In an interview with Mark Bramhill for BirdNote, poet Donika Kelly discussed the inspiration for her bowerbird poems. Among bowerbirds, the males construct elaborate structures, and all the females of a an area will typically mate with the male whom they consider to be the best artist.
Kelly liked the idea that there would be a system – a clear set of actions that could be taken by those interested in romance – as opposed to the typical approaches of human beings, which tend to result both in unwanted flirtations and loneliness.
In the fantastic poem “Bower,” which you can read in its entirety here, Kelly considers a bowerbird who has themed his pleasure dome around the color blue. (The birds will often search the nearby area for brightly colored flowers, berries, beetles, even little bits of plastic that our own species has left behind.)
At the end of the poem, the female leaves. Our protagonist had constructed a bower that was deemed not quite good enough. Kelly writes:
how the female finds him,
lacking. All that blue for nothing.
I love the irony of that final line. In many ways, human artists are like bowerbirds – while working, we consider what a potential audience might think of our creations. Perhaps we’ll write a poem that leads people to love us!
Or perhaps not.
But there is also the joy of creation itself. Making art is pleasurable. And so I like to imagine that this bowerbird, even finding himself rejected, enjoyed his work. That those bits of blue brought him some joy: in their finding, their placement, their continued contribution to his structure.
I like to believe that artwork means something even if a potential lover doesn’t like it.
In addition to constructing a magnificent arch, the bowerbird will dance for potential mates. The dances are incredible: you can watch footage filmed for BBC Earth here.
I love this particular video because the female is so forthright about her interests. At 2:10, she would like to see him incorporate a blueberry (or perhaps some other type of blue seed?) into his dance; she nudges it forward to make her preference clear. Many humans are much worse at articulating our own desires!
Despite the general tenor of the video, this ends up being entirely safe for work. (With bowerbirds, even if the seduction had succeeded, the NSFW portion would have lasted no more than a fraction of a second.)