Birds Beyond Meaning

It’s true that writing about poems is the surest way to deaden them. So I’m hesitate to offer any opinion about Daniel Wolff’s marvelous suite wolffbirdscalled The Names of Birds.

But I persist because the speaker of Wolff’s poems is equally troubled about writing about birds, about rendering them into wordy images, about presuming to understand their behavior and songs, about humanizing them and relating them to our own fragmented lives.

At times, these poems remind me of Wallace Stevens at his most quizzical. But while Stevens posited 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, Wolff can tease out the same tensions, unfolding contradictions and beauty from one fleeting glimpse or the excited trill of one snatch of song as it collides in the mind with the distress calls of a distant siren.

Like the birds themselves, these poems are lyrical, sexy, funny and at times as opaque as a koan, existing beyond the meaning that we might feel compelled to impose upon them.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at:



Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3