A crow flew into the tree outside my window.
It was not Ted Hughes’s crow, or Galway’s crow.
Or Frost’s, Pasternak’s, or Lorca’s crow.
Or one of Homer’s crows, stuffed with gore,
after the battle. This was just a crow.
That never fit in anywhere in its life,
or did anything worth mentioning.
It sat there on the branch for a few minutes.
Then picked up and flew beautifully
out of my life.
I first came across this poem sometime in the late 80s. I had devoured Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories (Picador, 1986) and was making busy with everything else of Carver’s I could get my hands on.
‘My Crow’ comes from In a Marine Light (Picador, 1998), Carver’s first full-length collection of poems to be published in Britain, drawing on the US collections Where Water Comes Together with Other Water and Ultramarine.
It halted me in my tracks.
This is not an exaggeration. The book kept me company in the peripatetic life I was leading then, on commutes between student accommodation, school placements and the place I still called ‘home’, where I was born and brought up and where my parents still lived.
The poem, of course, was about none of these things. Poems being what they are, it was also about all of them.
I loved the joke that is not quite stated, the simple and cheeky idea that Homer’s and Ted Hughes’s and Pasternak’s crow somehow have nothing on the crow of the speaker, the one that is sitting in the tree right outside the window of the room where the poem is being written.
Like a model of sane thinking, these inter-textual crows are allowed space to enter the poem, with all their grand and baggy influence, before being quietly shown the door. In this way the poem practises both noticing and acceptance which are at the heart of all engaged and creative thinking.
Margaret Boden calls this kind of thinking ‘merging’, where one space or domain or space is fused or merges with another. These days we might call this a mash-up. Other art forms (think of film, comedy and rap) have been doing it for years.
For all of that, what I most cherish is the poem’s bare-handedness. The lines are plain but awkward to say aloud, which is the point: the crow ‘never fit in anywhere in its life,/or did anything worth mentioning.’ It is a lesson in natural object as adequate symbol, in this case of all things ‘innocent, hapless, forsaken’, to use Theodore Roethke’s phrase. There is no fanfare or flag waving round the back of the poem saying ‘Notice me!’
In uniting writer and reader in the act of noticing, the curious effect of the poem is that it leaves the latter, rather than the speaker, the more noticed.