Words are Eagles

Gregory Day

Words are Eagles
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Words are Eagles

Gregory Day

A collection of beautiful and moving essays on the wonder of the natural world and the cultural complexities of writing landscape in Australia.

Words are Eagles collects in one place the essays of award-winning novelist and nature writer, Gregory Day. Grounded in the landscape of southwestern Victoria, and infused with the heightened sense of place and environmental literacy that have long been key to Day’s work, these essays traverse landscape, language and histories. Day’s attention is tuned both to beauty of the natural world, returning often to the motifs of ground and sky, ocean and owl, moth and river, and the history of place - whether lost, buried or personal.

In a part a reading and celebration of the resurgent global nature writing movement, to which Day was an early contributor, this collection highlights the need for ecological care and value of Indigenous knowledge and practices. This is the kind of nature writing that gets to the heart of our urgent need for a more harmonious and regenerative relationship with the earth that sustains us.

Review

Occasionally I read a book that resonates so powerfully I am lost for words. It resists explication, often because I am still immersed in the writing and wish only to stay there. Words Are Eagles, Gregory Day’s exquisite collection of writings on the nature and language of place, is one such book.

Gregory Day (author of A Sand Archive) has lived and written his whole life on Wadawurrung country on the surf coast of southwest Victoria. Of Irish and Sicilian descent, his work wrestles with the complications for the white settler in writing about landscape and place in Australia. Day’s peregrinations are an act of communion, of listening to the language of the air around him and of the Wadawurrung people who breathed that air for thousands of years. Each footstep, like his writing, is an attempt to disturb and displace the colonial topsoil, the blanket that (particularly) the written word has cast over peoples for whom language and place are one and the same.

In ‘The Watergaw’ (broken rainbow), Day draws solace from Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid who used a form of ‘old Scots’ to try to express the intangibility of the loss of his father. Elsewhere, in ‘One True Note’, he lays out the perils of interpreting language cleaved from place – especially oral languages that draw on the cadence and music of their surroundings. ‘Language, like the wind,’ Day writes, ‘is hard to pin down. It relies on movement for its existence, as we rely on breath for life.’

Each of Day’s pieces is a rich vein for the reader to mine. As a collection, Words Are Eagles is a poetic illumination of the throughline of Day’s work. This is a book to savour over time.


Justin Avery is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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