David Baker is the author and editor of 18 books, including 12 books of poetry. His most recent book is Swift: New and Selected Poems, published by W. W. Norton. Baker teaches at Denison University and he frequently serves on the faculty of the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. He is the Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review.
"Swift" is used with permission by the author.
"Poetry That Bears Witness to a Changing Natural World,” a review of Swift: New and Selected Poems in The New Yorker
Poems and Essays at Virginia Quarterly Review Online
Swift: New and Selected Poems at Amazon.com
David Baker reading at CornellCast
"Just A Memory Now (Instrumental)" by Chad Crouch is licensed under CC
BY NC 4.0 with modifications
Welcome to The Beat, a poetry podcast produced by Knox County Public Library. Today we’ll hear a poem by David Baker, a poet, critic, and longtime Poetry Editor at The Kenyon Review. In an article in The New Yorker, Dan Chiasson praises Baker by saying, “his work evinces the moral courage of keeping still in the landscape: in our era of climate change, poetry’s mandate to measure the rhythms of the year has become a valuable form of witness.” I love the sheer joy in today’s poem, “Swift,” and the awe the speaker displays as he witnesses a flock of birds “swirling” over a post office in small-town Ohio. Here’s the poem “Swift” by David Baker.
Swift into flight, the name as velocity,
a swift is one of two or three hundred
swirling over the post office smokestack.
First they rise come dusk to the high sky,
flying from the ivy walls of the bank
a few at a time, up from graveyard oaks
and back yards, then more, tightening to orbit
in a block-wide whirl above the village.
Now they are a flock. Now we’re holding hands.
We’re talking in whispers to our kind, who
stroll in couples from the ice cream shop
or bike here in small groups to see the birds.
A voice in awe turns inward; as looking
down into a canyon, the self grows small.
The smaller swifts are larger for their singing,
the spatter and high cheeep, the shrill of it.
And their quick bat-like alternating wings.
And the soft pewter sky sets off the black
checkmark bodies of the birds as they skitter
like water toward a drain. Now one veers,
dives, as if wing-shot or worse out of the sky
over the maw of the chimney. Flailing—
but then pulling out, as another dips
and the flock reverses its circling.
They seem like leaves spinning in a storm,
blown wild around us, and we their witnesses.
Witness the way they finish. The first one
simply drops into the flue. Then four,
five, in as many seconds, pulling out of
the swirl, sweep down. So swiftly, we’re alone.
The sky is clear of everything but night.
We are standing, at a loss, within it.Alan May:
That was “Swift” by David Baker, who was kind enough to record this poem for us at his home in Granville, OH. He is the author and editor of 18 books, including 12 books of poetry. His most recent book is Swift: New and Selected Poems, published by W. W. Norton. Baker teaches at Denison University and he frequently serves on the faculty of the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. He is the Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review. You can find David Baker’s book Swift in our online catalog or call us at the Reference Desk at Lawson McGhee Library. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.Various Voices::
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