I'm a literacy specialist at a K-8 school in Northwestern CT. My job is two-fold: I work with at-risk first grade readers, supporting them as they learn to read, and I work with classroom teachers, helping them improve and refind their literacy instruction.
Last week, inspired by Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s National Poetry Month project, I wrote a gogyohka in response to a photo of my mother and her twin sister. Like Tricia, I have found family archives to be rich source material for poems. One of the treasures I have is a diary of my grandmother’s from 1936. Times were tough for my grandparents throughout the Depression and many of her entries detail the small ways they scraped by. January of that year was bitterly cold, and Grandma was knitting a scarf for my uncle, but she ran out of yarn. She sounds so relieved when she finally “got to town” to get more yarn that the first line of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem popped into my head instantly.
It’s time for the monthly Inkling challenge. This month, Linda challenged the Inklings to “Honor someone’s April Poetry project in some way with a poem in the spirit of their project, a response poem or any way that suits you.”
I knew immediately that I wanted to base my response on Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s (aka Miss Rumphius) project of “sharing original poems written in a variety of Japanese poetic forms (haiku, tanka, dodoitsu, etc.) to primary sources. I’m using photos, letters, newspaper articles, and more to inspire my writing.” Tricia shared many treasures from her family archives and her poems always captured funny or poignant insights into her source materials.
Like Tricia’s family, my family (specifically my maternal grandmother) saved everything and I have many photos and letters. I also have my grandmother’s diary from 1936, which is the only one we know of. Mostly, she recorded the weather, her daily household chores, and what she baked. There are also a few headlines from the wider world: The last line for Monday, January 20th reads “King George V of England died. Edward VIII becomes king.” She stopped writing on Saturday, August 22th with this short entry: “Rained on Sat. Went to town in A.M. Did shopping. Bought a pot roast. Not much new. They will finish the forty acre lot in one more day.” (I’m sure this refers to haying on my great-grandfather’s farm.)
I suspect she stopped writing because of this entry a few days earlier: “Feel certain that we will have a baby by spring.”
That baby turned out to be my mother and her twin sister.
Here they are, about 3 or 4, ready to attend a cousin’s wedding.
There are troves of poems waiting in that diary, but how could I resist writing about this photo? I chose a most forgiving form, the Gogyohka. This is a five line verse without a specific syllable count. As Tricia explained in her post, it was “invented in the 1960s, the idea was to ‘take the traditional form of Tanka poetry (which is written in five lines) and liberate its structure, creating a freer form of verse.’ You can learn more about this form at Writer’s Digest Gogyohka: Poetic Form.”
Please be sure to visit my fellow Inklings to see which NPM project they honored:
Poets and scientists have been inspired by the mysteries of the universe since the dawn of time. All living creatures are guided by the natural cycle of light and dark created by earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun. But we are disrupting these rhythms by leaving the lights on. Mounting evidence makes clear that this disruption is harmful both physically and mentally to humans, plants, and animals. The International Dark Sky Association has declared this week “Dark Sky Week.” There are simple steps we can all do to eliminate much of the light pollution that threatens us. Let’s start by turning off the lights.
Once guided by the stars above we’ve lost our celestial map, its compass rose erased by bright skyglow.
Warblers, winging northward, confused by all this light, are steered off course, crash into glass and steel instead of settling into soft nests.
Creatures of the night exposed: No shadows to hide in or darkness alerting frogs and toads its time to serenade their sweethearts.
One more balance we’ve disrupted. Another threat to harm us all. How will we find our way forward if we look up and see nothing, nothing at all?
Last weekend I came across 50 Ways to Help Save the Bees by Sally Coulthard. This short book is filled with relatively simple steps we all can take to protect these engines of our ecosystems. One step is to plant a pollinator garden. I’ve been gardening for years, but never focused specifically on bee-friendly flowers. Coulthard includes a list of “Blooms for Bees” and one of my favorite annuals, cosmos, is included. Anxious to get my bee-friendly flowers started, I planted packets of cosmos, sunflowers, and cornflowers (indoors–it’s not warm enough here in western Connecticut to sow seeds outdoors). This poem was inspired by all that planting.
Dozens of bees orbit a galaxy of blossoms, probingpollen-packed pompoms bursting from the shining center of the cosmos.
This month I have been writing poems in response to the ideas, connections and echoes between All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson and Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. I’ve focused more on Rooted and the fundamental beliefs, or tenets, that are at the heart of rootedness. “Everyday Animism,” is one of these tenets. Haupt explains that “all ways of being, from hominid to dandelion to dragonfly to cedar tree, possess a kind of aliveness.” (p. 24) She also states that “It is time to acknowledge animal consciousness–both the continuities that we share and recognize, and the mysteries that we may never comprehend.” (p.137) Today’s poem attempts this acknowledgement.
On the verge of night, I stand at the edge of the field. I see only the black tufts of his ears. He senses my presence; Becomes one with the spikes of grass.
But he is on a mission, and it’s growing dark. His whole head rises. I stare into his coal black eyes. They carry this plea:
Lyanda Lynn Haupt lays out twelve fundamental beliefs, or tenets, that are at the heart of rootedness. One of these is that “all is sacred.” Haupt explains that “a recognition of the sacred in all of nature is the source of any movement toward reciprocity–inner and outer. It hallows our life and work.” This wreath should have come down months ago, but it will stay a few more weeks, until it’s now sacred task is completed.
forgotten weathered Christmas wreath shelters new life resourceful mama
In Rooted, Haupt includes creativity as one of the tenets of rootedness. She writes that “the joining of our own unique arts to those of the collective whole is the deepest — perhaps the only — hope for the continuation of a wild earth.” (p. 28) So on this day after Earth Day, here is my contribution to the collective whole.
Ode to an April Morning
This April morning the world vibrates with life.
Day-old goslings, swaddled in gray and yellow down scramble onto the edge of the pond, follow mama and papa to a patch of fresh grass, nibble their first meal.
Painted turtles bask in the warmth of the sun, heads raised in celebration.
A pair of cardinals dart in and out of a holly bush, scouting out the perfect spot to build their nest.
And in the field, violets shimmer with possibility.
My National Poetry Month Project has gone off the rails. Instead of writing poetry this week I’ve been changing the diapers of my 3-week old grandson, reading and singing to him and his 2-year old sister, and helping their parents transition to life with 2 kids.
Early in April, I read an article in The New York Times about microplastics hitching a ride on marine snow to the bottom of the ocean. Scientists fear that this will disrupt the food webs throughout the world’s oceans. This has gnawed at me ever since, but I couldn’t figure out how to write a poem about it. Then I found this quote by Wendell Berry. The last line felt like a perfect strike line for a Golden Shovel:
Here’s my very drafty draft:
How can we pretend to know with certainty the ripple effects of our inventions on the world? Tons of plastic, that miracle convenience*, floats and swirls through our oceans. Now we learn that this “indestructible” scourge breaks down, that microplastics have infiltrated what were once thought pristine, unreachable depths. Is no place safe from the blizzard of debris we’ve unleashed on the Earth? What good is all our technology if we can’t protect our only home for our grandchildren, for all of nature? They deserve it.
* See this article to find out how plastic was marketed to our parents in the 1960s. There are many, many articles online about ways to reduce our plastic use. Here’s one with an extensive list of ideas.
Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme for a terrific interview with Leslie Bulion and the Poetry Friday Roundup!
Lyanda Lynn Haupt includes “Enchantment and Wonder” among the tenets of Rootedness. She explains that the word wonder “derives from the Old English wundrian – to be astonished by the presence of the wondrous.” (p. 27) She also explains that we humans, so preoccupied with our busyness, have to be open to the “visitations” of the wondrous. Sometimes I can be a bit too open to wonder. Although I haven’t driven off the road while gazing at some bird, cloud, or tree yet, I’ve come close. That is what happened one day last November. Driving to work one morning, I noticed something hanging from a tree near the road. As I got closer, I slowed almost to a stop. (So I wouldn’t drive into the tree!) Wonder of wonders, it was a Baltimore oriole’s nest! Sadly, it was too far off the ground to get a good look at, but I’ve been marveling at that nest all winter long. Late last week when I drove by, I was enraged to see that the tree had been cut down! I hope whoever cut it down noticed the sock-sized miracle they destroyed. I decided to write a tanka-ish poem in its honor.
hidden since last spring among dense, sheltering leaves, an oriole’s nest, a beak-woven wonder, survived the winter