Tourists try to feed them in places like the Piazza San Marco in Venice; then they might order piccione from a restaurant menu at dinner. Before scientists taught the birds to play ping-pong and piano, before they were conditioned to peck at a target from within a missile in order to keep it on course, pigeons simply spent time perching on the heads of statues, preening or puffing up their feathers or shitting on the cobblestones. And then pigeons became useful for demonstrating the obstinacy of human behavior, or the consequences resulting from reinforcement— The hope was to use these methods to optimize anything from educating children to motivating the poor— thus fashioning a more effective world through a system of control. Perhaps the experiments proved that the pigeon isn't very smart after all, if its programming makes it do the same thing over and over. The unseen hand has taken away the reward— and still it pecks at the green tile instead of the red; peck and peck and peck. Stupid bird. But aren't individual problems tied to larger structural ones? Belief in pure methods of control can lead as much to a police state. Whereas the point of persuasion allows the bird to come back to you, or not, of its own accord.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (website) is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, September 2020). She was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2020-22, and in 2021 received 1 of 23 Poet Laureate Fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Mellon Foundation. She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015; she also teaches classes at The Muse Writers’ Center in Norfolk. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.