Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Sharmon Gazaway’s fiction piece, The Corvid Among You
John: I love how you’ve turned the corvid narrative here, converting these animals which are usually portrayed as cold and cunning into sad guardians of humanity. What made you think of doing this? And does Edgar Allen Poe owe them all an apology?
Sharmon: I thought I knew about crows, but turns out they have this whole other side I’d never heard of. The common crow is among the most intelligent of all birds, surpassing some primates. They are very much like us. They are monogamous, long-lived, devise and use tools, help parents with younger siblings. They will mob a bird of prey and drive it off or kill it if it threatens the family. Interestingly, a flock of crows is called a murder. They are attracted to us; they can distinguish one human face from another. They are kind to their rescuers and never forget the face of anyone who harms them. They are omnipresent in cities as well as rural areas, and therefore practically invisible to us. They can mimic human speech like parrots. They most definitely study us, and know us. Maybe they admire us? They will initiate games with humans, give us gifts, and play tricks on us. So when I learned this other side, I found myself strongly identifying with them. I had been working on a series of crow poems and one day I wrote this, all of a piece, in pen. I imagined them with a touch of hubris, looking down on us figuratively as well as literally. Then I put it away and went on to other things.
As for Poe, I’m a huge fan, no apologies needed. I think the corvidae family can definitely live up to their ominous reputations; like us they have a duality of natures. That’s part of their charm.
Where do you fall on the anthropocentrism question? Are humans just a little bit more special than animals, or are we just more conceited about the whole thing?
Though we have a lot in common, so many things set us apart. Written language comes to mind. Our system for collecting, storing, and sharing thought, emotion, and history was considered by peoples who lacked it as strange, deep magic. And in a way it is. Animals have their own amazing systems of communication, but the written word and its endless capability for collaboration and creativity is boundless. It enables us to better care for the animal life we share the planet with. Oh, and yes, we probably are a little conceited about it. But the crows don’t care. After all, they can themselves physically fly—take that, humans.
Could it be that the corvids are wrong, that our shininess is just an illusion that has hypnotized them into thinking we are more glamorous than we are?
That’s an interesting question. I think the shininess that attracts them is sometimes illusional, and that we use it to hypnotize and attract other humans as well. Like celebrities, for instance. How many times has someone we put up on a pedestal turned out to have even more faults and failings than we ourselves do?
How would the world be different if we listened more to the corvids?
When I went back to the draft of this piece, I was like, What in the world is this thing? I realized that it is about two kinds of people. But which kinds? I knew I felt a deep affinity with the corvids, and therefore the “we” point of view. I never consider my writing complete until the reader brings their part to it, so they will decide for themselves, through whatever prism they see the world through. It’s one of the things I love most about writing. So, I feel the world could be better if we considered the corvids: nesty, valuing simple things disdained by others, their true worth sometimes overlooked due to their appearance or reputation. But the world needs both kinds, bound by our need for each others’ strengths. I think if everyone were corvids it would be a very dull world.
I welcome all thoughts and comments—you can find me on Instagram at sharmongazaway.