Five Questions: Francesca Mackenney on Birdsong, Speech and Poetry

By Matthew Sangster

Francesca Mackenney is currently undertaking an AHRC International Placement at the Library of Congress. Her monograph, Birdsong, Speech and Poetry: The Art of Composition in the Long Nineteenth Century, which we discuss below, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022. Alongside her research on birdsong, her attention has increasingly focused on exploring the role that literature can play in environmental education. With funding from Creative Scotland, during lockdown she created an educational podcast about birdsong for young people ( When she returns from the US, she will begin her new role as a postdoctoral researcher on an AHRC-funded collaborative project, jointly hosted by Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and Cardiff University: ‘The Sound of Nature: Soundscapes and Environmental Awareness, 1750-1950′.

1) How did you first become interested in birdsong, and how did you come to decide you wanted to write a book on its representations and implications?

Many moons ago, when I was still at school, I read King Lear and for some reason the king’s words to his daughter have always stayed with me: ‘Come, let’s away to prison | We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage’. I don’t know why …read more