I’m not sure how many reviews of Irene Latham’s new book This Poem is a Nest I had to read before I decided I had to order the book. I’m pretty sure I wanted it after the first one. Now that my copy has come in the mail, and I’ve read the whole thing, I decided that I need to write my own review. (And here's an interview with Johanna Wright, who drew the lovely pictures.)
I already own several of Irene’s books (here's a post about her I wrote for National Poetry Month last year, including links to several reviews of her work). One thing I love about her writing is how it always inspires me to try some of the same things she’s doing. And this one was no exception. After telling you about the book, I’m going to share some of my own efforts at nestlings.
Irene starts this book with a long poem called “Nest.” It explores the four seasons of a birds’ nest. In spring the nest houses baby birds, in summer it watches young robins fly away, in autumn it overlooks deer and a turtle, and in winter a mouse moves in. Each season is full of memorable language and perfectly chosen words. And it’s those perfectly chosen words that lead us to the next section of the book, when Irene presents 161 found poems using those words from “Nest.”
All I can say is wow as I look through the variety of subjects she’s found in her own writing. She writes of times of day, months (all twelve), colors, planets, emotions. She writes alphabet poems and a whole “Ars Poetica” section. This is a tour de force, ideal for sharing with a class of just about any age, and fun to read for an adult, too. She calls these found poems “nestlings,” and at the end, there’s a three page section of tips for writing your own.
Here are a couple of examples of Irene's nestlings:
I loved the idea. First, I was fascinated that you could find poems in one of your own poems. I tried it. And then, I tried finding one in Irene’s “Nest,” with its evocative words.
I picked this one of mine, written last summer after my husband and I took an anniversary trip while visiting family and friends in Kentucky.
When we were newlyweds,
we went to the cemetery.
We just had two weekends for our honeymoon
with our first week of graduate school in between,
and when we wanted to see at least one tourist sight in Frankfort,
we found everything closed.
So we visited the floral clock behind the Capitol building
and we walked around among the dead.
Daniel Boone’s grave overlooks the Kentucky River,
a proud monument with scenes of his exploits on three sides,
and then on the back,
with no view of the river,
his wife Rebecca, mother of ten,
can be seen milking a cow.
Daniel and Rebecca are surrounded by other graves,
two hundred years’ worth.
There’s a monument devoted to Kentucky soldiers,
and the Civil War tombs
house both northern and southern boys.
Thirty years later,
we went back to recreate our honeymoon.
We drove around looking for familiar sights,
revisited the floral clock,
found the bed and breakfast where we stayed
(you remembered the blue stained glass window),
ate fish at the same restaurant by the river.
we stopped by the cemetery.
We took pictures this time:
American flags, Confederate flags,
monuments of all eras,
Daniel and Rebecca Boone’s spot.
I don’t remember if back then,
young as we were,
we discussed thinking about
death on our honeymoon,
whether either of us made the obvious remark
that one day one of us would bury the other.
We’re both grayer in our riverside anniversary selfie
than we were in our wedding photos
(though you were already bald when I married you).
Thirty years have given us plenty
to be happy and sad about,
births and deaths and earthquakes and Caribbean adventures.
I hope we have another thirty years to love each other,
to remember the promises we made on that steamy August afternoon,
and that long-ago walk in the cemetery,
and the blue light in our honeymoon suite.
I wrote two nestlings from this poem. First I just chose words, and then in the second one, I tried Irene’s alphabet technique of writing down all the words starting with a particular letter in the poem (in my case, A), and then taking out the ones that didn’t go together. Both of my nestlings really fit in with the original topic of the poem, so I didn’t achieve Irene’s variety at all.
Then I tried writing a nestling from Irene’s poem, “Nest.” I picked one word from each section of the poem to write my own four word nestling.
You should buy Irene's wonderful book! Read it and use it to inspire your writing!