Caught by the River

The Word for Wood: a poem by Will Burns

Will Burns | 30th March 2019

All winter I have pursued the flat voice
of my reading. Simple words
have charged themselves against me,
or filled themselves up while I was looking elsewhere.
There is a double sense that things are just
wrong. Or wrongly labelled.
I cannot, for instance, figure out
how the light has thrown my shadow
upside down on the wall
across the river as I walk beneath the bridge.

The fertility symbols of other, older cultures
harass me through the cold wood.
The sounds of jackdaws going berserk
(though the sound is not their name…).
I might as well come clean—
all this is to impress somebody else
though they have long given up interest.
First I read they had left the conversation,
then I watched them leave the house,
finally I heard they left town.

Sometimes this place is barely an eco-system,
and I am just another walker
in the landscape. A golfer who has got lost
and is wearing the wrong jacket.
Of course there is a section in darkness.
Let’s call it the late-middle.
Your dogs have wandered off the path,
followed their innate memories of the pack
into the wood. The howls are maddening.


‘The Word For Wood’ forms part of a new series of poetry to be released by Will throughout the year, resulting from a major commission from ‘The People’s Forest’ – a year-long programme of work taking place as part of the Mayor’s first London Borough of Culture in Waltham Forest. Curated by friends of the river Kirsteen McNish and Luke Turner, the year will celebrate the borough’s unique relationship to Epping Forest and its importance as an urban woodland. More info available here.

You can catch Will and musician Hannah Peel performing songs from their collaborative album Chalk Hill Blue around the country in the coming weeks. Dates/tickets here.