The Poetry of Dogs

Dakota, our resident hound, is a frequent distraction during my day. He alerts me to the mail carrier and UPS driver long before they reach our house. He enjoys going in and out approximately 756 times a day. He warns of deer, cranes, raccoons, and more. And of course he likes to walk every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet, mosquitoes or not. BUT, he is also a source of inspiration.

Many of my favorite poets have written about dogs. Early in my writing-poetry-for-kids journey, I read Joyce Sidman’s The World According to Dog. Allergies and insomnia keep me from sharing bed space with the hound, but that does not stop my admiration of “Dog in Bed.”

Dog in Bed
BY JOYCE SIDMAN
Nose tucked under tail,
you are a warm, furred planet
centered in my bed.
All night I orbit, tangle-limbed,
in the slim space
allotted to me.

If I accidentally
bump you from sleep,
you shift, groan,
drape your chin on my hip.

O, that languid, movie-star drape!
I can never resist it.
Digging my fingers into your fur,
kneading,
     I wonder:
How do you dream?
What do you adore?
Why should your black silk ears
feel like happiness?

Read the rest of the poem here. That final question–why should your black silk ears feel like happiness?–was clearly written about my hound.

When we got Dakota as a rescue dog three years ago, he had boundless energy. We had no idea how old he was or how long he had spent on the mean streets of northern Michigan where he was picked up as a stray, but he has slowed and calmed a bit since then. He’s now content to snooze on a hot summer afternoon, like the dog in Valerie Worth’s small poems:

dog

Under a maple tree
the dog lies down,
Lolls his limp
Tongue, yawns,
Rests his long chin
Carefully between
Front paws;
Looks up, alert;
Chops, with heavy
Jaws, at a slow fly,
Blinks, rolls
On his side,
Sighs, closes
His eyes: sleeps
All afternoon
In his loose skin.
-Valerie Worth

Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is another canine poetry treasure. The collection captures the joy of watching dogs, of imagined conversations, of unconditional love. Several of the poems are featured on brain pickings. Here’s one of my favorites:

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better
Mary Oliver

I’ll end with a poem that I wrote soon after Dakota became a part of our family, in response to Irene Latham’s invitation to write about wild things to celebrate her blogiversary. “Dog Days” was published a couple of months ago in Spider. One day of the hound’s life became a whole pack of dog- park dogs in the clever illustration.

Sylvia has the Poetry Friday roundup at Poetry for Children, along with an introduction to GREAT MORNING, her latest anthology with Janet Wong. The book has a unique audience: it’s a collection of poems written for school principals to read aloud during morning announcements. I’m honored to have written a poem for the book called “Cat Coder” about writing a computer program. (I know a whole lot more about dogs than computer programming, but fortunately could consult with my computer-savvy offspring.)

 

Poetry Friday–The June Edition

Welcome to Poetry Friday! Is it summer yet? About twenty-five years ago when we lived in Urbana, IL our local NPR had a Friday morning feature with their famed weather man called “Ask Ed.” Folks would phone the station and tell Ed where they were going for the weekend and Ed would predict the weather at their destination…. sounds kind of quaint, huh? And what, you might ask, does that have to do with whether or not it’s summer? The aforementioned Ed liked to talk about the meteorological season, which according to him began March 1st, June 1st, September 1st, and December 1st. So thanks to Ed I can say that although it’s still three weeks until the solstice, it’s meteorological summer–and that’s good enough for me.

After a cold spring the weather suddenly turned hot and summery this week in Michigan, bringing with it some startling changes. Most annoying are the swarms of mosquitoes that just emerged. But there are also some pleasant sights, including a quick ripening and fall of maple seeds. The air filled with helicopters earlier this week as all the maple trees seemed to drop their seeds at once. I tried to take a few shots of the seed storm. I now know that it’s a challenge to capture that sight in a photo. Here are the best of my efforts, along with a short poem inspired by our helicopter storm (with thanks to my younger offspring for spiralizing my words and adding them to a photo.)

© Buffy Silverman

A fuzzy view of the seed storm–click to see them fly.

 

Most of the seeds have landed.

 

Please share your link with Señor Linky. I look forward to reading your blog posts this week!

The Progressive Poem Is Here!

Welcome to the Progressive Poem! Each day in April the Progressive Poem travels from blog to blog, gaining a line at each stop. I’m happy to participate again in this wonderful community writing game, masterminded by Irene Latham. Today I’ll add a few new words as our poem prepares to wrap its tendrils closer to Earth.

But before we get to the new line, let’s travel back in time to our baby poem’s birthday. Heidi challenged us to jot down our thoughts about the first line and predict where the poem might go. Here’s what I wrote on April 1, after Liz set the poem in motion with a terrific line which spoke to me as a nature-obsessed writer:

Nestled in her cozy bed, a seed stretched.

I love the lyricalness of this line—the cozy bed for soil, the image of a seed stretching in bed. And it’s perfect for the beginning of spring! Right away, I am thinking of this in terms of the natural world. If I were writing this poem, I’d stick to the science of a seed growing and try to match the wonderful imagery and language. But I’m not the only author…and I’m guessing the poem will diverge from a nature/seasonal view. Where will it go? I have no idea!

The poem certainly has journeyed from the start of spring, taking a trip on owl wings to the moon and landing at a lunar birthday celebration.  Yesterday Renee suggested that it was time to start gathering tendrils and head little Jasmine home. So of course, my first thought for a line was: and headed back home. Now that’s a lyrical line….or, maybe not. I scratched my head a little longer, and thought a bit more. Maybe we can just forget about describing the earth-bound trip, and assume that Jasmine has found her way home. Or maybe someone more clever than moi will wrap it all up neatly and I can delay a bit longer…

Nestled in her cozy bed, a seed stretched.
Oh, what wonderful dreams she had!
Blooming in midnight moonlight, dancing with
the pulse of a thousand stars, sweet Jasmine
invented a game.
“Moon?” she called across warm honeyed air.
“I’m sad you’re alone; come join Owl and me.
We’re feasting on stardrops, we’ll share them with you.”
“Come find me,” Moon called, hiding behind a cloud.
Secure in gentle talons’ embrace, Jasmine rose
and set. She split, twining up Owl’s toes, pale
moonbeams sliding in between, Whoosh, Jasmine goes.
Owl flew Jasmine between clouds and moon to Lee’s party!
Moon, that wily bright balloon, was NOT alone.
……………………………………………..Jas grinned,
………………………………………………………stretched,
……………………………………………………………..reached,
……………………………………………………………………wrapped
…………………………………………………………………a new,
………………………………………..around……….tender
…………………………………………………rootlet
a trellis Sky held out to her, made of braided wind and song.
Her green melody line twisted and clung.
Because she was twining poet’s jasmine, she
wiggled a wink back at Moon, and began her poem.
Her whispered words floated on a puff of wind,
filled with light and starsong. “Revelers, lean in –
let’s add to this merriment a game that grows
wordgifts for Lee. He’s a man who knows
selection, collection, and wisely advising
these dreamers, word-weavers, and friends.”
Jas enfolded Moon-Sky-Owl into the cup of her petals,
lifted new greens to the warming rays of spring sun

And now it’s Kat’s turn to root this plant, while I sit back and sip a cup of Jasmine tea.

http://www.flowerstips.org/symbolic-spiritual-meaning-jasmine-flowers/

Here’s a list of all the contributors to the poem, where it’s been to date, and where it will travel in the next few days:

April

4 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
6 Irene at Live Your Poem
7 Linda at TeacherDance
8 Janet F. at Live Your Poem
11 Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales
12 Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink
13 Linda at A Word Edgewise
15 Donna at Mainely Write
16 Sarah at Sarah Grace Tuttle
18 Christie at Wondering and Wandering
19 Michelle at Michelle Kogan
20 Linda at Write Time
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
29 April at Teaching Authors
30 Doraine at Dori Reads

 

Irene is hosting Poetry Friday today–check out what goodies the blogosphere is serving on this final Friday of April!

Spectacular Lee

If you are a frequenter of Poetry Friday, you know that today is the birthday of a champion of children’s Poetry (with a capital P!)—Lee Bennett Hopkins. And if you are a reader of children’s poetry, you no doubt have been delighted by Lee’s many poetry anthologies.

To celebrate Lee’s birthday, I’m going to continue my April project of reviewing a book each Friday and using it to inspire my own writing. I’ve got several Hopkins anthologies on my shelf to choose from, but there’s one that holds a special place in my poetry heart– Spectacular Science, Lee’s 1999 anthology that celebrates science. When I first explored combining my nonfiction bent with children’s poetry, I read and reread Spectacular Science. Study this book and you’ll find the works of master poets, from Valerie Worth to Carl Sandberg, writing about topics that speak to the curiosity of both scientists and children.

I had the good fortune to hear Lee speak via Skype a couple of years ago at The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children, a Highlights Foundation workshop led by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. Lee spoke about how to put heart in a poem: “I’m interested in giving children beauty. I want kids to feel something, to have emotion…. As a poet you want to expand their view, to get them to look up.”

Spectacular Science certainly succeeds in expanding the reader’s view and getting them to look up, down, and all around. Kids are naturally scientists—they observe their world and ask questions. The poems in this book are brimming with observation and wonder. They invite a reader to look closely at everything from microscopic organisms to the stars. Consider “Under the Microscope,” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which celebrates both microscope and creatures it allows us to see:

Some of the poems ask questions that capture a child’s curiosity about what they observe, like Aileen Fisher’s “The Seed:”

Others explore the sense of wonder that inspires scientists and young people alike. Alice Schertle’s “Dinosaur Bone” is one of my all-time favorite poems.

This quote from Bernice Cullinan which Sylvia Vardell posted on her Poetry for Children blog this week addresses how poetry and science are made for one another.

Every poem in this collection is a model of clear-eyed observation, wonder, and delightful language. I hope I’ve whet your appetite with a few selections from Spectacular Science . If you aim to write science poetry, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this book and pore over its contents.

Revisiting Spectacular Science (along with dreaming about spring finally reaching Michigan!) provided inspiration for a poem I wrote this week:

Spring Questions

How does a robin weave a nest
where eggs stay safe and snug?
How does a spider spin a web
that traps a hapless bug?

How does a beaver dam and shape
a stream into a lake?
Who digs the hole beneath your shrub—
a chipmunk or a snake?

Who taught raccoon to lift a latch
and plan his midnight caper?
Who taught a wasp to chomp a stem
and turn it into paper?

What will you learn when you watch and wonder,
ponder the questions here?
What can you make when you weave and spin,
construct and engineer?
— ©Buffy Silverman, 2018

Head over to Life on the Deckle Edge where Robyn is hosting a birthday party and poetry celebration!

Drawn from Nature

Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month! I’m planning on reviving my long-neglected blog this month with reviews of picture books, and use them as springboards for my own writing. One of the benefits of being a judge for the Cybils poetry award is that I’ve received a few new picture books to review. This week I’d like to introduce you to a favorite.

Have you ever flipped through the pages of a new book and been astonished at what the author created? That’s what the experience of looking at Drawn from Nature was for me. The book features intricate collages of plants and animals, each made from hundreds of pressed leaves and flowers. This visual feast is arranged as a journey through the seasons, beginning with the spring bird chorus, travelling through summer meadows and autumn fruits, and ending with a winter night. I can’t imagine the patience required to assemble these collages into creatures and scenes that seem to fly off the page. Take a look at this handsome owl (my scanning skills are not the finest, so you really need to view the book to get the full impact!)

Or this stunning fox:

The book opens with the sound and sight of early-morning birds singing to establish a territory and attract a mate. I hesitate to pair the visual beauty with my words. But since one of my goals in reviewing is to motivate my own writing, I’m giving it a try. Here’s a draft of a poem about the male Red-winged blackbirds that recently returned to Michigan. They squawk at my feeder in the morning and evening, when they are taking a break from setting up territories in the swamp that borders our yard.


Spring Soldier

Wearing his sleek black uniform
he proudly parades his rank
with epaulets adorning his shoulders,
red as pressed maple leaves
fringed with aspen yellow.

His wardrobe for the new season
dazzles with the brilliance of autumn’s past.

Guarding his garrison,
he halts each enemy incursion.
Spread wings and flicked tail announce
my branch, my tree,
as he patrols his borders,

commanding, calling, brawling,
conk-a-ree, don’t mess with me!
–©Buffy Silverman, 2018

Find Drawn from Nature at your library or bookstore and prepare to savor it and be inspired (thanks to Candlewick Press for sharing it with me) or check it out here. This is a book I would have pored over for hours when I was a kid, and then pressed some treasures and tried to make my own collages. Speaking of folks who like to make things, be sure to visit Amy at The Poem Farm who is hosting all of today’s poetry-month goodies.

Merry Happy Poetry Friday!

Welcome to Poetry Friday! I’m happy to host the party this week. I imagine many of you are busy with last-minute Christmas preparations. Are your stockings hung? Your presents wrapped? Your cookies decorated? Your house clean enough for in-laws and cousins? I wish you a Merry Christmas and a joyful New Year. And for those of you, like me, who have finished lighting your menorahs, I hope you had a happy Chanukah.

Last week looked jolly and white. Now that winter has officially arrived, it’s muddy and gray outside.

Christmas has often left me feeling conflicted. There seemed to be a reason to not celebrate when I was a child–we were Jewish and Christmas belonged to Christians. We celebrated Chanukah, but my parents kept it as the minor holiday that it was intended to be–new socks or boots were about as exciting as it got. But when I met my husband and visited his family, I found out that for them Christmas was an orgy of presents, with a little magic and not much religion on the side. What had I been missing all these years?!

For almost 10 years we lived near his family and celebrated with them. Then we moved half-way across the country, and it was clear that if we were going to celebrate Christmas, it would be up to me.  And, er, I was Jewish. So for most of their childhood, my kids grew up without Christmas and I felt slightly guilty about not keeping their father’s family’s traditions. My now-adult kids have assured me that they didn’t feel Christmas-deprived (we did a little more present-giving at Chanukah time than when I was a kid.) This poem is for them and for me.

On Tuesday, the final night of Chanukah, we lit the oil menorah that my great-grandparents brought with them from Lithuania. We did not burn the house down.

December 24th

The latkes were eaten.
The dreidels were spun.
The candles had flickered.
The presents? All done.

My clothes smelled like oil
from donuts we’d fried.
I scraped away wax,
set menorahs aside.

I read my new books.
New socks warmed my feet.
My sled gathered dust
as snow turned to sleet.

Tomorrow was Christmas
for friends– but not me.
I’d have eggrolls to nosh
and movies to see!
–©Buffy Silverman, 12/2017

Whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they bring light in this season of darkness. In the spirit of shining a light, I’m also sharing a poem (with permission) that Margarita Engle posted this week on Facebook. The poem features the seven words banned from CDC agency budget documents.

EVIDENCE-BASED, A Poem Against Tyranny

When words are banned by a president
who imagines that limiting language
is his entitlement, all poets must use
our vulnerable freedom of speech
before we lose it the way transgender people
can lose rights, the White House has lost
diversity, and any fetus might lose hope for
a healthy future, simply because
medicine is only for the rich,
and science-based facts
are prohibited—but only UNTIL
the deceptive election is investigated,
and truth once again
sets us free.
–©Margarita Engle, National Young People’s Poet Laureate

Now, more than ever, we need to share words that light the darkness. And what better way to do so than with poetry? Please leave your poetry links below.

Old Cherry

I’m fortunate to live in a neighborhood that’s surrounded by woods and a lake. The downside of living in the woods, however, is losing those trees. Our neighborhood lost hundreds of trees about 15 years ago during some powerful straight line winds. We were lucky that only a couple of standing dead trees fell on our property during that storm, and the surviving trees in the neighborhood have filled in the gaps in the ensuing years.

But many of our trees are aging, and this week we had to have two taken down. One was a huge red oak that was likely two hundred years old. Its crown towered over our roof, and it had started to lean precariously. Carpenter ants and other critters had hollowed out the base of the trunk (fun fact that I learned from an arborist: if you hammer on a trunk you can hear the difference between solid and hollow wood.) I knew it had to come down, but it still felt like a huge loss. I’ve looked at that tree every morning for the past 20 years, and written about many animals that inhabited it.

The other tree was a 100-foot tall cherry that had lost a huge limb about a month ago, and had a large split between the two remaining trunks. Downy woodpeckers had worked the cherry’s broken stubs for many years. This summer I watched a pileated woodpecker drumming near the tree’s top.

So it’s not surprising that when I thought about this month’s challenge on Today’s Little Ditty, my mind turned to old trees. Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, challenged writers to write a poem that finds beauty in something that is not usually considered beautiful. Several of our trees fit the bill.

Old Cherry

You stand in spring
barely a bud growing
on tired branches.
Woodpecker tests your trunk, tat-a-tat,
chipping sweet, soft wood.

This old cherry still stands near our house.

Your roots search
for sustenance in summer drought.
Patches of bark slough off your trunk.
Beetles inscribe your weathered wood
with tales of their youth.

Tattered leaves wither and drop
as summer turns to fall.
You rest, naked against the gray sky.
Rain seeps into ancient scars
carrying spores of rot close to your heart.

Winter covers your crown.
Ice encases each sparkling twig.
Creaking, an old limb
cracks and breaks,
thumping on frozen ground.

Lighter, you wait for snowmelt
and endure.
–©Buffy Silverman

Hoping you had a joyful Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for generous and supportive poetry pals in the Poetry Friday community–Carol has today’s Poetry Friday roundup.

It’s Halloweensie Time Again!

I missed Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie fest last year, so I’m glad to participate again this year. The prompt is to “write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.) Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)”

I’ve always wondered where candy corn comes from–and now I know the answer! Read on to find out the true story, as told by yours truly:

I have no photos of crows, but here’s a black dog waiting and watching.

Farmer McMonster’s Halloween Harvest

Farmer McMonster planted some seeds.
He watered and hoed, he yanked out the weeds.

Monster-sized crows assembled and waited.
When corn stalks grew skyward, they cackled, elated.

They clustered like storm clouds, a shadowy herd–
McMonster’s old scarecrow did not scare one bird.

They settled on corn ears and tore off each shuck.
Poking and pecking, their black beaks got stuck!

For Farmer McMonster had hoodwinked those crows,
and now he had candy corn growing in rows!

He shooed off the crows (they winged out of sight)
then gathered his crop for Halloween night.
–©Buffy Silverman

Be sure to stop over at Susanna’s blog and read some Halloweensie Treats!

 

A Peace Day Poem

One of the beauties of Facebook is finding out about the existence of things like International Day of Peace, and being inspired by others to write something for it. Fall is making itself known in Michigan, and I can’t think of anything more peaceful than watching the seasons change. So here’s an acrostic to celebrate both Autumn and Peace:

 

Passing between field and woods, the scent of autumn fills my lungs.
Each step stirs a cauldron of earth. Fallen leaves crackle, bees
Alight on goldenrod. The thrum of cicadas competes with the
Cawing insistence of crows and the gathering rattle of cranes,
Eclipsed only by the rumble of thunder, by the turning of time.
–©Buffy Silverman, September 21, 2017

 

Margarita Engle & Amy Ludwig VanDerwater are hosting a PeaceDay padlet–check out some writing and art projects celebrating peace there.

And it’s almost Friday–Amy’s also hosting Poetry Friday at The Poem Farm.

Poetry Swap–Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I shared most of the goodies I received during the summer poetry swap. Today I’m sharing my final treat. Jone‘s poem came beautifully mounted with an easel-thingy (the technical term, I’m sure) and is now sitting on my desk. And what a jewel it is–both the photo and the words that accompany it. I love the poem’s focus on presence in the moment. That’s the beauty of observing nature (especially through a camera) for me–focusing on the wonders of the moment.

©jone rush macculloch

And now, for your mild amusement, here are the poems that I sent my swapees. Someday I will learn how to use a simple program that allows me to lay-out poems on photographs. But in the meantime my kind daughter loaned her talents and put these together (which, come to think about it, is the simplest program I can imagine…) I chose a poem to send to Keri to match a photo I took of a spider building a web on a plant on our deck–the sunlight on her web added a bit of magic. (I cheated a bit for this one and revised a poem that I wrote for Today’s Little Ditty’s final spring challenge.)

© Buffy Silverman

I spend a lot of time down at our swampy dock, spying on dragonflies and damselflies. This green dragonfly inspired the poem I sent to Tabatha:

©Buffy Silverman

One evening I observed a damselfly just emerging from its nymphal skin. I thought I would write a single poem for Linda with photos of both the empty skin (called an exuvia, which is a fun word to say) and the new adult. But somehow that morphed into a haiku about the change, and a tanka about observing the critter. Should I admit that I borrowed the title of the book I was reading for the final line of the haiku? (The book, which I recommend, is not about insect metamorphosis!)

©Buffy Silverman

I had the good fortune to meet Nikki Grimes this summer, at a dinner that Ed Spicer gave in her honor. Nikki read from her collection, One Last Word, and I was taken both with her glorious poems and the golden shovel form. I really wanted to try writing a golden shovel, so that’s what I did with my poem for Irene, using a line from her poem “Tree for All” from Dear Wandering Wildebeest as the source for my end words: “Owls nest in my hidden knothole; my cradle cozies brand-new wings.” The photograph that accompanied the poem is of an itty-bitty monarch caterpillar, munching on some swamp milkweed blossoms.

©Buffy Silverman

For most of the summer I had a photograph on my desktop of an unopened Black-eyed Susan flower. I wanted to write something to go with it, but had no idea what. When I thought about writing a poem for Heidi, who often shares her teacher life, the flower became a student at the start of the school year.

©Buffy Silverman

And there you have it…writing and receiving poems for the summer swap, as always, was a highlight of my summer. Kat’s got all of today’s poetry friday highlights–all the way from oz!