Friday, June 29, 2018

Poetry Friday: Bayou Song Blog Tour

Today I am honored to host the third stop on Margaret Simon's Blog Tour for her charming new book Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Lousiana Landscape (you can see a list of the other stops on the Tour at the end of this post).  When I read the book, I had just listened to this podcast from On Being, so those two pieces of art, both about finding joy in nature, are intertwined in my thoughts.

Let me back up a little bit and tell you about one of the ideas in the podcast, and how it illuminated Margaret's book for me and made me appreciate even more the beautiful way it mixes nature, reading, and writing.

In the podcast, Krista Tippett interviews Michael McCarthy, the British author of The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.  She starts out by sharing this quote from McCarthy: "The sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us may well be the most serious business of all." He has a lot to say about crisis in the natural world, the way ecosystems are collapsing, habitats are disappearing, and there are just fewer creatures out there.  It would be easy to despair, and sometimes when we teach kids about nature we can do it in a negative way, focusing on words like "endangered."

Tippett says to McCarthy: "while statistics of decline and demise and the destruction of the natural world don’t mobilize action — they, in fact, dampen us — and so joy can have a quality of seriousness, and yet, be animating."

And he replies: "If we could mobilize this sort of love we have for the natural world — and the essence of it is the fact that the natural world is a part of us, and that if we lose it, we cannot be fully who we are. And if we were to realize that, which is hard, and if we were to realize it on a large scale, which is even harder, that might offer a defense of nature at the time when we are trashing it remorselessly."

As I was listening to this interview, I was thinking about how we can do this with children; how can we encourage them to love the natural world so much that they want to protect it, not out of fear and despair, but because it's so important to them?

When I read Margaret's book, I thought: this is how. 

In Bayou Song, Margaret doesn't write about the whole world. She writes about her tiny part of it, a part that she loves, a part on a bayou in Southern Louisiana. Using a variety of forms, she writes loving tributes to plants and animals that live where she does. Beautiful photography and drawings help the reader see Margaret's world even more clearly. And then each poem is accompanied by a prompt, so that we, following Margaret's lead, can look around closely at the nature in our world.  What lives where we do?  Let's pay attention, and let's write about it!

Here's an example of Margaret's writing, "Ode to a Toad."

Her note introduces the reader to Pablo Neruda and his odes to ordinary things. She suggests writing an ode, too. So I did. I looked around my part of our beautiful planet, a street in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Look what's in bloom right now!
Taking Margaret's poem as my mentor text, I wrote my own ode.  (The "conspicuous claws" reference comes from a little research I did, in which I learned that the word "delonix" comes from Latin for "conspicuous claws," a description of the petals of this tree.)

Ode to a Flamboyant Tree (Delonix regia, Royal poinciana)

You blare
your bright red jazz
through June’s steamy days.
You are all flourish
and ostentation.
Leaving subtlety
to others,
you make the most
of your conspicuous claws.
You accessorize your red
with glowing flashes
of yellow and white. 
Royal tree,
I curtsy to you as I walk by.
I watch you fan yourself
with your green fringes
and display your blossoms
to advantage.
Flamboyant you are
as you dance
with your castanets,
far into the night.

by Ruth, from

How can we encourage kids to care for nature? We can encourage them to love it, and we can do that by teaching them to pay attention to it, not as a grand abstraction but in the specific plants and animals around them. Margaret's poems and prompts will help me do that with my students next year.

Order your own copy of Margaret's book here.

Bayou Song Blog Tour

To read more exciting posts about Margaret Simon’s debut children’s poetry book, Bayou Song, follow this blog tour.

Friday, June 22: Michelle Kogan
Tuesday, June 26: Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Friday, July 6: Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes
Friday, July 13: Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Tuesday, July 17: Laura Shovan
Tuesday, July 24 Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy
Friday, July 27: Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink
Monday, July 30 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Friday, Aug. 3 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

Carol has today's roundup.


Margaret Simon said...

Ruth, your post is wonderful! Wow! to be an expression of someone as wise as Michael McCarthy! I love how you incorporated this wonderful podcast with my humble bayou book. And your ode! Exactly what I want my book to do is inspire others to write. You captured the flamboyant flower in your written images. Love your word choice...ostentation, conspicuous claws, fan yourself, and castanets all capture the spirit of this amazing tree. Thanks for sharing a part of the nature in your world. And thanks for this lovely stop on my blog tour. I am so blessed with poetry friends like you.

Tabatha said...

Wonderful post!! Spot-on. Loving nature, noticing it and its rhythms and its quirks, is so healthy for us, as well as encouraging us to take care of it.

Liz Steinglass said...

I love how you connected the podcast and the book and that you were inspired to write your own poem. Conspicuous claws is a wonderful phrase. I love learning more about the plants and animals and customs that are unique to different places.

Linda B said...

I adore the thought of that toad blowing its bassoon. I don't hear any kind of frogs here in Denver, but remember my growing up in Missouri and visiting other places with frogs and toads, hearing spring peepers. And then, you've taken Margaret's message and written another wonder, Ruth. Love that dancing Flamboyant Tree, and since Margaret loves dancing, it's most appropriate. The opening is an invitation to read what both you and Margaret have to share, terrific! I am out and about with the granddaughters as much as possible, want them to love all of nature, too!

Carol said...

Ruth, first let me say, if I ever write a book, I'm definitely asking you to be one of the stops on my blog tour. This is one of the most thoughtful posts of that kind that I have ever read. I love your connection to the podcast, and I'm definitely going to go back and listen to the whole thing sometime this weekend (and I don't even do that many podcasts). I also love the connections you made to helping kids appreciate the natural world. You answered questions I have been asking myself for years. Finally, I love how you used Margaret's poem as a model for your ode to that absolutely beautiful flower! Wow!

Michelle Kogan said...

How spot on to inspire a love for nature, I don't know how anyone can't love nature but for those reluctant this ought to reel them in. Love Margaret's "bassoonist" toad poem, and your response poem is luscious along with the pics–what an entrancing tree, I'd love to paint it. I'll have to check out the pod cast too, thanks Ruth

Catherine Flynn said...

That episode of On Being is one of my favorites. I think right now encouraging kids to love nature is our most urgent work, and completely agree that Margaret's book can help us do that. Your "Ode to a Flamboyant Tree" is so gorgeous and full of rich images I can't choose a favorite! I think I'll have to write an ode today.

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, you have beautifully connected the idea of nature and joy as evidenced by Michael McCarthy's statement, "The sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us may well be the most serious business of all." Your review of Margaret's book is wonderful especially your query, "How can we encourage them (students) to love the natural world so much that they want to protect it, not out of fear and despair, but because it's so important to them?" Margaret's book does provide us with a birdseye view of the teche with all its natural dimensions. BTW, your ode is lovely. Thanks for sharing your beautiful flowers from Hait.

Kay said...

I love how you tie together the podcast and Margaret's book. Yes, if we can inspire kids to love nature, that love will go far--and be good for them as well as the environment. For us, it was the river that runs through our county. Ever since my daughter was a pre-schooler (she's now 20), our family has joined with others to clean trash out of the river twice a year. Those mornings spent splashing in the water and mud, spying herons and turtles and fish, and digging out tires have encouraged a generation here. Your post also ties into the newscast I saw tonight on how plastics affect the environment. It highlighted a family trying to live without plastic and all. The mom said that it is a process--start with one small thing. One of those river clean-up kids gave up plastic straws for Lent. Many of us joined her. I've also been looking for other ways to give up plastic. I now have my canvas bags and stainless steel water bottles. We've discovered wooden disposable utensils...and it just keeps going.

Donna Smith said...

Love Margaret's new book and the Ode to a Toad...and your use of it as a mentor text is amazing!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Thank you, thank you, Ruth, for sharing these quotes, this outlook. Nature, from the broad spherical sky to the tiniest bug that fascinates, is not something we are in; instead it's something that is in us, at the cellular level. THIS is why we all, but especially kids, need to be outside; this is why nature is medicine; this is where that impetus to preserve will come from. I've been feeling a little hopeless but your match of ON BEING and BAYOU SONG is restorative.

Janice Scully said...

I just ordered Margaret's new book and can't wait to read it. Nature has inspired me my whole life, beginning where I grew up on the banks of the Delaware River. I love Michael McCarthy's statement. Yes, if children could feel the joy of being close to nature, that would help save our planet.

Anonymous said...

It's all beautiful - you should invite them to Haiti, and we should have a poetry swap party! (M)