National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 18

Over the course of this project, I’ve been aware of the danger of appropriating and/or (mis)interpreting an experience different from my own. This is especially true today. As a white child growing up in western Connecticut, I was surrounded by other white children who came from families similar to my own. We tromped through the fields and woods, rode our bikes everywhere, swam in nearby lakes and ponds. That others were excluded from this experience simply never occurred to me. The media–TV, movies, books, newspaper–only confirmed my experience. 

Today’s featured author is Carolyn Finney, a black woman who grew  up in the white suburbs of New York City, had a childhood filled with similar activities, but experienced them very differently. Her parents were caretakers on an estate in Westchester County, the only black family for miles. In her book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, Finney explores “the linkages between representations of the ‘Great Outdoors’ and the ‘African American experience in the United States, in terms of attitudes, beliefs, and interactions pertaining to the environment.” She wants “to understand the relationship between African Americans and various processes that define and inform what we call ‘environment’ (whether as matters of discourse or aspects of the natural world).” Her book considers “the legacy of an environmental narrative that denies the complex history of various cultural groups whose access to and use of natural resources were mediated by policies and laws that limited their possibilities.” 

Like Lauret Savoy’s Trace, this book asks hard questions. Questions that deserve our thoughtful consideration. This found poem, created with words and phrases found in the Introduction and Epilogue to Black Faces, White Spaces, is my initial understanding of Finney’s work. I have tried to represent the truth and intent of Finney’s words. If this poem does not, the fault is mine.

Black faces
outside looking in:
exclusion from
“white wilderness.”
Socially constructed,
shapes reality,
informs identity,
ideas of wilderness.

Racism impacts participation.
Creates roadblocks,
constrains environmental interactions.

Shift cognitive maps.
Offer opportunity.
Draw outside the lines
of the Great Outdoors
to see how
resilience can emerge.
Engage the unlikely,
the unfamiliar
Attempt to grasp our future
with clear intention

and eyes wide open.

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 17

Kathleen Jamie is an award-winning poet, essayist, and professor of poetry. Her work, Kathryn Aalto explains, “force you to stop, bend down to examine that eye-catching thing you see, and contemplate other worlds washed ashore at your feet.” (p.170)

Jamie believes that “nature resides in the cracks and crevices of daily life,” and I quite agree. The sights and sounds gathered on my walks are an endless source of inspiration for me. Today’s poem is after Jamie’s poem, “The Dipper.

It was spring, damp and raw,
I’d walked along the edge of fields
when I saw nestled in leaf litter
a cluster of grape hyacinth.

They sat beside a rock wall,
surrounded by a shock of green,
this pyramid of purple bells,
and chimed a silent celebration.

It wasn’t mine to pluck.
I can’t pick this first flower
that knows April’s icy rains
yet sings of spring.

Draft, © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit

Poetry Friday & NPM: Writing Wild, Day 16

I discovered Rebecca Solnit many years ago when I spotted her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking on a shelf at my local library. As a passionate walker, I was intrigued, and Solnit’s expansive perambulation from ancient Athens to today’s suburban sidewalks and treadmills didn’t disappoint. Kathryn Aalto describes Solnit as “a writer, historian, and activist who links ideas and places like string to thumbtacks.” (p. 161)

Because walking is what drew me to Rebecca Solnit’s work in the first place, I expected to write a poem about my daily walks, and thought a Golden Shovel would be a good form. My plan took a few detours. To begin with, I couldn’t find a quote I liked well enough to use as a strike line in Wanderlust. Searching through Solnit’s many other works, I found one I liked, but it was long. So I shortened it. (I have no idea if this is allowed, but I did it anyway.) Here is the original quote from A Field Guide to Getting Lost.

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.

Finally, this poem took an unexpected turn away from walks through my neighborhood and into a semi-autobiographical realm that was influenced by the fifteen writers highlighted in my previous Writing Wild posts. Writing is full of surprises!

Photo by Jan Tinneberg via Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup. You can also read previous Writing Wild posts if you’d like to learn more about some amazing writers.

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 15

We are halfway through National Poetry Month. After fifteen days of leaning “into the rhythm” of the hearts of these incredible women, I am in awe of the work they have done, but also the work Kathryn Aalto did to create Writing Wild. I am just scratching the surface of their work, their lives, and their stories to gather ideas for these poems. There is so much more to be learned from them.

This is particularly true of today’s featured author, Lauret Savoy. The David B. Truman Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology at Mount Holyoke College (Aalto, p. 152), Savoy brilliantly uses the science of geology, the study of earth’s broken and fragmented history and applies it to her exploration of the American landscape and her place in it. Her award-winning book Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, details painful histories and asks hard questions in an effort to integrate “multiple perspectives into reading landscape and our history in the land.”

To create a poem that could weave these ideas together was daunting. Using many of Lauret’s own words from her writing and this interview on the Kenyon Review Podcast I turned to an acrostic to help me grapple with the expansiveness of Savoy’s ideas.

Tattered truths litter our fractured, fractious landscape.
Recognition of this complexity and unvoiced history,
Attempts to reconcile that beauty and ugliness can
Coexist, that this land existed before hatred, can begin to
Erase boundaries and cultivate a new vision, a new kinship with Earth.

Photo by Kris Bergbom via https://www.lauretsavoy.com/about/

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 14

Oren Lyons calls Braiding Sweetgrass “instructive poetry.” One of the challenges of this project has been deciding on a poetic form that fits well with an author’s writing. Kimmerer is such a lyrical and evocative writer, I decided to try and capture the main tenets of her work in found haiku and tanka(ish–the syllable count isn’t always exact). These words appear in Kimmerer’s essay, “Returning the Gift.

“Returning the Gift”

The Earth Calls Us to Gratitude

Recognize the gift
give back in equal measure
practice contentment

The Earth Asks that We Pay Attention

Listen to the Earth
be open and attentive
notice the beauty

but also notice the wounds
attention becomes intention

Recognize the Personhood of All Beings

We share the planet
non-human persons, neighbors
with rights and intentions

with their own ways of being
more the same than different

The Earth Asks Us to Change

Everything changes
Allosaurus becomes a warbler
singing from the trees

we can learn from global mistakes
we need to change ourselves

The Earth Calls Us to Reciprocity

What is our gift?
to reciprocate Earth’s gifts
practice reverence

heal the damage we have done
give our gifts on behalf of life

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman

National Poetry Months: Writing Wild, Day 13

Unlike many of the authors profiled in Writing Wild, Diane Ackerman is very familiar to me. I have loved her writing since I first found A Natural History of the Senses in a bookstore thirty years ago. Kathryn Aalto calls Ackerman “nature writing’s Aphrodite: a historian and poet whose eloquent and iridescent words render complex subjects understandable and approachable.” (p. 133) Exactly.

Today’s poem is another Golden Shovel. Ackerman’s work is so quotable, it seemed like a natural fit. Ackerman’s first book was The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral. As some of you know, the mysteries of space are a passion of mine, so deciding on a cosmic theme for today’s poem also seemed natural.

“Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table of the heart.”

Diane Ackerman, reading at The Universe in Verse, 2018
Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 12

Many years ago, I read Ceremony in a Contemporary American Literature course. My memories of this book are confused and fragmented. After reading Kathryn Aalto’s profile of Leslie Marmon Silko, “the world’s first female Native American novelist” (p. 126), I’m ready to give Ceremony a second chance.

Silko’s work weaves together the myths and traditions of her Laguna Pueblo heritage. The main themes of her work emphasize the importance of traditional storytelling and the profound connection between people and the natural world. Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momady, whose book House Made of Dawn influenced Silko, says the her work also has “a sharp sense of how the profound and the mundane often run together.

Today’s poem is a found poem from Silko’s essay, “Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today.” I tried to include the main themes of Ceremony and Silko’s other work and have rearranged the order of lines for sense.

We all originate from the depths of the earth,
earth, the Mother Creator,
from the Emergence Place–
a small natural spring
edged with mossy sandstone
full of cattails and wild watercress.

We are all from the same source.

Earth and Sky were sisters.
Rain clouds
brought life to all things on earth:
frogs and toads,
the beloved children of the rain clouds.
They imagined the earth and the oceans
the animals and the people
the rocks and the clay.
All have spirit and being.

Many worlds coexist here.
So little lies between you and the sky.
So little lies between you and the earth.
Spirits range without boundaries of any sort.

Everything becomes a story:
The web of memories,
esteemed ancestors bring the precious 
gift of their stories.
Stories that teach us how we were,
how we interact with other people,
how we behave toward 
the animals and the earth,
in harmony with other living beings,
in harmony with the world around us.

Remember the stories.
The stories will help you be strong.

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 8

If you have been following these Writing Wild posts, you may have noticed the profiled authors are in roughly chronological order. As we approach the present, there are more writers I am familiar with, even a fan of. That is true today. Award-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died in 2019, is well known and widely loved. Ruth Franklin, writing in The New Yorker, states that Oliver “tends to use nature as a springboard to the sacred.” Kathryn Aalto explains that “a fusion of mystery,prayer, and presence is at the heart of all Oliver’s poetry and prose.” (Writing Wild, p. 92)

Attempting to write a poem after Mary Oliver seems like a fool’s errand. And yet I am compelled to follow her “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I have been following these directions for over sixty years, long before I’d heard of Mary Oliver. But the poetry of those steps has always been in my bones.

I decided the best approach to today’s challenge would be to use one of Oliver’s poems as a mentor text, copy it “word for word, then replace [that poet’s] language with your own.” (I posed this challenge for my critique group back in February.

Deciding on a subject wasn’t difficult. Also on my blog today is a celebration of Leslie Bulion & Robert Meganck’s wonderful new book, Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs. I have always loved the beauty and grace of spiders. A spider I observed in my garden one morning became the topic of this poem. I couldn’t find and poems by Mary Oliver about spiders (I looked quickly; there must be one or two). The mentor poem I chose is “The Instant” (found on p. 51 of Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver). Oliver’s words from the original poem are italicized.

The Instant
after Mary Oliver

Today,
a small spider,
pearly and round
scrambled through
the high grass, it

seemed desperate to
get away from
my invading hands
but couldn’t move 

fast enough. Was she
swollen with eggs,
impelled by instinct
to protect them?

My heart ached for her,
remembered a feverish boy,
clutched by a silent enemy
one long ago night, and with no sound at all
I was gone.

Draft, ©2021, Catherine Flynn

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson

Welcome, Spi-Ku!

“Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision–
it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so.”

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne ~

As I was getting ready to host day four of the blog tour celebrating Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs, Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck’s terrific new book published by Peachtree last month, I conducted an informal survey of my students regarding spiders. I found very few fans. Most didn’t like them because they were afraid of being bitten or thought that spiders are poisonous. Well, an hour or so with Spi-Ku will set the record straight.

This book is bursting with facts and figures about these amazing arachnids. Did you know, for example, that there are more than forty-eight thousand species of spiders in the world?! Or that “spiders have crawled the Earth for more than 400 million years?” Neither did I! The best nonfiction not only teaches new information, it clarifies misunderstandings as well. Virtually every child I shared this book with thought that a daddy longlegs was a spider, but Leslie clears up that confusion right away.

Leslie is a master of playful, informative science poetry for kids. Her previous work includes Superlative Birds, Leaf Litter Critters, and Amphibian Acrobats, among others. Using both poetry and informational text, Leslie closely examines these misunderstood creatures. She creatively weaves together cool details with playful, poetic language. The results are lines like “sun-shimmer silk” and  “…its own family recipe/to make a fly smoothie.” She addresses all aspects of arachnid life, including:

  • Types of spiders and different hunting techniques
  • How spiders move
  • How they eat
  • Types of webs
  • Types of camouflage
  • Spider senses
  • Courtship rituals
  • Egg laying and care of young

These poems can be enjoyed on their own, but the nonfiction notes and back matter, including suggestions for further reading, deepen readers’ understanding of spiders. Leslie has also created a Teacher’s Guide with additional tips and activities. Spi-Ku will spark new questions and send kids off to learn more. One student wanted to know more about how hummingbirds use spider silk in their nests. Another was fascinated by the way pirate spiders lured and trapped other spiders in their own webs!

Robert Meganck’s illustrations let readers get up close and personal with these curious creatures. The whimsical illustrations show spiders on the move, capturing prey, and hanging out in webs, Another feature that will rivet kids’ attention are the pages which show the relative sizes of the spiders described in Leslie’s poems.

Nature lovers of all ages will devour this book. After spending time with Spi-Ku, all readers will learn to appreciate, if not love, our eight-legged friends.

Please visit the other stops on Spi-Ku’s blog tour:

                Monday (4/5): Picture Books 4 Learning
Tuesday (4/6): Storymamas
Wednesday (4/7): The Miss Rumphius Effect
Friday (4/9): TeacherDance

You can also visit Leslie, Robert, and Peachtree Publishers on social media:

Leslie Bulion social handles:

Facebook: @leslie.bulion
Twitter: @LeslieBulion
Instagram: @lesliebulion

Robert Meganck social handles:

Facebook: @rmeganck
Twitter: @r2meganck
Instagram: @r2meganck

Peachtree social handles:

Facebook: @PeachtreePub
Twitter: @PeachtreePub
Instagram: @peachtreepublishing

      

Poetry Friday: Murmurations

Last spring, I decided to finish reading a couple of books that I’d abandoned for one reason or another. One of these, H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, was a book that I felt I should love but just couldn’t. Macdonald’s writing is poetic and full of reverence for nature, and I appreciated the beauty of her writing. But the story was full of pain, so maybe it wasn’t the best choice for the dark days of April.

Then, in July, an essay from Macdonald’s new book, Vesper Flights, appeared in The New York Times Magazine. Here, the kindred spirit I’d glimpsed in H is for Hawk was in full view. Like the swifts she’s describing, this piece was “magical in the manner of all things that exist just a little beyond understanding.” I pre-ordered the book immediately.

I have been savoring these short essays one at a time, every couple of days. They are every bit as magical as the essay that was in the paper. Even the titles are lyrical, so I decided to create a poem from them. I know found poems are supposed to be kept in order, but these are not. I have added a few articles and prepositions to the beginning of some lines for clarity.

The numinous ordinary
murmurations
of sunbirds and cashmere spheres
rescue
the vesper flights
of the human flock.

Thinking about “Murmurations” made me realize I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one. Then, on the way to work on Tuesday morning, a flock of starlings flew across the sky, begging me to write them a poem. How could I refuse?

A ribbon of starlings
unspools from a giant oak,
trimming the sky .

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Jone Rush MacCulloch at her beautiful new website for the Poetry Friday Roundup!