At our last Writer’s Group we took one of Bernadette Mayer’s prompts. Pick a phrase at random and let your mind play freely around it until a few ideas come up. Seize on one and begin to write. I took the anonymous poem ‘Sumer is icumin in’ and played around with representing bird song by using phonetic spelling which I hope is onamatopoeic!


Apologies to Anonymous (mid 13th century)

Sumer is icumen in sing cuccu

cuccu summer is icumen sing

sing soprano nightin-gal nu-ipp

nu-ipp nu-ipp tweeeeeeeeee pi-oo!

Jug-jug-jug choc-choc zeeeeeee!

Summer is icumen in sing sing

cuccu cu-cucco cuccu cu-cucco!




I recognised you from your song
long before I saw you in the apple tree.
Each day a cycle of clicks, twangs, bell-notes,
and chuckles. No mate flew to your trembling
throat. On the sixth day I saw you flit from branch
to branch in the shadow of leaves, then you were
gone – but your endless song brought me back
to praise you again and again.

Alchemist from Africa! Your gold
is quick-silvery song – your name –
our way of transmutation –
of speaking in tongues.





Note: Nightingale: Obviously ‘nightsinger’ but Gala also from Old Norse meaning song, merriment, yell, of air. In my poem I’ve alluded to the musicality of the nightingale’s song and the evolution of language.