Enrique Enriquez

Language of Birds, An Interview With Poet Enrique Enriquez

Language of Birds by Poet Enrique Enriquez

1) What inspired you to write the series of Poems titled Language of Birds?

For the last five years, I have devoted myself to speaking with the birds, as a way of bringing to the present the myth known as The Language of the Birds, a thread that goes as far back as the Old Testament.  These texts are a reflexión of these experiences.

2) Does pollution impact the lives of birds?

Studies have shown that birds with long-term exposure to pollution, has reduced egg production and hatching, lung failure, inflammation, and reduced body size.  What the bird tells us, what we learn from its song, cannot be put into words.

Related read: Bird Facts.

3) Please share your Language of Birds poems with us

Form is desire. Mimicry is carnival. Birdsong is wordplay.

When I told a poet friend of mine that I wanted to talk like a bird, she decreed: “You will sink into an even deeper solitude. We don’t know what birds care about.” Birds care about the same things we care about, things we daily forget.

In the fullest solitude, the bird sings for itself and thus is never alone.

Speak to nothing with the conviction of everything, as if our voice could touch everything that is touched by our gaze. The silence of the eye speaks in the song of the bird.

Listening to the birds around the block I realize that many of them speak in parallel verse, repeating the same phrase over and over, in the manner of old liturgical chants.

For a bird, its own voice is bogged down with the same anxiety of survival we hear in ourselves. For us the voice of a bird, concrete as it is, doesn't lead to a limitation. It passes through us without being delayed by the need to decipher it. It calls for a detachment that promises nothing more than its own literalness. The birds don't need to hear a bird's voice as much as we do.

Birds have good pipes but poor memory. Our own tragedy seems to be the exact opposite. Few of us have a voice that will do justice to what’s worth remembering.

You can say “pass me the salt” in human language, but to say, “I love you,” you better say it like a bird.

Poet Michael McClure insists that one should not say "bird" but "goldfinch" or "swallow". We name the world to absent ourselves from it. There are just a handful of words that actually mean what they name. No matter how convincingly I say “alpiste” or “birdseed”, a bird won’t come unless my hand is full. The first thing I realized when I decided to talk like a bird is that birdsong became an act of making. Language is also an act of making, but even if we were to manifest the impossibility of total silence, we won't come undone.

Nothing comes from nothing. For a bird to be a sign you have to be a nest.

In Italy, a woman I know touched a swallow, just by chance. 

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She put her hand on a balustrade and felt a soft scared tremor underneath.

I sent her my swallow voice.

She played it at her balcony and the swallow replied. So, I, too, touched a swallow.

The Italians have a word for “man who imitates the cant of birds": chioccolatore. It comes from chioccolare: to trill, or to warble. What is it with names, that make you feel exactly as when you are wearing someone else’s shoes?

When you understand that the voice of a bird is a reasonable expectation, you learn the laughter of the madman.

For a thing to have a voice we just have to accept its presence. The dreamlike quality of a bird’s visitation accounts for its reality as a sign. We can’t really paraphrase a bird, but we understand it at a deep level. What the bird writes is the memory of the present moment, so it becomes a hieroglyph for the heightened state it produced and puts us in a place of stupefaction, silence, and laughter.

You can fool the birds, but not the wind.

It is because I have forgotten my future that I speak like a bird.

One of the most remarkable things about talking like a bird is that when you do it on the street, no one notices it. They hear it, of course, but as they don’t find anything unusual about it, they simply accept it as part of the landscape. You can use people’s disposition to overlook what they feel is familiar to them and hide your voice in plain sight. I would do my bird voices while walking behind someone, and no matter how close I get or how loud I talk, they never turn around. They just keep walking.

If my bird voice comes from memory, whose memory is that?

Speak with the awareness that every sound is a crystal. Each trill contains multiple facets of a word. It has taken thousands of years for our voice to come out and its glints last for fractions of a second.

I would like to think that when I speak like a bird there is no distance between the experience of my voice and the material fact of making the sounds. Quite often, by not hitting the sound right, I say something I didn’t mean. This is not like wanting to say “ask” in Chinese (问 = wèn) and saying “kiss’ instead (吻 = wěn), but like wanting to draw a circle and end up drawing an egg.

Right when I was talking like a dove, a friend from Brazil wrote to say that he had discovered a nest of doves on his porch. When I sent him my voice he replied: “My migraine has just dissipated.”

Whenever you talk bird, and a bird responds, you feel yourself pushing a membrane that pushes you back. The point is not to perfectly mimic a mating call —after all, I am married— but to extend my voice into the evocation of a bird’s disposition.

We don’t listen with our ears but with our memory. That's how we recognize the voice of a sparrow in the rubbing metal and wood.

I managed to engage a sparrow long enough for him to consider what I was saying. He did not answer me out loud but instead opened and closed his mouth to the rhythm of my voice, mouthing my words. The sound of an ambulance broke the spell.

The voice of the bird belongs to its interpreter. When we say “I don’t understand” we mean “that is not m(in)e.”

Under the rain, balancing an umbrella and a pile of books, I came across a homeless man that I usually support. I fumbled with my load patting my pockets, knowing that Instead of the dollar bill I tend to keep apart for him, I only had my goldfinch voice. There are moments when you can peek at a whole world through a hole in a saltine cracker. So, I saw myself giving this man my bird voice, and I saw every homeless man in town chirping and warbling. For two seconds I was certain that this way, they would get enough money to fly south during winter.

But then again, I have no right to tell others how to run their business. I snapped out of my vision and, quite embarrassed, confessed to the man that I had nothing to give him.

A bird’s freedom has nothing to do with its wings. Birds don’t seem to be bothered by a need to distinguish what they do from what they are supposed to do.

A sparrow’s voice is like the taste of water.

When you talk like a bird, you tell the other a secret that he only understands if he is paying attention, not in the way we are taught to pay attention in school but in the way a sunflower pays attention.

A woman wanted to learn the language of the birds and I told her to look for words that have the same soul as her name. She told me she didn't know her name. If that were true, she would be a bird.

A walk through the park makes you aware of the fact that the beauty of flowers, in all their delicate intricacy, is there to sustain life. I wonder if birdsong is art, but the birds don’t care. Nightingales have been used and abused in countless poems, and they still sing.

4) What are your thoughts on the latest court verdict in Montana, USA, where young activists won a landmark climate change lawsuit against the state?

Just as the bird creates its territory by singing, we too can reclaim the landscape by speaking up. 

5) How can people reach you?

UNESCO – PIRAEUS and ISLANDS Tells the Story of Climate Change with Impact.

As part of New York Climate Week, I'll be giving a Recital on Birdsong at Neighbor, at 176 9th Ave, Monday, September 18, at 7:00 PM.

Email: EEnriquez@gmail.com

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