Auditory Camouflage

that cow you just heard is
meaowing in a tree

a stampede of elephants
preens its feathers

you have sighted the liarbird
so named for its tail
which looks like a lyre
and because its call is




drops of water

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Auditory Camouflage”?

“Auditory Camouflage” came about from the dinner-table chatter at our house one time when my son Jeff was about ten (he’s a math professor now). We had been listening to a grackle, a black bird that has a knack for imitating other birds’ songs. The title is an example of “synaesthesia”: one sense interpreted as another. Camouflage is usually of the visual kind, but a mimic bird could hide its presence by pretending to be something else.

Above all, “Auditory Camouflage” is simply playing around with language. The bird’s song may or may not sound much like “crickets / thunder / balalaikas / drops of water” but those words, simply recited as a list, have a poetry in them that is fun to say and to hear. There isn’t much more to this poem than that.

There is, by the way, such a thing as a lyre bird, and it’s voted the favourite “David Attenborough moment” on YouTube.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Auditory Camouflage”?

Ha, ha. Here’s an example of what I described above: letting the sound of the first line suggest what should follow. There is, though, a structural technique in the poem—a doubleness. The speaker (if it’s one speaker) switches back and forth between that “mimetic trance”—letting the language speak through him—and the Attenboroughish, teacherly explaining voice. Probably there are two voices, let’s say, the father and son talking playfully at the dinner table. The father, I suppose, would be the teacherly one.

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