Caroline Bird was born in Leeds in 1986, grew up in London, and is currently studying English Literature at Oxford University. She has published three collections with Carcanet: Looking Through Letterboxes (2002), Trouble Came To The Turnip (2006) and Watering Can (2009). Watering Can was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and she is the only writer to have been shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize twice – for Trouble Came To The Turnip in 2008, and for Watering Can in 2010.
She has won several other awards and prizes, including the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award (1999 and 2000), the Peterloo Poets Competition for Young Poets (2002, 2003 and 2004), and an Eric Gregory Award in 2002.
Bird leads poetry workshops in schools, and regularly teaches at the Arvon Foundation. She has read her poetry at many venues, including the Royal Festival Hall, London, and at literary festivals in Hay-on-Wye, Cheltenham, Ledbury, Glasgow and Manchester.
Bird is also a playwright, and her work includes two rehearsed readings at the Royal Court and a production for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, as well as writing and performing two films for the BBC Poetry Season in 2009. The BBC also commissioned and broadcast her story, ‘Sucking Eggs’, in 2003. Of her dramatic work, Bird has said: “I write plays because I love drama and, more specifically, I love arguing with myself. I love staging a dialogue between different misguided voices and knowing that the truth is somewhere in between, like pressing the sides of a bubble.”
Bird’s love of drama and dialogue between different voices is exploited to the full in her poems. In ‘Our Infidelity’ (Watering Can), the betrayal committed by the narrator and her lover is so emotionally overpowering that it affects the material world around them: “This infidelity of ours was so steaming hot/ the waitresses were dropping plates. . . We didn’t need to kiss: the sky had already/ started burning, people screaming naked/ in gasoline coats through the Christmas lights.”
Characteristic of Bird’s poems is a strong, often rebellious, narrative voice that guides the reader through the emotional highs and lows of life, dealing with everything from the difficulty of moving from adolescence to adulthood, car-crash relationships and opera. Bird’s tone is typically frank and direct, and does not shy away from boldly expressing feelings or opinions. In ‘Let the People Starve’ (Watering Can) the brilliant obnoxiousness of being in love is given reign:
Let the work, the washing, the bodies pile up,
the radios are tuned to your pulse, every fag you smoke
makes a new sky. I treat my friends like annoying pets,
I stamp on flowerbeds, I shit in doorways
Let the people starve. I am in love.
Bird’s narrators are often observers in an Alice in Wonderland-like world, where the familiar is constantly made strange. Christina Dunhill has described Bird’s poetic universe as one in which “the paraphernalia of everyday life — telephones, toothpaste, letterboxes etc. – [has] gone surreal, gone a bit schizo.” (Poetry London). In ‘Pissed Off Phone Box’ a telephone booth says “I sometimes swing my door/ to lower the boredom, or ring myself/ pretending to be a tourist/ looking for the best phone in town.” Of the surreal elements of her work, Bird has explained “In terms of visual imagery, I find the more I know about reality, the more unreal my imagery becomes.”
Bird delights in word-play – paradox, hyperbole and puns proliferate in her poems, expressing a dark satirical humour. In ‘Wedding Guest’, she pokes fun at the stereotype of writers living to extremes to fuel their craft: “I’m a writer! I lick the curb to taste the whispers/ of the pigeons. I drink pints of ketchup./ I don’t choose partners by their brand of golf shoe.” (‘Wedding Guest’, Watering Can).
At times, this tongue-in-cheek humour is unsettling, and it is used to express the discrepancy between hope and dreary reality. The school reunion of ‘The Golden Kids’ is tainted by the bitter knowledge that their anticipated futures have failed to materialise:
. . .they wore their school jumpers,
they drank the old beer and blackcurrant and talked
about clinical depression as if it were a hip new motorcycle
they’d all invented together. I’ve just bought the latest pillbox,
such delicate workmanship, easy-open catch, a sturdy velvet base.
Steel grey is such a fashionable colour, don’t you think?
(‘The Golden Kids’, Watering Can)
Luke Kennard writes: “Bird never makes you smile inwardly without tying that smile into a knot, and hitting you with a sad, bittersweet truth.” (Poetry London)
Looking Through Letterboxes, Carcanet, Manchester, 2002
Trouble Came To The Turnip, Carcanet, Manchester, 2006
Watering Can, Carcanet, Manchester, 2009
Caroline Bird’s website
Caroline Bird’s publisher, Carcanet
Poetry Trust podcast featuring Caroline Bird