of it. I'm also thinking of another bird that has a bad press which is the vulture and I'm thinking about the poem that you wrote about the vulture. Margaret, would you like to read it?

Margaret Atwood: Yes, I'll say a couple of words about vultures before I read it, just in their defence because of course they're not, as you say... you may not feel cosy about birds but amongst those birds, you probably feel even less cosy towards vultures. There has been a crisis amongst the vultures in India which has caused a crisis of another kind because if the vultures do not eat carrion, if they're not there to eat dead things, of course you're going to get an abattoir type of situation. It was discovered that the cultures were being killed off by a certain kind of antibiotic that was being injected into livestock which the vultures would then eat and it was fatal to them. So you had a sudden die-off.

BirdLife International has now discovered the cause of that and is working with India to get a less fatal antibiotic put to use. So they're making a bit of a comeback. But it's things like this...we do things without having any idea of what the side effect is going to be, and there's a knock-on effect because kill the vultures and you've got another whole problem. That's my little vulture speech and now I'll read the vulture poem. If I were a 19th century poet I would be writing poems about nightingales and skylarks, but not being a 19th century romantic I write poems about vultures.

Hung there in the thermal
whiteout of noon, dark ash
in the chimney's updraft, turning
slowly like a thumb pressed down
on target; indolent Vs; flies, until they drop.

Then they're hyenas, raucous
around the kill, flapping their black
umbrellas, the feathered red-eyed widows
whose pot bodies violate mourning,
the snigger at funerals,
the burp at the wake.

They cluster, like beetles
laying their eggs on carrion,
gluttonous for a space, a little
territory of murder: food
and children.

Frowzy old saint, bald-
headed and musty, scrawny-
necked recluse on your pillar
of blazing air which is not
heaven: what do you make
of death, which you do not
cause, which you eat daily?

I make life, which is a prayer.
I make clean bones.
I make a grey zinc noise
which to me is a song.

Well, heart, out of all this
Carnage, could you do better?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Attwood has a singular genius.

Buone Feste, teacher.
I no longer read much on the www, but always look your corner of it up when I am.

Short story tip from the Grauniad's seasonal offerings:
http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,2232119,00.html

the commenter formerly registered as d*rky

Anonymous said...

Damn! Those pesky birds always sidetrack me when I've got messages to do :-)

I really visited here to say that the pretty good documentary on the Coolbaroo Club (Kulbaroo is Nyoongar for magpie)
http://nitv.org.au/programs/coolbaroo-club/
is getting aired this week over the NITV network.

It's a good flavour of the times after WW 2 in Perth, and should get shown at every school assembly in Australia.

My ma was a founding member and my papa and she met on the dance floor.
Black and white should dance together always.

d*rky - sorry my sig is so cryptic, but you'd not enjoy the attentions of the horde of upset USAliens who have a set against any local usage on the www that doesn't stick to their US conventions.
And I'm not arguing; the www is really just more US colonisation, unna.

Sherryl said...

Attwood is great. Love the ending of that poem. She knows how to do so much more with less!
Have a good break - enjoy all those Lee Child's!

Snail said...

Hi, D*rky (!), Sherryl.

The vulture's reply is beautiful and moving. I am in awe of minds that can create such wonder with words.

Thanks for those links, D. Loved the Fforde short story. (Not sure if I could cope with a whole book, but.)

Will try to track down the doco about the Coolbaroo Club. If Uni doesn't have a copy, I'll request it from the library. It sounds sounds like something we could all do with watching.

Sherryl, I thought I'd catch up on the Lee Childs. One down, three to go (so far).

Anonymous said...

Oh Snail!
I am so glad you heard them.
:D

And so glad that through you others will get to know more of our radio national ... quirks and faults and all.

What an ambassador you are for some of our best work.
Fondest Regards to you from our corner of oz.
jj

Anonymous said...

and fond greetings to d*arky too ... long time no see, but never a long time without thinking of you.
Once upon a time you recommended a web site that posted snippets from lots of different sources. If you remember it, I would love to be able to have it again. I loved the variety of opinions and miss it.
jj
:)

pohanginapete said...

That's a wonderful poem. Thanks for drawing my attention to it — I'd probably never have found it otherwise.

I find vultures fascinating; we don't have them over here in NZ (only the human kind), but saw them in India and parts of Africa. Apparently the "antibiotic" threatening vultures is actually the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug, diclofenac (e.g., voltaren). It's used by vets to treat livestock, but has devastating effects on vultures, causing renal failure. Diclofenac has recently been found on sale in Tanzania; if it's used in even small amounts throughout Africa, the effects on vultures don't bear thinking about. Imagine Africa without vultures...

Snail said...

No, no, I don't want to think about extinction of vultures. That's an ugly picture --- not only because of the loss of those amazing birds but also the mess left if they disappeared.

budak said...

there's comics on awesome vultures too (albeit the New World order): http://birdandmoon.com/birdandmoon/vultures.html

Snail said...

That's a brilliant cartoon!