Earlier this week I took two of my great-nephews and my great-niece on a hike in a nearby nature preserve. We kept our eyes peeled for interesting leaves, flowers, insects, and more. We were surprised, though, by the profusion of mushrooms we found. They were everywhere! Most were creamy white or pale brown, but a few were yellow or orange-red. Many looked like a stereotypical toadstool, but others were quite exotic, with fluted edges, deep ridges, or coral-like branches. My niece exclaimed “That one looks like a potato!” She was exactly right. Because I have no expertise in mushrooms, I made it very clear that we could. not. touch. anything! That didn’t stop us from noticing them, and we soon lost count of the bounty at our feet.
This entire adventure seems like the perfect inspiration for a poem. But I’ve been distracted by other concerns (all good) this week. So I’m sharing a celebration of these mysterious, magical fungi by the inimitable Valerie Worth, the master of poems about small things. I am always in awe of her precise descriptions and her ability to find the perfect metaphor for the object of her attention.
The mushroom pushes Its soft skull Up through the soil,
Spreads its frail Ribs into full Pale bloom,
And floats, A dim ghost Above the tomb
Where an oak’s Old dust lies Flourishing still.
by Valerie Worth
Please be sure to visit Kat Apel at her blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.
Kimmerer laments our lost connections to the Earth, then, in an effort to heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on our precious home as well as to heal ourselves, points us toward a way forward. She states that language is “a prism through which to see the world” and that “language is our gift and our responsibility.” To me, this is a plea to choose and use our words with care and for the good of all.
Kimmerer goes on to say that in order to “create sustainable humanity” we must rediscover our “gratitude and our capacity for reciprocity.” As I grapple with the sad facts of our current world, this encourages me. Kimmerer also sees “the very facts of the world [as] a poem.” Reading and writing poetry help me build my capacity for gratitude, for reciprocity. I am grateful to this community for the encouragement it provides. Here then, as an act of reciprocity, is a poem from Naomi Shihab Nye, one of our greatest teachers of gratitude and reciprocity.
Every day as a wide field, every page
Standing outside staring at a tree gentles our eyes
We cheer to see fireflies winking again
Where have our friends been all these long hours? Minds stretching
beyond the field become their own skies
Windows doors grow more important
Look through a word swing that sentence wide open
Kneeling outside to find sturdy green
glistening blossoms under the breeze that carries us silently
Back in March, Irene Latham and Charles Waters visited our school virtually to share their passion for poetry and to create “wordzines” with our students. Before their visit, teachers shared Dictionary for a Better World, Irene and Charles’s amazing collection of “poems, quotes, and anecdotes from A to Z.” We were all inspired by the wisdom and love that fills this book. Our fourth graders were so excited about their wordzines and the poems in Dictionary for a Better World that they decided to create their own book of “poems, quotes, and anecdotes.” And so What the World Needs Now was born. My friend and colleague Bernadette Linero, teacher extraordinaire, found a way to publish the book and all students have a copy to keep and treasure always. Here’s a peek into the creative work of our fourth graders:
Thank you to Irene and Charles for helping our students to think deeply about empathy, kindness, compassion and more. Thank you for inspiring them to create their own art and poetry that will, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “create a better world for all who live in it.”
“Poetry gives us a place to make beautiful sense of life.” ~ Joy Harjo ~
Welcome to the final Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month! Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme for the Poetry Friday Roundup. I can’t quite believe that April is over. One of the reasons I began this project was to find a way back into a daily writing habit. Although I didn’t post every day (“Because,” as my friend Heidi would say, “you know, life.“), I did write a poem in response to the work of all twenty-five writers profiled by Kathryn Aalto in Writing Wild. But somewhere along the way, this project morphed into something so much more. All of the women I met in this book are truly remarkable. Some have conquered overwhelming obstacles, including ne’er-do-well husbands, physical abuse and alcoholism. After spending a day or so with each of them, I found myself thinking, “She is my favorite.” Of course, I could never choose one over another. I am truly in awe of each and every one. Somewhere along the way, I read that Diane Ackerman calls herself a “poetic science storyteller.” I immediately thought, “that’s what I want to be when I grow up!” This work has changed me and inspired me in countless ways. I know it will be influencing my writing and my life for years to come.
For this final day, I decided to create a cento, drawing on all the poems I drafted this month. Italicized lines are directly from the work of other writers. Their names are listed in order at the bottom of the poem.
“A Complicated Beauty”
Things are at a tipping point. Earth, mother to all, weaves a web of memories. Know and say their names. Flood the world with empathy.
A bee buzzes hopefully around eager bursts of green, evidence of the wild wonder of the world.
In the day’s waning light, the world can shimmer. Winged creatures of the night with their own ways of being, chime a silent celebration.
Star gazers look up in wonder, notice the ghost moon in the wide, pale sky.
As daily life accepts the night’s arrest, a small spider, pearly and round with delicate legwork, plays the music of Nature.
Winding skyward along an ancient path heat, radiating, heart to heart resilience can emerge.
Alchemy powers earth’s enduring nature, promises for tomorrow. In twilight’s glimmer-glow, forge a new kinship with Earth. The most important magic lies within you.
I didn’t have time to read all of the books written by the women who have inspired me to write 26 poems in 27 days. But I did spend many hours listening to radio interviews, podcasts, and taped events. Not only did this allow me to become familiar with their work, it gave me a sense of their voice. I could listen to Elizabeth Rush’s voice all day. She brings a level of intelligence and compassion to her writing that is breathtaking. During an interview, she told Aalto that “writing and reporting about people–especially vulnerable ones–is an act of empathy.” (p. 244) I adapted this line to come up with the strike line for today’s poem, another Golden Shovel.
What story is this rampike writing? Is it warning us that it is too late to save our planet from an apocalyptic sea change? Or an omen to act quickly, boldly? It whispers, “Listen to the earth with all of your senses, then flood the world with empathy.“
A rampike is a dead tree that is still standing. Rush writes about the proliferation of rampikes in areas where the salinity of the ground water due to rising seas is killing forests all along the east coast of the United States. You can learn more about this devastation here.
Amy Liptrot is one of the youngest writers profiled in Writing Wild, but the story of her descent into alcoholism and eventual recovery is riveting. Kathryn Aalto calls Liptrot’s memoir, The Outrun(2015), “both a modern recovery story and classic nature writing–a celebration of a particular place and the search for how best to live in the world.”
As I listened to Liptrot discuss her book on 5 x 15, I was captivated by her description of the grimlins, a word derived from Norwegian that means “twilight, the first or last gleams of daylight.” We have lovely twilights here in Connecticut, but apparently, the grimlins or “da simmer dims,” as they’re also called, are spectacular in the Orkney Islands. I couldn’t resist using this word to inspire today’s haiku.
at the edge of day twilight’s glimmer-glow enfolds the world in magic
Kathryn Aalto says that Elena Passarello‘s book, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017) “is the best book on animals I’ve read.” (p. 228) She goes on to say that “Passarello’s writing is playful” with “a tender poignancy” underlying each essay. Her writing is also infused with empathy, which is on full display in her first book of essays, Let Me Clear My Throat (2012). In this collection, Passarello writes “about the relationship of voice to identity.“
Exploring this relationship between voice and identity has emerged as a common thread between the writers profiled in Writing Wild. As I pondered how to write a poem in response to Passarello’s work, I watched a video my son posted on Instagram of him running a rapid on a river in North Carolina. I thought about the years of kayaking he’s done and how that experience allows him to “read” the river, to listen to the river’s voice, so he can safely navigate his way through the rocks. Every river has a distinctive voice, and unfortunately, we don’t always listen to what they are telling us. I decided to write a “scavenger hunt” poem, explained by Amanda Gorman in this video. I didn’t follow Gorman’s directions exactly, but I gathered a nice assortment of words (highlighted in bold) to include in my poem, which is still very “drafty.”
Slip into your boat. Borders evaporate. You and the river converge. Be still. Listen.
The murmuring river has a tale to tell. Tongues of water curl, vees form, marking a path through the wildtumult of froth and foam.
Here is a happy surprise from this project. Not only have I been introduced to many amazing, thought-provoking writers, I’ve also delved more deeply into the work of writers I had read before but had only skimmed the surface of their work. This is true of Camille T. Dungy. I am in awe of the scope of her writing, of her precise imagery and powerful metaphors.
Kathryn Aalto describes Dungy as a “master of poetic synthesis” who “fuses fact, observation and revelation to offer poetry’s inevitable surprise.” (p. 218) Dungy is a poet, essayist, and professor of writing. She is a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient whose writing has won the American Book Award. She states that she is “never not thinking about nature. Because I don’t understand a way we can be honest about who we are without understanding that we are nature.” (Aalto, p. 218)
When asked by Aalto what she wants “people to get out of her poems” Dungy explained to that she wants them to find “beauty and the heightened craft that comes from looking at everyday objects with respect.” (p. 223)
I had several false starts finding a way to respond to Dungy’s stunning poetry and essays. In the end, I let Dungy’s words speak for themselves in this cento.
Silence is one part of speech the impossible hope of the firefly imperceptible as air.
You are not required to understand.
This is the world we have arranged, a complicated beauty.
The snow builds a mountain unto itself.
What happens today is fed by what I did yesterday. I will plant my seeds plant them for abundance tomorrow a demonstration of care evidence of the wild wonder of the world
and into the world: music. The song is drink, is color. Come. Now. Taste.
Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! Wasn’t it thoughtful of April to begin on a Thursday this year, so we have five Fridays to celebrate National Poetry Month? There are number of amazing poetry projects happening at blogs around the Kidlitosphere. You can find a roundup of them at Susan Bruck’s lovely blog, Soul Blossom Living.
I’m taking a bit of a detour from my Writing Wild project, inspired by Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shaped How We See the Natural World, by Kathryn Aalto. Each day in April, I have written a poem inspired by one of the 25 trailblazing women profiled in Aalto’s book. Because there are 30 days in April, I chose another four authors recommended by Aalto. For today’s post, my inspiration comes from Padma Venkatraman, an author not included in Aalto’s book, but one who I think embodies the spirit of the other writers. I also wanted to diversify the list to include more writers of Asian descent.
Padma Venkatraman trained as an oceanographer and now writes middle-grade and YA fiction as well as poetry for young people. Her beautiful, inspiring 2019 middle-grade novel, The Bridge Home, won the Walter Dean Myers Award and two of her poems appeared in this month’s issue of PoetryMagazine. In addition, she just launched “Diverse Verse… a website and a resource for educators and diverse poets and verse novelists.”
Today’s poem is my response to Venkatraman’s poetry prompt recently posted on Ethical ELA. In her introduction to the prompt, she stated that “as a writer who cares about young people, I feel compelled to preserve hope in the face of [hate crimes against Asians]. She challenged poets to write “a short poem dedicated to hope in defiance of hate.” Here is a draft of my response.
Finding Our Way
Can we agree we’ve gone astray? Lost sight of treasures untold. Our map’s completely upside down from chasing too much gold.
Some creatures are gone; they won’t return. But we can change this course. Protect each species; keep them safe And learn from our remorse.
Recognize your neighbors. Know and say their names. They’re living beings, just like you, treat everyone the same.
The world keeps changing bit by bit. We all can do our part to make the world a better place. The change starts in your heart.
Today’s featured author, Andrea Wulf, wrote one of my favorite books of all time. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt’s New World (2015) is a breathtaking introduction to a man Wulf calls the inventor of “the web of life, the concept of nature as we know it today.” (Wulf, p. 6) In 2015, Wulf explained to Science Friday host Ira Flatow that “we have to use our imagination and emotion to understand nature,” and that we owe this understanding to Alexander von Humbolt.
I’ve written another Golden Shovel today from a statement Andrea Wulf made during her 2015 interview on Science Friday. She said, “you can only protect nature if you really love nature.” That statement has been the driving force behind this project, and I feel certain it was the driving force behind Kathryn Aalto‘s creation of Writing Wild. I searched my memory for a time when my love of nature was palpable, and recalled the morning I spotted this stunning spider’s web. It was only as I was working on the poem that I remembered Wulf’s words and decided I had chosen the right topic for today’s poem.