Caged Birds by Stef Portersmith was commissioned for The Living City as part of our exploration of Preston in lockdown. Caged Birds is a collection of poems and a song sung by the Ribble Rousers Choir and Soundskills Songsters.
Portersmith’s says she was inspired by a “desire to make something happen for Ribble Rousers choir during the time we couldn’t meet and practice.”
Portersmith describes how she “was struck by the silence of lockdown that augmented the Spring birdsong and I thought of the choir as birds unable to sing, stuck inside as if in a cage, hence Caged Birds.“
The lyrics for the song, Breathe, were informed by a series of questions Stef Portersmith compiled by asking choir members to give their personal impressions of lockdown and their hopes for the time of emergence.
by Stef Portersmith
(lyrics to the video above)
I can see you through the clean blue air
The bluest sky I’ve seen
I can’t touch you, but I can see you there
Now you are really seen
And I can hear you in this quiet new world
I can’t reach you, but now all songs can be heard
Fear of the very breath of life
Help me breathe, renew
I’ll help you breathe, renew
Help me breathe, breathe
Life so revved up, always on the make
Have we made it better?
This miasma we leave in our wake
Are we free or fettered?
Did we fool ourselves, fill our eyes with mist
Nature’s damped our wheels, and as the haze lifts
Here is the very breath of life
CHORUS X 2
In April the sun’s rays were unimpeded
for 215.8 hours. Parked and grounded
we watched haze and contrails evaporate
a sudden raise of curtain, lift of blanket
and though we couldn’t see each other
we did – suddenly – see each other,
smiles through masks, from three paces,
through all windows, illuminated,
6/6 sight, rows of clean screen faces,
we saw need in our neighbourhood.
Sight and sound of sky, 2020 vision,
vibration of blackbird’s 12 bar blues.
Up your nose a flutter of little light waves,
benign, crystalline like YInMn blue.
At 1022 millibars a blue roof reflecting
infra-red could cool the world down
Benjamin Wegener’s Blue-Colour Works
crushed and sold that sky as powdered cobalt.
Ancients of the east mined lazulite nuggets
of that sky, set them sailing ultramarine.
The Star of Adam and the Siren of Serendip
petrified that sky into their mineral structure.
Surely cerulean showers from that sky is how
fields were once sprinkled with cornflowers.
Moved only by a breeze,
down feathers riffle; don’t
warm the neck that yesterday
throbbed with young song.
Beak prised and broken, eye
glazed like sun behind cloud,
viscera and keratin
compressed into tar.
A quiet spring, cars on drives,
people behind doors. Goats
gamboled in the high street, deer
grazed the verges.
This chick, raised in territory
devoid of cars, fledged
in an old-world hush, its first
flight in a sky so blue
we stared at it from our windows,
trilled its first notes feeling
the fluid ease of resonating
in that whist blue dome.
The approach of midsummer
brought easing of lockdown.
Now bird is merged with road
and we roll right over it.
SPRING WEDDINGS (TREE SEX)
Five milk-white drapes cup the ritual.
Still and standing, they await handfasting –
a ring of staid men in pink hats, a May bride,
styled full-length in a lime green veil,
her carnal scent of blossom juices at brim.
Flesh and Fever flies vie to be celebrants,
to sanctify the union with a chitin quiver,
their hexapod dance teasing out sticky
nectar, dusted with the bursting lust
of loaded grooms losing their heads.
In space, see nuptials in tens upon hundreds,
thousands of sepalled bowers in a sudden
foaming of twig, branch, hedge, tree. In time,
a blush of crimson fruit for a passerine palate,
dibbling beaks seeding future conjugal palaces.
To find out more about the artist, Stef Portersmith, and the inspiration for her project visit her meet the artist page here.
The Living City project is produced by They Eat Culture, & supported by the Community Lottery Fund & Arts Council England.