James Bruce May on writing “On Herons’ Wings”

Recently we posted about a poem dedicated to and inspired by Iain, written by author, James Bruce May.

We asked James to tell the story behind the poem and he kindly did.



On Herons’ Wings (for Iain Sinclair)

James Bruce May – HARK Magazine, Issue 2, summer 2014


Dusk in a disused church, Highbury and Islington way, good few years ago. Plastic chairs, red wine in plastic cups, beer in tins. I sat with a hushed gathering listening to a poet read, the turning of his pages crisp in the chill dusty air. A siren interrupts, close then distant; the poet pauses, lets it fade. He smiles at the blue interlude, looking about us with a glint in his eye. ‘Perfect ambience for London,’ he says. ‘Takes me back to the squats of the Seventies.’ I think of looking back, of knowing London better.

I was there to hear Emily Critchley, experimental poet and my Creative Writing teacher, forerunner, friend. Emily championed the avant-garde in her Write London classes. We’d read London Orbital, thought about psychogeography, thought about drifting, about graffiti, about sand beneath stones, faces behind estates, territories, migratory paths of commuters, the transient tides of trend. We’d been encouraged to get out there, to have a look, be open to influence, to write all it down.

Suburban excursions, everyday discoveries, passing people, passing puddles, the detachment of sunsets from high-rise blocks, the beautiful brickwork of railway arches. I tried to write, but where to begin? Then that rainy day in Pimlico, giving up, going to a friend’s across the river, tired from wandering around, my journal damp and empty. I stood on the bridge and watched a heron trace the Thames alone, carrying everything I’d seen on its outstretched wings, away.

In the days that followed, I tried to piece together images from those walks into a poem. I tried to be true to the experience, convey something of the bewilderment I’d felt. Later, when I wrote to literary magazines, the work was met with rejection, time and again. I almost let that heron fly, but I recalled the disused church, the poet under the rafters. He’d walked so much further, innovative with every step, a beacon for new writers like me. How could I give up with such a vanguard to follow?

(James Bruce May read Creative Writing at Greenwich University and Goldsmiths College in London)

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




6 + seventeen =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.