'Pheasants' by David Blake is Write Out Loud's Poem of the Week
The new Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘Pheasants’ by David Blake. It was inspired by a time when David worked in a restaurant kitchen in Devon and the owner brought in pheasants that he had shot on his estate as an addition to the restaurant’s Christmas menu. David said: “One week my job was - literally - plucking pheasants. It was the worst job I've done to date, not least as I was already a vegetarian by then.” It is the second time that he has won Poem of the Week.
Can you tell us about the background to this poem?
About five years ago I worked as a kitchen hand in Plymouth and one week my job was - literally - plucking pheasants. It was the worst job I've done to date, not least as I was already a vegetarian by then. The owner of the restaurant used to shoot pheasants on his estate (a nice little area between Plymouth and Dartmoor), load them on a pick-up and cart them into the city as part of the Xmas menu. Later on we visited the estate as part of a staff barbecue. Very gentleman-farmer-ly place. Not somewhere I'd like to holiday regularly, but I've always been interested in class-based sports and activities like this and that's what fuelled the inspiration for the poem basically. Other parts are just creative writing rather than real-life experience (thankfully I've never caught my foot in a poacher's trap).
Would you say that your poetry has a particular style?
I often go in for heavy imagery, wordscapes and quite like to emphasise space rather than words. I think of some of my poems as being images, formulations on paper that can be just as important as the content if you know how to manipulate both content and layout (I'm aware this sounds a trifle pretentious).
When you last won Poem of the Week, just over a year ago, you said you had only just started going to open-mic nights. Do you still go? If so, any particular favourites? How do you feel about performing your poems?
Most definitely. I don't often go as much as I should but I have two regular readings I attend in Bristol and in Bath. 'Pheasants' I actually first performed in Bath a couple of months ago and it went down quite well. I'm aware that quite a few of my poems don't translate that well to a performance setting, so I've branched out into writing more interactive poems, delved a little into humour and expression - always a confidence booster if you've got your audience onside.
Your Write Out Loud profile says that you also write music and lyrics. Do you consider that work equally or more important than your poetry? What do you feel about the relationship between poetry and music?
It's less important to me personally. I've always thought of lyrics as bad poetry that can be compensated for by the music ... but occasionally I've written very poetic lyrics. Poetry and music are of the same genus but at the same time I also view them very differently, I guess maybe because we're not exactly conditioned from a young age to recognise that the two can combine.
What was your reaction to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize for literature?
I was surprised, as I'm sure most others were, upon hearing the news, and I presume for the same reasons. But as a second take I can obviously appreciate this guy has - for over half a century - carved out a place in history that he can call his own. The topics he brought to the table in the 60s have been massively influential and helped sublimate the protest song into mainstream culture in the following decades. For that alone it's easy to argue he deserves a higher platform of recognition than a mere lifetime-music-achievement award or something similar.
by David Blake
Upon being handed
the gun I
choose to recline on wet, springy turf
and then lay down on the
wrinkled blue tarpaulin,
to pepper the air,
blurting out the why and the where
and clasping my sweat
at 26 metres.
The older corners are the best
the low-hanging branches,
the leafy hollows, amalgamated bark, bush
and clumps of stone,
catching the straying boot,
on private land.
The nests arrayed in diamond formation,
enclaves wrought for brigands,
the winter solstice
and my friend
in severe pain,
in the back of a bumping four-by-four,
crying out among the heaps of ring-necked game,
tetanus-shot and coffee-headed;
the snow red through a creeping dusk,
and crazes in the asphalt
which still saw them home,
plucked, dried, stored for deep freeze;
and piercing eyes, the colour that
could still recall above the trees
the freedom of a pastel sky.