Flight from futility

I saw a bird once spreads its wings

There are times when we all think of the futility in the everyday, asking ourselves what the point of everything is. We usually answer ourselves with the same old bland answers and move on with our lives, looking for new ways to go forward.

I saw a bird once is Alex Vellis’ exploration of this futility and loss through three unknowingly-linked characters. Chatting with Alex, Margate Bookie asks the award-winning poet about his amazingly creative masterpiece and how it channels many of the thoughts and feelings about hope, home, love and loss.

Alex Vellis looking back as he walks through a wood surrounded by trees and leaves.
Alex Vellis

Where did the idea for ‘I saw a bird once’ come from?

The idea came from talking to strangers in unfamiliar places. I went to Paris by myself for a gig and stayed there for a short while. I ended up making friends in my hostel with someone who turned out to be a writer. He showed me a ‘day in the life’ piece and said I should give it a go. When I got back home to Canterbury, I wrote a one piece, then it grew into a couple of short poems (which reached twenty-two pages) of a project called ‘no documents found’. Then it sort-of spent the next four and a half years falling out of me.

What does this book mean to you?

For me, it’s how the every-day is. This book is the lives of millions across the globe. It finds the beauty in the average, the mundane, it doesn’t sugar-coat nastiness or pretend that people are kinder than they are. It shows how much futility is in the world. How when we try to be better, to change, or to work towards a goal, we can grow bitter and resentful if we fail. I appreciate this doesn’t happen every time but there are elements of these characters that are pervasive. When we’re not looking, when we’re alone or when we’re gutted for not getting what we want, that’s when these characters exist and we fuel them by pretending they don’t. So, I wanted to look at them, analyse them, bring them to the forefront and recognise myself and other people in them in the hopes that I might change, in the hopes that we all might see ourselves reflected back, and change.

Daft question, but which part of the book was your favourite?

I think my favourite part of it was when I was still figuring it all out. The potential for anything to happen is a majesty all its own. Beyond that, I really enjoyed writing a history (that was never used) for Sorrel’s Hollow. Thinking about it, I kinda like all of it. To choose one though, I’m quite fond of the bit in the art gallery.

How does it feel having such highly celebrated poets and writers support your work?

It makes me feel proud. I’ve worked extremely hard for a long time to be a better writer, and to have such well-respected names in the industry say ‘hey, this is pretty good, y’know’ is a triumph like no other. It really helps remove the ever-present imposter syndrome.

Honestly, it’s just nice to be recognised for the graft.

What’s next for you?

I am working on a pamphlet currently titled Fuccboi Literature which is about being a bisexual man in straight spaces, the masking, the difficulties, and the experience.

If that turns out badly, I might become a bird.

Alex Vellis in a wood surrounded by trees and leaves
Alex Vellis

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Rave reviews for I saw a bird once

‘A rare use of character-based prose poetry, this is an Under Milkwood for the dispossessed. Full of passion, brutal mouths and interlocking journeys. A contemporary epic.’

Joelle Taylor, T. S. Eliot Prize 2021 Winner


‘Vellis writes with a deep conviction, imbuing his subjects with a poetry rich in image, argument and pathos. Poems resist each other, they turn and move in ways that bring the page to life. There’s never a wasted moment here. These are brilliant poems to inhabit and explore.’

Anthony Anaxagorou, T.S Eliot Prize 2019 Shortlisted

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I saw a bird once is available from Whisky & Beards Publishing here. Don’t miss out!

In Canterbury, Kent on Saturday 26 February? Alex is launching his book at The Mooring at 7pm. Come along and see the maestro in person!

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