How I wrote “Cyanistes caeruleus”

A photograph of a desk with some open notebooks and books, two computer monitors, and a laptop open.

Earlier this year, I received the great news that my poem, “Cyanistes caeruleus,” was accepted for publication in the forthcoming Spring issue of 3rd Wednesday and also published online in advance of the print publication. You can read the poem here!

For this blog post,1 I wanted to talk a bit more about my writing process, since I wrote this poem last semester and I kept some notes about how I wrote it. Unfortunately, I can’t find the original handwritten version (almost everything I’ve published so far has always been written by hand first), but I do remember how I started writing the poem, and how I’ve tweaked it since that first draft.

I wrote this poem in response to two things: a time lapse video I saw on Twitter of a Eurasian blue tit (a.k.a., Cyanistes caeruleus) building her nest, and a prompt I made for myself after reading Philomath by Devon Walker-Figueroa, which was, “Write a poem about your first time living alone.” (NB: In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I write prompts for new poems whenever I finish reading a poetry collection. I’ll share a few more poetry prompts at the end of this post.)

My poem does not strictly follow that prompt I set for myself, but it is about taking a space that is “mine” and making it “home.” Home has been on my mind for a while: what makes a home, returning to my hometown after several years away, revisiting my college years (my first time living away from home) as I try to write other things, etc. In a sense, the subject matter was all in my head before I started writing; the video acted as a kind of catalyst to these thoughts, making it possible for me to make this poem.

The moment of the video I was most struck by during my first time watching through was the moment the bird started incorporating her own feathers into the nest. I thought of how my hair is constantly all over my apartment, no matter how much I try to sweep it up, and how shedding parts of myself is part of that homemaking process.

Though throughout the poem I try to tease out similarities between me and the bird, the poem starkly separates human and animal in a way that is maybe a little outmoded in contemporary ecopoetry (or, at the very least, it is a mode that has been seen and done before, and is criticized for being anthropocentric). The poem attempts to sidestep anthropocentrism, by “exploring the animal within humans,” which is “an environmentalist project as it attempts an opening of human senses that, in David Abram’s words, ‘own[s] up to being…a creature of the earth.'”2 The bird is not me; I am the bird.

Up to a point. Near the end of the video, the bird lays her eggs and the babies are hatched, and my initial, honest, response at seeing them was a little bit of fear. The babies look terrifying; they’re all open mouth and shut eyes, and so whatever illusion I had that I was this bird vanished. At the end of the video, I thought about my own resolve to never have children. And that makes this perhaps one of of my most personal and vulnerable poems I have had published: I am rejecting a message that I have been inundated with recently—that motherhood is somehow the pinnacle of womanhood (a message, I’ll briefly mention here, that I don’t recall ever being part of my upbringing as a child)—by identifying with this bird and then abruptly swerving away once she becomes a mother. My hope, though, is that this poem indicates that both of us are worthy of moral consideration regardless of our motherhood status. I am still a full person; so is the bird.

I wrote the first draft of this poem all at once, and it has stayed more or less in that original form. The video was a starting point, and the middle lines of the poem spin away from the strictly describing the events video to draw out the parallels between me and the bird: the box of a room, the materials used to nest, and so on. The video comes back in the final lines, and instead of the similarities converging, they deviate even more. This ending was what I was writing towards; who could feel fearful of a bunch of baby birds, after all? It’s an unusual reaction, one that I felt was worthy of a poem, or at least attempting putting into words.

Here are a few more writing prompts (for me, for you, for anyone), based on my experience writing this poem:

  • As you go about your day, make note of any animal sightings or symbols in your every day life. Research those animals and use a surprising fact as a starting point for a poem.
  • What is your most subversive opinion? Write a poem imagining giving this opinion to a non-human animal. How would the animal act?
  • What is your relationship to animals? Do you consciously seek them out, or do you try to avoid them? What is the line between humans and nature, if there is one?

[1] – During these first few months of 2023, I’ve been extremely lucky and honored to have had a few poem acceptances. One of my “resolutions” this year is to talk more about the writing process, and not just mentioning when I’ve been fortunate enough to have my writing published. This post is my first in this series, and so if you liked it, please leave a comment or send me a message!

[2] – Keller, Lynn. Recomposing Ecopoetics: North American Poetry and the Self-Conscious Anthropocene, University of Virginia Press, 2017.

Published by Caroliena Cabada

Caroliena Cabada is a writer currently based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing has been published in online and print journals and anthologies, and has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021.

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