Harbour light. He is the business,
sole entry in the daily competition,
making an optimist’s breakfast, a right mess
of, a clean breast of, a vision
of plucked courage going down, and up
we come, buoyant. He bobs in self-belief,
looks for the ladder, the heavy return trip.
Brightnesses teem, school in the water beneath
the wharf: life is in its element
regardless, things being what they are,
not longing and flap in a feathered suit.
O birdman, birdman, you keep on falling harder,
keep lifting up your head; let it tug,
that sense you’re on the verge of something big.

Photo by Robert Cross

John Dennison was born in Sydney in 1978. His first collection of poems, Otherwise (Carcanet/Auckland University Press) was published in 2015. The book was long-listed for the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards, and short-listed for the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for First Full Collection. Dennison is also the author of Seamus Heaney and the Adequacy of Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2015). In 2016 he was awarded the Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary by Creative New Zealand. He lives with his family in Wellington, where he is a university chaplain.

Dennison comments: ‘A flight of serious whimsy, this poem. I got musing on the Birdman wharf-jumping competitions, and the not-quite biographical persona took off from there. It’s the first in a sequence of seven sonnets which follow the birdman through his fall and rise.Poem source details>

Poem source details >


John’s Auckland University Press author page
Interview with Paula Green on Poetry Shelf
Interview with Jennifer Williams for the Scottish Poetry Library podcast
John’s poem ‘Psalm’ featured as The Guardian’s ‘Poem of the week’
John’s poems on the Poet Laureate's blog