Wednesday, March 31, 2021

National Poetry Month Starts Tomorrow!

April, otherwise known as National Poetry Month, starts tomorrow, and there will be so many fun things going on!

Here is a roundup of some of the exciting creative projects that people are doing this year.


Below you'll find the schedule for this year's Progressive Poem.


April 1 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
2 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
3 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
4 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
5 Irene Latham at Live your Poem
6 Jan Godown Annino at BookseedStudio
7 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
8 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
9 Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche
10 Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
11 Buffy Silverman
12 Janet Fagel at Reflections on the Teche
13 Jone Rush MacCulloch
14 Susan Bruck at Soul Blossom Living
15 Wendy Taleo at Tales in eLearning
16 Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe
17 Tricia Stohr Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect
18 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
19 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
20 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
21 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
22 Ruth Hersey at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town
23 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
24 Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference
25 Shari Daniels at Islands of my Soul
26 Tim Gels at Yet There is Method
27 Rebecca Newman
28 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
29 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wondering
30 Michelle Kogan at More Art 4 All

Happy National Poetry Month! 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Bird Names

Today I looked through a list of birds from Paraguay.


The colors! Rufous, flavescent, glaucous, cinerious, vinaceous, violaceous, azure, ochre, sooty, slaty, fuscous, olivaceous, saffron, cinnamon.

The tails! Silky-tailed, large-tailed, dusky-tailed, short-tailed, sharp-tailed, streamer-tailed, shear-tailed, swallow-tailed, wedge-tailed, strange-tailed.

The descriptions! Red-spectacled, blaze-winged, spot-billed, red-gartered, pearly-breasted, versicolored, ocellated, solitary, rough-legged, ticking, chocolate-vented.

There are antwrens and spinetails and seedeaters and thornbirds and foliage-gleaners. Woodpeckers and woodcreepers and crakes and tyrants, tanagers and finches. 

So many birds! I looked up lots of them on eBird, the White-naped Xenopsaris and the Greenish Schiffornis and the Plain Tyrannulet, the White-shouldered Fire-eye (those are some fiery fire-eyes!). The Variegated Antpitta, the Wren-like Rushbird ("distinctive but often rather skulking little bird"), the Yellow-collared Macaw, the Rusty-backed Spinetail. 

I just kept exclaiming in amazement. All that variety! All those careful descriptions! All those thousands and thousands of sightings of birds that I've never heard of! 

You don't have to do anything to the list to turn it into a poem, just read it as is. I suppose that would be true of a list of birds from anywhere, but the less familiar the birds are to you, the more strange and exotic their names will sound.


Does the world seem dull and predictable? Grab a list of birds from somewhere far away. Look just a few of them up on eBird. Listen to their sounds. See if you can help saying "Wow" a lot.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Poetry Friday: Requiem for Nokomis

Great Blue Heron,

In November 2018, I learned about a Great Blue Heron who had been tagged in Maine and fitted with a transmitter. To the scientists' surprise, they found out that this bird, whom they named Nokomis after Hiawatha's grandmother, called in Longfellow's poem "daughter of the wind, Nokomis," spent her winters in Haiti. The first time it happened, they thought she had landed there accidentally, but it turned out that was her regular spot, where she went every year. 

Last week I heard from Danielle D'Auria, a wildlife biologist who works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (you can see some of her writings on birds here). She told me that Nokomis' transmitter was no longer sending information. People on the ground here are working on finding out what happened to Nokomis. It appears likely that she has died, but perhaps she just got separated from her transmitter. Danielle wrote a wonderful piece about Nokomis here.


In Danielle's article, she mentions a teacher in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who wrote a poem about Nokomis. That teacher was me, and you can read the poem I wrote here. Nokomis wasn't just an interesting story to me; she became one of the major catalysts that brought me to birding. Danielle sent me some questions about birds in Haiti back in 2019, and in the course of doing research to answer them, I met many people who are involved with birds here. Most of them I still haven't met in person, but some I have, and I have had the great joy of learning much more about birds both through talking and writing to some of these people, and through using my own binoculars to study the species in my yard and in other spots in Haiti. I wonder how I would have made it through the difficult times of the last two years without birding; we spent weeks and weeks at home for political reasons and due to COVID-19, and birds were a bright spot during all of it. I have written many posts on this blog about my birding adventures. 


Even though we don't know all the details about what happened to Nokomis, I wanted to write a post honoring her. If more information comes out, I may write another one then. I am going to share a poem I wrote for her and two other heron poems I found. 


I should warn you that once you start to write in the meter Longfellow used for his Hiawatha poem, trochaic tetrameter, it's hard to stop. You may find yourself talking this way: "Could you kindly pass the lettuce, salad green delight, the lettuce? For I find I long to eat it, long to crunch its summer goodness." I used trochaic tetrameter for the first poem I wrote about Nokomis, and I did for this one, too. (You can find Longfellow's poem in the post with my first Nokomis poem, here.)

Requiem for Nokomis

by Ruth Hersey


Now we say farewell, Nokomis.

We don't know what happened to you,

Dear Nokomis, Great Blue Heron,

But we know you loved to travel,

Left your home in Maine behind you,

Took off for the island nations,

Landed every year in Haiti.

In the years that science tracked you,

You flew thirty thousand miles,

Back and forth, first south, then northwards,

From cool Maine to tropic island.

Last time you sent information

It was on a day remembered,

Day of sorrow and destruction,

Day when Haitians grieve the earthquake.

Did you die that day, Nokomis?

Did you leave behind your body,

Or just misplace your transmitter?

Do you forage still the rice fields?

Are you headed north for summer?

Are you squawking, squawking somewhere,

Catching frogs and fish and insects?

How we hope so, dear Nokomis,

How we hope your life continues,

And we thank you, too, Nokomis,

Thank you for all that you taught us,

Bird of mystery and of science,

Bird of poetry and data,

Bird we grew to love, Nokomis.

I found two other poems about Great Blue Herons that I wanted to share, also, because both of them capture how breathtaking these birds are. I always feel honored to watch birds and to be able to see their behavior and habits, but the fact is that I am much more of an arts person than a science one. I would rather appreciate their loveliness than band them. I'd rather write a poem about one than learn a physics formula about how it flies. Birding has room for both science and poetry.

Heron Flight

by Siddie Joe Johnson

There has been shadow,

Now the substance lies

Slow above water,

Paralleling skies.




There has been motion

Stilling to rest,

As water takes heron

Back to its breast.

You can read the middle two stanzas here at Poetry Foundation. I love that last stanza. It's about the bird landing, but it could also be about the "stilling to rest" of the end of a bird's life.  

Hayden Carruth's poem, with which I'll end my tribute to Nokomis, perfectly captures the way I feel when I'm birding. I always want to share what I see, to tell others breathlessly about the beauty I was privileged to experience. Usually I'm by myself, and by the time I call others to see (if indeed they are awake at all), the bird has gone. My bird photography is so far a giant failure. Instead, I use words, even though, as Carruth says, the experience "was wordless."

The Heron

by Hayden Carruth

Let me tell you, my dear, about the heron I saw

by the edge of Dave Haflett's lovely little pond.

A great blue heron, standing perfectly still, where it had been

studying Dave's rainbows and brookies beneath the surface.

And I too stood perfectly still - as perfectly as I could - 

not twenty feet away, each of us contemplative and quiet.

Communication occurred. I felt it. Not just simple

wonder and apprehension, but curiosity and concern.

It was evident. The great bird in its heraldic presence,

so beautifully marked, so poised against the dark green water.

I in my raggedness, with my cigarette smoldering, my eyes

squinting, my cap tilted back. Two invisibly beating hearts.

Then the impetus lapsed. The heron nodded and flew away.

I turned back into Dave's workshop and picked up a wrench. 

If goodness exists in the world - and it does - then this moment

was the paradigm of it, a recognition, a life in conjunction with a life.

But why am I compelled to tell you about it? It was wordless. 

And why, over and over again, must I write this poem?

This poem appeared in Poetry Magazine in March 1997 and can be found here at the Poetry Foundation website.


Next week is the beginning of National Poetry Month. I am planning to post daily in April, using the theme of Spring Cleaning. Basically, I'll be writing about the poetic tabs I have open on my desktop, writing about them so that I can close them and reduce my digital clutter. I've chosen an image of a Haitian broom to put on these NPM posts. I'll also be participating in the Progressive Poem. (Incidentally, we still need some more people to sign up for a line, which you can do here.)



Today's roundup is here, at Soul Blossom Living

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Happiness

The World Happiness Report came out last week. (You can read it here.) Just the way you look for yourself in your high school yearbook, I looked for Haiti, the country where I live, to find its ranking this year. 

Well, it wasn't too impressive. Out of 149 countries for which data was collected, Haiti was 143rd in the world happiness rankings. 

The numbers are partly based on numbers like the country's GDP and life expectancy. They take into account the perception of corruption in the country, freedom to make life choices, social support, generosity. The report acknowledges that COVID-19 had negative effects on happiness all over the place. It says you were more likely to be happy last year if you had a pet and if you had reliable internet access.

For 2020, the world's happiest country was Finland. The least happy country was Afghanistan. The US was 19th. 


Haiti has had lots of reasons for unhappiness in the last 12 months. In addition to the pandemic, we've had a volatile and uncertain political situation for a long time now. We've been kept at home by violent crime and protests. It makes me sad when I look back over the last few years of the report and see that Haiti ranked 119th in the world in 2015. And now, 143rd. 

Here's to happier days. 


And here's what everybody else wrote about today. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Poetry Friday: A Little Nest of Bird Poems

I have a tiny collection to share today, three bird poems that I've read over the past few days.

The first is in a book I got with birthday money; I've only just begun to read it, and am enjoying it so much already. It's a collection of miscellaneous pieces - poetry and prose - about birds, illustrated with a collection of beautiful bird pictures. Here's a photo of the book cover and of one poem in the book. (The editor, Graeme Gibson, was married to Margaret Atwood; he died in 2019.)

The second poem is from another birthday book, Alive Together (I wrote about it here). It's a collection of poems by Lisel Mueller.  I'm reading through these a few at a time and savoring them. Here's one I just read (you may have to zoom in to get the text big enough to read):

And the third is from Barbara Kingsolver's new book of poetry, How to Fly (in Ten Thousand Easy Lessons). I recommend it highly! I borrowed (downloaded) this one from the library, so of course I read it fast, knowing it had to be returned. (This is my pattern. I prioritize books from the library because I don't get to keep them, and neglect books I own. And I keep putting more holds on library books, even though I have plenty of books at home to read.) Here's one of the many poems I loved from this book. There's a section of Notes at the end of the book giving the names of people for whom she wrote the poems, and she says that this one is for her husband. I love the idea, and would like to try writing a "Love Poem, with ________," for several people, filling in that blank with something that each person loves. (Click on the photo, then zoom in...)



It's almost National Poetry Month. My plan is to post daily in April, following the same format I have for the past two years, a kind of Spring Cleaning where I go through the poetic links I have open on my desktop and write about them, thus enabling me to close them. But this year I think I'll be even more open-ended about this than I have been in the past; I might repost some things from my archives, for example, or something I read in a paper book. We'll see!


Linda Baie has this week's roundup.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Input

For a while after my children were born, all the input they received came from people in our household. We talked to them, read to them, sang to them. I remember my husband carrying our newborns around, introducing them to things in the house.

Before long, other people had input too. We took them out in public; people got up in their faces and talked to them. They spent some time in the nursery at church. 

I remember my daughter, aged nearly two, using a word we knew she hadn't heard from us. She used it dramatically, standing in the middle of the room, and, appearing to enjoy the shocked reaction she got from us, repeated it many times, gleefully. But it wasn't too hard to track down where she'd heard it; we had a good idea where she'd been, and with whom. 

But when they went to school, suddenly there was so much more input. Teachers, other kids, people I didn't know. Experiences I wasn't there for. 


And then. And then my children learned to read. And the whole world was open to them, all the knowledge, things I knew too, but so many, many things I didn't. 

One morning last week, as we got out of the car at school, my 18-year-old met the director of our school, and the two of them started talking about sports, and statistics, and a game that had happened recently (unbeknownst to me). I knew nothing about any of the topics of the conversation. Nothing. My son knew everything about it.

And that wasn't unusual. There are so many times when he helps me understand things, about popular culture, and politics, and sports, and ... so many subjects. There is so much he knows, from others, and from YouTube, and from reading. He is a person with some knowledge that came from me, and from his dad, and so much that came from other sources. 

All of this is normal. It's the way it is supposed to be. First they need you for everything, and gradually they need you for less and less. Until they move away and become their own people. My daughter did it, and my son will do it soon. And I'm so very proud of both of them. 

Once when my daughter was in my class, quite a few years ago, I was griping about how she didn't learn any of the vocabulary I was teaching because she already knew all of it before the lesson began. She looked at me, with all her 14-year-old wisdom, and she said, "Mom. You taught me to talk." 

I'm so glad I got to have part of the input into these amazing people I gave birth to. And I'm so glad for all the other input they've had. And I have to trust that in the future, there will be more wonderful, life-giving input even when I'm not there to see it. 


You can read other people's Slices of Life here. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Reading Update

Book #18 of the year was Polite Society, by Mahesh Rao. My daughter gave me this Jane Austen retelling, in which an approximation of Emma takes place in Delhi, for Christmas. I enjoyed it very much. 

Book #19 was Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff. I read this in order to teach it to my seventh graders. It's the story of a child called Hollis Woods because of the place she was abandoned as a baby, and her struggles in the foster care system. I found Hollis' story of attachment troubles and abandonment very affecting, and worried that it was going to have a tragic end, but thankfully it ended happily, as befits a middle grade novel. The character development is believable, and my students are enjoying the book right now.


Book #20 was The Last Garden in England, by Julia Kelly. This was an entertaining story about a garden in three different time periods. We meet the woman who initially designs the garden, the people living there and working the land during World War II, and the modern gardener who is restoring the original design. 


Book #21 was The Push, by Ashley Audrain. The reviews compare it to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and the subject matter is very similar. I found the whole concept very unsettling, the stuff of nightmares. The narrator may or may not be reliable, and you're kept guessing about that all the way through. It's well-done and kept me reading.


Book #22 was A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes, a retelling of the Iliad from multiple female points of view, from the Muse to the wives of various warriors to Briseis and Chryseis, Penthesilea, and Penelope. This was a highly enjoyable read for a mythology lover like me. I'm currently reading The Silence of the Girls, which essentially does the same thing, so I'll have something to say about that pretty soon. 


Book #23 was American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins, a story about illegal immigrants making the journey from Mexico. I had read some criticism of this book long before I read the book itself. People said that it was stereotyped and inaccurate, and that the Spanish in it read like something from translation software rather than natural language. I'm not in a position to judge any of that, since I have no knowledge of Mexico or Spanish.  I didn't find it badly written, as some accused it of being. It was readable and convincing, in my opinion. But the other criticisms could very well be true. 

Book #24 was the 2021 Newbery Medal winner, When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Kelly. I didn't love this book as much as I expected to. I thought that the main character was hallucinating, and I kept thinking it was going to turn out she was sick. I have no problem with magical realism, but I wasn't sure if that was what was going on. There was just something about the mixture of realism and fantasy that I found difficult to reconcile, especially in a book for children, and even more so, one which deals with such a serious matter as a terminally ill grandparent. Maybe I need to read it again.


Book #25 was Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore. I couldn't wait for a new Kristin Cashore book, and there were many things I loved about this as I have about her others. But this one was probably my least favorite in the Graceling Realm series. All of the books are about people who have faced trauma, and Kristin Cashore writes inventive, mind-bending fantasy. 


Book #26 was a birthday gift from my daughter, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. It's short essays about nature and human life, beautifully written and inspiring. 


Book #27 was Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam. This story about an unspecified disaster was incredibly convincing and well-written, but I wished for a couple hundred more pages. Having completely bought the situation and found the characters compelling and interesting, I was not satisfied to be left hanging the way I was at the end. What? That's it?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Poetry Friday: Birding at Recess

This year I've started birding at recess, taking my binoculars with me every day and using the precious outdoor moments to survey both kids around me and birds above me. There are many days when I don't see much at all, just some House Sparrows and a Mourning Dove or five. But here are some other birds I've seen at recess: Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Palmchat, Bananaquit, American Kestrel, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Kingbird, Vervain Hummingbird, Antillean Mango, Cape May Warbler, White-necked Crow. And anyway, as a birding friend told me recently, even if I only see the super-common ones, "All birds are good birds."  I like that as a birding philosophy, and it also fits well with a haiku mindset. In fact, it seems a great way to approach life in general, taking what comes and making poems out of it.

Flash of yellow breast
Bananaquit swoops upward
Then hangs upside down

Creaky cry, striped tail
Bright red eye glares down at me
A cuckoo haiku

From the very top
of the pine across the street
a kestrel watches

Red head, yellow, black
Carpenter hammering trunk
Woodpecker screeching 


Ordinary day
House Sparrows and Mourning Doves
All birds are good birds


I've written before about my experiences with writing haiku on recess duty; here's an example. 

Heidi has this week's roundup! 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Gaining Weight

Seven months ago, I was in the hospital after I was diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency. One of the things the doctor said to me during the process of the diagnosis was, "You've probably been losing weight for a long time, right?" I had been. I had constant gastro-intestinal issues, a steadily decreasing appetite, and at the end, a sore mouth. I didn't feel like eating, and what I did eat didn't sit well with me.

As I get better and better, I have started gaining some weight. This is a good thing. I was too thin. And it's good that I'm eating well again, enjoying food, and feeling healthy and strong. So far my weight gain is in the single digits and my clothes all still fit.

And yet, I am embarrassed to admit that I really don't like seeing the numbers go up on the scale. I'm starting to realize that I liked being thin, even though I was too thin. Even though gaining weight is what I need to be doing, it makes me worried. And all this is true even though I live in a culture where a little extra weight on a woman is considered beautiful.

Isn't this so silly? I am surprised to find out that I have these unhealthy attitudes about weight. I am trying to get used to reminding myself that the number isn't at all the issue; good health is. 


Here are today's slices from others. Happy Tuesday! 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Poetry Friday: Birthday Gifts Edition

I got two poetic gifts for my birthday this year. 

With gift money I bought Lisel Mueller's book Alive Together: New and Selected PoemsMueller, who died last year, emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 15, fleeing the Nazis. I haven't finished reading her book yet, but so far I am finding it wonderful, exactly as I expected from reading the poems of hers on the Poetry Foundation website. (Here's a post I wrote about her poetry on Poetry Friday in 2019.)

Here's a little sample, from the poem "Imaginary Paintings." One of the stanzas is called "How I Would Paint Happiness," and she writes:

Something sudden, a windfall,

a meteor shower. No --

a flowering tree releasing

all its blossoms at once,

and the one standing beneath it

unexpectedly robed in bloom, 

transformed into a stranger 

too beautiful to touch.

(Isn't that title, "Imaginary Paintings," a great one? Wouldn't you like to try that as a prompt?)

On the morning of my birthday, I woke to a Kindle book in my inbox from my daughter. It's called World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and it came out last year. This book is in prose, but Nezhukumatathil is a poet; I've shared her work before on Poetry Friday here, here, and here, and a few other places. Here are couple of little snippets from the first essay in the book, "Firefly."


"I grew up near scientists who worked with indigo buntings. There is no other blue like that of these birds, no feather more electric. They navigate by following the North Star, and these scientists were trying to trick them into following a false star in a darkened room. But most of these buntings don't fall for the ruse. When released, they find their way home the same as always. The buntings know the North Star by heart, learn to look for it in their first summer of life, storing this knowledge to use years later when they first learn to migrate. How they must have spent hours gazing at the star during those nestling nights, peeking out from under their mother. What shines so strong holds them steady."


"I know I will search for fireflies all the rest of my days, even though they dwindle a little bit more each year. I can't help it. They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say, I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again. Perhaps I can will it to be true. Perhaps I can keep those summer nights with my family inside an empty jam jar, with holes poked in the lid, a twig and a few strands of grass tucked inside. And for those unimaginable nights in the future, when I know I'll miss my mother the most, I will let that jar's sweet glow serve as a night-light to cool and cut the air for me."  

My birthday always makes me feel a bit like a flowering tree released all its blossoms on my head, to use Mueller's words, and I'm going to try to carry that feeling into the year, like Nezhukumatathil's indigo buntings do with the light of the North Star. Happy Poetry Friday!

Kat Apel is mustering the poetry today here; go check it out!



Spiritual Journey Thursday: March Spirit Wind

John 3:8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."


"Maybe a preacher on the radio told you once you could be born again if you just repeated a prayer after him. How I wish this were so. But the Scripture where a man named Nicodemus comes under cloak of night for a secret rendezvous with Jesus, and the prophet speaks to him about being born again, is also the place where Jesus talks about that Spirit, the one who broods over the sea, bringing life and beauty out of chaos. The Spirit is like the wind, he says; you don't know where it comes from - and you don't know where it is going. And the people who say yes to this undomesticated Spirit, the people who say yes to the wind - yes to the sea - will be like this Spirit, not knowing where they came from, or where they are going. They are people who learn to trust the wind instead of fighting it, people who learn to navigate the chaos rather than eliminate it. They will be people born of Spirit, people born of the violence of the storm and the wildness of the wind. And because the Spirit who enters them is the Spirit of life itself, they will live forever. " Jonathan Martin, in How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is on the Way and Love is Already Here.



Margaret Simon has today's roundup.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: March Loss

Even though I live in the tropics and the seasons don't change dramatically here, there are subtle indications that March is here. The sun is rising a few minutes earlier. The temperature is starting to go up from our wintry lows in the upper 60s. Soon it will be hot again, and not just pleasantly warm and breezy.

But yesterday I read an announcement on one of my birding groups on Facebook. "Warblers have started to head north." It was written as a thrilling heads up to those people who live up north. Spring is coming! It's exciting to see the birds come back!

But to me, it will be a sad loss. I'll miss our little warbler friends. Sure, we still have plenty of local birds, and they are all wonderful, but I got used to the extra chirping and flashes of color from the visitors. I'll look forward to their return.


Check out what everyone else is posting today. 

Female American Redstart, Source