Birds, Beasts & Flowers

This is what I’m mostly working on now. … Birds, Beasts & Flowers is a long-term multi-media collaboration with Scottish artist Doug Robertson (with contributions to come from other artists in due course), circling around D.H. Lawrence’s 1923 poetry collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers (or the more exclamatory Birds, Beasts & Flowers! as on Lawrence’s own design for the original hardback). Below you can see examples of Doug’s early work in progress: please click on an image to scroll through the selection. There is much more to come!

D.H. Lawrence’s poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers was first published by Martin Secker Ltd on 9 October 1923, printed by The Riverside Press in Edinburgh. These poems, written between 1920 and 1923, include some of Lawrence's most compelling reflections on the vibrant 'otherness' of the non-human world. Lawrence started work on the poems in this collection during a stay in San Gervasio near Florence in September 1920. He continued working on individual poems in Taormina (Sicily), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia before completing the book in New Mexico in February 1923. Many of his most famous and oft-anthologised poems like ‘Bats’, ‘Snake’ and ‘Mosquito’ come from this ground-breaking collection. 

Over the course of this long-running interdisciplinary project artist Doug Robertson and poet Isobel Dixon are responding in various ways to the impetus of Lawrence’s work, and to each other’s. Their own Birds Beasts & Flowers project will be a joint and several contemplation, an interweaving ‘conversation’ with the themes of travel, encounters with nature, our identity, mortality, sexuality and otherness. There are elements of response, renewal and rebuttal to Lawrence’s work in their approach. All of this is set in sharp relief by the immediate and growing challenges of our climate peril. 

D.H. Lawrence is one of our greatest nature writers, yet his nature writing is often overshadowed by other controversies. David Herbert Lawrence was, and is, a controversial writer - he still shocks, exasperates and challenges. This new Birds, Beasts & Flowers journey aims to bring fresh focus in particular to Lawrence’s passion and genius as an early eco-writer. Lawrence was a great admirer of another brilliant nature writing poet-novelist, Thomas Hardy, and this influence shows in his work. Birds, Beasts & Flowers will also weave in echoes from other nature-loving poets and artists, like Ted Hughes, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Katherine Mansfield (who was a friend of Lawrence’s).

Doug’s work for this new 21st Century Birds, Beasts & Flowers includes illustrations, sculptures, assemblages, wood carvings, a flicker book and more. Other prize-winning artists will be involved in the final project. The American composer Stephen Montague will compose a short sequence of new musical works to accompany the exhibition and performance. 

The proposed exhibition and series of performances will take place around the country, including D.H. Lawrence’s birthplace, Nottingham: also on our agenda, details to be confirmed, are London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Cambridge (which Lawrence hated!), Hastings, Norwich, Cornwall, Skegness (where his aunt ran a boarding house) and several venues in Scotland. There are many places in England – as well as in Italy, France, New Mexico and more – with connections to Lawrence. The exhibition and performances will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue and/or collection of the poems enhanced by Doug’s illustrations, with photographs of his assemblages and carvings. A collection of Isobel’s poems, possibly with some line drawings only, will be published afterwards. All of this will be complete and available to readers by 2023, the centenary of the original Birds Beasts and Flowers publication. Several venues and writer development organisations have expressed interest in hosting an event and publishers will be confirmed in due course.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, or have a venue you’d like to suggest, please do feel free to contact me via the Contact page on this site.

Doug and I have already spoken at a conference and run a Poetry School workshop to share insights into this work in progress. We’d be very happy to do more of this with reading groups, universities, schools and festivals, so don’t hesitate to be in touch!