23 July 2020
Emma member Greg Spiro (1966)'s poem—Swannet—was recently shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Lockdown Poetry Prize, which asked for poetic personal responses to the lockdown in no more than 19 lines. Here, he kindly shares his successful poem with us, as well as explaining the inspiration behind it.
It was a sad March day when London Wildlife Trust announced the temporary closure of Woodberry Wetlands. The path was deemed too narrow for social distancing, and its popular Coal Café also had to close its doors. In 2016, Sir David Attenborough had opened the old reservoir, closed for 200 years, as a Wetlands Centre between Finsbury Park & Stoke Newington. Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes are pursuing London’s largest regeneration project, building flats alongside an urban wildlife corridor. Yes, this is gentrification on a massive scale, yet we have a diverse community and an enviable experience of a natural world instead of more traffic and shops. Look at a map and you’ll see our watery doorsteps: two vast reservoirs, a sailing lake to the West and a haven for waterfowl in a reedy environment to the east.
We had recently relocated to a ground–floor flat overlooking the Wetlands Reserve. Our disappointment at closure was mitigated by the path that borders the narrow River New, just metres away from the reservoir. We could walk our dog and join the community of swan, coot, moorhen, duck & geese watchers for whom the breeding season this year has aroused intense interest, perhaps as consolation for having our own wings clipped for lockdown.
Wildlife has largely thrived and the daily activity of water birds creating and feeding their young has been informative and emotional. These creatures are extraordinarily diligent in attending to their families. It has helped us to suspend our own anxieties, providing a living experience of functioning nature in an open–air classroom for parents, grandparents, and their curious children. Of course, there have been moments when seven cygnets become six, and only nine of twelve ducklings can be counted ‘today’: a salutary reminder that nature favours safety in numbers, and comes with harsh realities. Happily, the Wetlands reopened on 15 July following a community fundraiser.
All this has been the inspiration for my poem Swannet:
Throned on last years nest, eggs descended,
Her neck charmed by the reeds to coil
Among them while her cob forages a few feet away,
Refurbishment the task from which they do not stray.
We onlookers on the pilgrim-punctuated path
Cast peas, potato peels and too much bread.
Clicking like well-intentioned paparazzi
Marshalled by an eight year old, “Two metres please.”
Her sibling pleads indignantly, “Why can’t I play football on the grass!”
Brushed by sweating runners as if speed defies effect
We shuffle nervously to adjust our line.
Suddenly, she’s fending off a rat attack, wings raised,
A gasp till eggs all counted and regained,
Their living has become our life-sustaining aim.
©Greg Spiro, London, June 2020Back to All Blog Posts