Winner of the 2020 Washington Prize!
Meg Kearney draws on her acute powers of observation, a lively curiosity and her gift for gorgeous imagery to take us on a journey of personal exploration, discovery, and reconciliation. These surprising poems bring together the parallel but discreet worlds of human beings and birds, which talk to each other across the gulf between them. Constantly engaging, deeply satisfying, with a knowledge of birds and their behavior sufficient to satisfy even the most demanding birder, but never alienating the casual observer, with wit, musicality, and her own unflinching eye, Kearney gives us a page-turner we want never to end, its subject being the work in progress which is life and its abundant mysteries.
—Andrea Carter Brown, Series Editor, author of The Disheveled Bed and Domestic Karma
Reaction to All Morning the Crows
This book goes well beyond a metaphoric treatment of birds and their habits. Instead, their differing characteristics comprise a jumping-off point for a mythology of selfhood—a lens through which to examine and confront a personal history. The catalog of birds illustrates how happenstance and speculation determine who she is. Untranslatable and mysterious as any mythology, a various history of a changeable self accumulates in these inventive, charged, and often ecstatic poems. Meg Kearney’s poems both delight and complicate—at heart a spirit as unknowable and evocative as the birds themselves.
—Cleopatra Mathis, author of After the Body and Book of Dog
“Before I was born I was biggest of the clutch, already a burden / and slow to hatch,” Meg Kearney writes in her long-awaited and remarkable bird book—which is about birds and so much more. Against the backdrop of her parents’ death, the trauma of the Towers, and pervasive self-doubt, a young woman traces her history of flight, offering a narrative of heartbreak spliced with humor and filtered through the raucous assemblages of birds which inhabit her, “singing in the cage my bones make.” If birds provide music (“She just likes to say grackle, a crack-your- / knuckles, hard-candy word”) and spiritual sustenance (“the soul is a sparrow”), they also allow the narrator to negotiate her habitat: “’Bird seed—it’s in your hair,’ / my mother said, reaching for me.” Meg Kearney has crafted a dazzling book of personal transformations, moving and memorable.
—Michael Waters, author of The Dean of Discipline and Caw
Birds have accompanied Meg Kearney throughout her life, though she does not think of herself as a birder. She begins the Preface to All Morning the Crows with a memory of standing “next to my mother, watching blue jays chase off the chickadees, cardinals, and juncos vying for time at the feeder…,” hoping above all for the cardinals to return as her mother especially loved them. She hints, still in the Preface, that this collection of bird poems is not really about birds, but a story she needs to tell—her own story that begins with a different mother, a first mother who gave her up as a baby, evidence of her sin. Birds provide a way into and out of the story, a way to tell and not tell:
It was a crow first taught me
how to pry a thing open—snatch
a tick to leverage a headstone or widen
the hole in a rotten pine’s trunk
to get at the story inside.
It is not a simple story, and since it weaves in and out of bird lore and poems written in the third person where it’s not clear which chapter we’re reading, which mother or daughter is the endangered heroine, it’s difficult to piece together what happened or in what sequence. That’s not the point, as Kearney is not writing a memoir, though I found myself trying to connect the poems into a coherent narrative as the poet may also have done:
I can’t pour this bird seed from a cup
to feeder without seeing my mother
pour a Scotch. I
That’s the second mother, the one who watched blue jays, chickadees, juncos and cardinals with her adopted daughter, and these lines are from a poem about juncos. There are blue jays in the poems, too, eye-catching men given to violence, and generations of dependence on alcohol or drugs. A poem given to chickadees, in the mountains where she is so lonely that “she thinks the chickadee returns her call” and where her own emptiness echoes “with the footsteps of her dead./Her father. Two mothers. Lately, too many/friends.” Back in the city, “the dead are the air we breathe” after the Twin Towers fall, carrying their humans down with them.
It is when the dead are too hard to live with that the poems retreat into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, one of Robert Frost’s homes, where Kearney has her notebooks and her books as company, a black dog at her side. Before the dog grows too old to wander the trails with her, they search together through the woods for a thrush, the bird she dreamed “singing in the cage my bones make.” Here is a poem about letting go, perhaps of the lost song, perhaps of the bitterness in the stories, or the ambition to rival the great poets like Frost himself who have “already given us the thrush.”
The collection ends with the everyday sparrow, a stand-in for the soul according to Saint Bede. Despite her fluttering faith, Kearney hopes that when her story is over and she returns as dust to dust, the sparrows may come to bathe with her in that dirt:
May we fling that fresh earth skyward,
then lift our faces as it rains back down.
A bird fact that Kearney doesn’t include in the collection: chickadees do feel curious about humans. They will light on your hands even when you do not carry seeds to feed them, just to see what you are doing. I like to think the chickadee really was returning the poet’s call, up in those poetry-infused mountains.
—Susanna Lang, Review for RHINO, rhinopoetry.org
Press for All Morning the Crows
- In Conversation with Author/Educator Meg Kearney- Occhi Magazine
- Read the backstory of Meg‘s “Crow” poem
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- An interview with Meg about writing a bird-inspired book
Poems from All Morning the Crows
- “Crow,” The American Journal of Poetry
- “Cormorant,” Verse Daily
- “Starlings,” Baltimore Review
- “Partridge: Paradise Lost,” “Ode to the Parrot,” “Call Me Dr. Frankenstein,” AGNI
Videos from Meg’s Virtual Events
Launch Party celebrating Meg’s poetry collection, All Morning the Crows, Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Featuring: intro by Andrea Carter Brown, Series Editor, The Washington Prize and Meg in conversation with Laure-Anne Bosselaar.
Sponsored by The Word Works
Birch Bark Editing Reading Series with Quintin Collins, Thursday, April 29, 2021
Café Muse with Tara Campbell, Monday, June 7, 2021
Sponsored by The Word Works and Hosted by the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.