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.

Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”


I’ve been captivated by Louise Erdrich’s writing for many years, since I first read her middle grade novel, The Birchbark House. This book was a favorite read aloud when I taught third grade.  Since then, I’ve read all of her children’s novels and most of her adult novels. For the past several days, I’ve been reading Erdrich’s National Book Award winning adult novel, The Round House (Harper, 2012).

Often called a “Native American Faulkner”, Erdrich has created in her fiction what Maria Russo calls an “indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations” (New York Times Book Review, Oct. 14, 2012)

Erdrich uses the tools of a poet to tell these finely spun tales. Metaphor, imagery, repetition, and more are skillfully woven together to create passages like this one from The Round House:

“I lay down on the warm wood and the sun went right into my bones. I saw no herons at first. Then I realized the piece of reedy shore I was staring at had a heron hidden in its pattern. I watched that bird stand. Motionless. Then, quick as genius, it had a small fish, which it carefully snapped down its gullet.”

Such craftsmanship isn’t surprising, considering the fact that Erdrich began her writing career as a poet. Many of her poems can be read online, but “Advice to Myself” resonated with me in way the others didn’t after a week of attempting to clear away the clutter of winter.

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.

Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.

Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.

Don’t even sew on a button.

read the rest here

Be sure to stop by Life on the Deckle Edge, where Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday Round Up.