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What I thought of The Air Year

May 29, 2021

Caroline Bird’s The Air Year is a lovely book.

It’s her fourth collection of poems. The only collection of hers I’d previously dipped into was read standing up beside the poetry section in Foyles at Waterloo station in the months between the first and second lockdowns. I zoomed through three of four poems, liked them, then put it back on the shelf and bought something else, (Ted Hughes’ Crow, if I recall correctly, which was half magnificent, half a clunky mess).

Somewhere on the train home, (possibly changing at Clapham Junction), I realised I regretted ditching the Bird book. In January, on a shopping spree to bag all the books I hadn’t received for Christmas, (I did very nicely but there’s always another book to buy!) I casually dropped The Air Year into my shopping cart and, the following day, the paperback casually dropped through my letter box.

The Air Year is as good as I hoped it would be. It’s exuberant, thought-provoking, moving, fun. The writing is deft, lively, witty. I can’t recall a duff poem in the whole collection. This is from the first poem, Mid-air:

… If kisses were scored by composers
they’d place the breath on the upbeat. Oh
God. Music preceded by mid-air,
when the baton lifts…

This is from a poem called Speechless:

… but tonight all the words left
the house in their thinnest summer
jackets, despite the December cold, they strutted
out with barely a stitch on …

I always enjoy reading about writing, those times when the author takes a step back and thinks about the nature of what we do as authors. We create strange little marks on paper that utilise a weird and arbitrary code that builds from letters to words to sentences to paragraphs, drafting in odd little scratches to signify where one thought ends and the next begins. As a system, it’s bonkers. How did we get here, these vast assumptions and collective decisions that have been layered up over the years to represent, recognise and interpret patterns of light and sound? It’s astonishing, yet we rely on it for practically everything we do in life and we take it for granted. Now and again, an author will address the concept of communicating through words, and that adds an extra layer of significance to the symbols that are laid out before us.

Anyway, returning to the matter in hand, the title The Air Year refers to the first year of a relationship or marriage, where the couple hasn’t reached the landmark of the paper anniversary. That sense that the relationship is going somewhere, but it hasn’t got the years under its belt to demonstrate longevity or seriousness. I don’t know if the Air Year is an existing concept or a bit of fun dreamed up by Ms Bird and her partner. I’m not too worried, either way. It’s a nice concept, and I hadn’t come across it before, so I’ll always associate it with this collection.

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