Conversations with Birds: The Metaphysics of Bird and Human Communication (Paperback)
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An exploration of communicating with birds and the lessons they can teach us
• Discusses specific birdtalk techniques and offers insights into many species
• Looks at the long-standing tradition of “avitherapy” throughout history and in literature and the arts
• Explains how song-talk with birds restores peace, calms anxiety, and enhances health
For decades Alan Powers has studied bird vocalizations, developing the remarkable ability to imitate birds’ songs and get them to respond and even change tunes. Through his years of study, he has discovered that birds can teach us important lessons about the world and about ourselves. As Powers explains, by communing cross-species we reach out to the timeless interconnected web of all life past and present--what Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno called in Latin the Uni-versus, the “Whole turned into One.”
Sharing his journey to learn birdtalk and his profound observations about the poetic, spiritual, and healing influences of birdsong, Powers explores the ancient language of birds and the depth of meaning birds convey. He explains how bird speech sounds like song to us, but birdtalk is urgent and nuanced, whether about predators or the weather. He details how he began learning birdtalk, listening to one bird each summer, learning their many vocalizations and variations. Discussing specific techniques, he shares insights into the birdtalk of many species, including the complex and intelligent speech of Crows, the emotional depths of Loons, the mimicry of Blue Jays, and the beautiful song of the Wood Thrush.
Exploring the intertwined metaphysics of bird and human languages, Powers looks at the long-standing tradition of “avitherapy” throughout history, literature, and the arts. He shares insights into birds from Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, reveals how birds appear in love songs throughout the world, and examines how famous writers such as Keats, Catullus, St. Francis of Assisi, and the French historian Jules Michelet found that talking to birds improved their state of mind. He also explores how song-talk with birds restores peace, calms anxiety, and enhances health.
About the Author
Alan Powers earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of Minnesota in 1976, with post-doctoral studies at Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Cornell, the Folger Library, Breadloaf, Villa Vergilliana (Italy), and the American Academy, Rome. He is professor emeritus of English at Bristol Community College, where he was chairman of the English department from 1988 to 1992. The author of several books, including The Worlds of Giordano Bruno, he lives in Westport, Massachusetts.
“The strength of Alan Powers’s own connection to the world of the natural is never in doubt, and the wild birds he sees and hears inspire him not only as a writer but also as a critic and a musician. His discussions of poetic and dramatic texts by Keats, Shakespeare, and especially Dickinson are fresh and enlightening. What the essays, anecdotes, musical citations, and literary musings all share is the conviction that ‘birdtalk’--the habit of conscious observation and reflection on the connection between the human and natural worlds--can save us from the frenzies of life in the age of technology. There is no sentiment, no pathos in the lesson. Powers does not force it on us but rather offers it here for us to take to heart if we choose, but I cannot imagine the reader of this heterodox and delightful book who turns from it unmoved.”
— Rick Wright, author of Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America
“Conversations with Birds is a wonderful book filled with great insight into the nature of birdsong and our own birdlike inclinations. Many bird books seem too dry and scientific, but the musician and poet come out strong in Alan Powers and speak vividly and in a way that appeals to the artistic type. It is obvious that Powers is a poet and a lover of poetry. I really enjoyed the chapter on literary birds. I read this book like a devotional-- mostly reading it in the morning with coffee while watching and listening to the birds at the feeders in my backyard. Thank you for a joyful and inspiring book! I’m going to promote this book among all the other bird-loving rockers and poets I know.”
— Jerry Oliver, singer-songwriter, indie rocker, and creator of the Birdwatcher Experiment