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About the Poet Julia Bird's poetry explores modern life with both precise observation and cinematic sweep. Her debut collection, Hannah and the Monk, is brimming with tall tales and urban myths, and a heady mixture of high and pop culture - poems "where a Big Mac meal deserves the same consideration as a lapsang souchong cream tea" (London Magazine). Like Elizabeth Bishop before her, she revels in the surrealism of the everyday: from the bold opening statement of 'Article of Faith' "that every breath you or I or anybody takes / contains a single molecule of air / expired with Caesar's dying words", to the imaginative menagerie of creations vividly described in 'Five Years Trying to Win the Flower Show Vegetable Animal Class', both of which can be heard in this Archive recording. Her poetic voice is equally varied: an inventive combination of contemporary idiom and musical lyricism that "keeps just the right tension", as John Greening commented in the TLS, "between forward momentum and significant pause".

Born in the market town of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, Julia Bird studied English at Reading University and now lives and works in London. Some of the poems in this eclectic reading muse on pastoral themes: a white horse "sprayed in coupe silver / on the plate grass frontage of an office block", or Hannah and the Monk's title poem, where the words of a legendary barmaid are set against description of an eleventh-century monk and birdman "in his angel jackdaw outfit". Most, however, are concerned with the business and bustle of city life: bars, taxis, jukeboxes, theatres, flower stalls and the local multiplex. But in Bird's hands, this everyday subject matter is far from ordinary: a swarm of bees invade a cinema, an insomniac wakes like a fallen feather, roll-ups become Rizla origami.

Beyond the visual fireworks, many of these poems also display an edgy intelligence at work. The cerebral and touchingly elegiac 'Your Grandfather Would Have Wanted You to Have This', for example, muses on the "boy / with his minute jeroboam" aboard a model ship inside a bottle, while 'Dedication' makes a succinct case against linguistic imprecision. With its lively patter and suburban settings, however, Bird's remains "the language of supermarket tradegies, of the intense emotions behind the tiny instants of daily life" (New Statesman).

Listening to Julia Bird read gives a real sense of the energy and deft music of her poetry. The tone is often upbeat, reflecting the celebratory nature of much of her work, but not without a certain gravitas when the subject matter demands it. As Sarah Crown has stated of her work on the page: "her poems charm; her passion for language is palpable, her lines heaped with gorgeous words, selected for sheen and texture". The same can be said of Bird's accomplished and dynamic reading of her poems.

Julia Bird's recording was made on 8th May 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.
Which books contain this poem?
  • Hannah and the Monk
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