Ian Watson – Eisvogel

Watson LE P&W July 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2024

Eisvogel, poems by Ian Watson.


Jogging in July, we pause to cool and take a breather
on a bridge on the tiny winding Wümme.
Look, cries Jürgen, Schnell! Eisvogel!
I hurtle to the parapet, smack knuckle on brick,

and in a shutter click it’s gone:
a multicoloured laser ball with a dagger beak,
an iridescent heartbeat streak –
under the bridge and out the other side.

Why ice? It’s eisan, an old word for gleam;
a shimmer bird in red iron and cobalt –
that tiny flying jewel, that burning day.

Halfway House

Who wouldn’t want to glide like cranes in the fall?
The long flat take-off, the slapped runway splashing;
they rise from their fenland hotel and sail
wide-winged in unison, stately and strong.
Four thousand clicks from Helsinki to Tunis,
two hundred miles a day.

Our German marshes are but a staging post,
where they meet to rest and chatter and argue;
feeding, breeding, gossiping, sleeping.
They dance into love, act out disputes,
shrieking and flapping in the stubble fields.
For a while we feel they belong to us.

We watch entranced at a distance
till the shimmering spectacle takes to the air,
when the time arrives and the journey south
beckons and pulls them out to the flightpath
beyond the marshes and the river mouth
on the age-old routes to their warm sandy winter.

They rise in hundreds and squawk out their blessing:
Au revoir! Good luck! Long life!

Shallow Waters


The oystercatchers
smell lunch on the turn-tide shore:
a school of whitebait.

They shimmer silver
like pennies on the surface.
A cormorant dives.

A coven of gulls,
attracted by the flutter,
swoop and dive, then grab.

Stuka lightning strike,
bursts of thrashing silver fish:
frenzy of tern feed.


On the fine white strand
like blue ink-stroke initials:
shreds of nylon rope.

Rainbows on the sand
that the child pokes with her stick:
just sky earthed in oil.

Exploring for crabs
in the unruffled rock pool,
I descry your face.

Outmanoeuvred by
surf, I snap for breath like those
thrashing silver fish.

© Ian Watson

Ian Watson is originally from Belfast but lives in Bremen, Germany. He is the author of two poetry collections in English, the latest being Granny’s Interpreter (Salmon Poetry 2016); a further collection, Somewhere, Far Away, a Radio, is forthcoming. His recent German-language non-fiction includes Spielfelder: eine Fußballmigration, on football and identity, and Bremen erlesen, a literary and cultural guide to his second-home city in Germany (both with Edition Falkenberg). He also publishes translations of poetry from and into German and English. He has worked regularly for radio and also made the film Cool to be Celtic for German and French television (arte 1999). He is a steering committee member of the Literaturhaus Bremen. Bremen is now a UNESCO City of Literature.

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