SOL & Poetry Friday: Finding Poetry in The Birchbark House

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Earlier this week, I wrote about a piece in The New York Times that asked columnists 51-KqWtjyaLto consider which books they read over and over again. There are many books I’ve reread, but one of the best by far is The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), Louise
Erdrich’s middle grade novel about Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl, and her family. Erdrich’s depiction of their life on the shores of Lake Superior in the mid-1800s, which was a National Book Award finalist, offers readers a window into a culture that has essentially disappeared.

When I taught third grade, I read The Birchbark House to my students every year. But it’s been almost ten years since the last time I read this book. This week, I revisited Erdrich’s lyrical prose and “found” this poem in the final chapter, “Full Circle.”

Although spring,
with all the force of tender new buds,
opening magically,
touched her heart,
there would always be
a shadow to her laughter.

The ground harbored sunshine,
spread warmth beneath their feet.
Omakayas felt the calm sweetness of the earth
and tears burned.
Where was Newoo?
She missed him.

There were birds,
little birds with white throats,
sweet spring cries.

“I remember their song;
their song was my comfort,
my lullaby.”

Piercing spring music.
White throated sparrows
calling out to one another.

Their delicate song surrounded her,
running in waves through the leafless trees.

Omakayas heard something new in their voices.
She heard Newoo.

She smiled,
as the song of the white-throated sparrow
sank again and again through the air
like a shining needle,
and sewed up her broken heart.

You can learn more about The Birchbark House here, and find out more about found poetry here.

Please be sure to visit Laura Shovan at Author Amok for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

14 thoughts on “SOL & Poetry Friday: Finding Poetry in The Birchbark House

  1. It’s funny, I wrote about poetry today and then I discovered your post. I’m so interested in The Birchbark House. I’m going to go to the library tomorrow and check it out. Thanks!


  2. I have picked up Birchbark House several times to read, but no follow through occurred for some reason. Your description of the book and sharing of the poem has inspired me to read it. Thank you for sharing!


  3. I like the idea of creating a found poem from a favorite novel. What beautiful language. It lends itself to poetry.


  4. I’ve never read this book by Erdrich, although I’ve read some of her adult books. Beautiful lines you’ve found, Catherine. That ending is lovely: “sewed up her broken heart.”


  5. You picked a great passage to turn into a poem. “there would always be/
    a shadow to her laughter” is a poignant image. My other favorite part is: “Omakayas heard something new in their voices./She heard Newoo.”


  6. Look at all The Birchbark House love you created. And your poem is absolutely beautiful. I think I’d like to write a found poem from a favorite book. Putting it on my “want to try” list.


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