A little April-warmth in winter

It’s been bitter cold for the past week in Michigan. I’ve managed to get outside every day (although the hound has decided he’s a warm weather friend–icy paws are not his gig.) The warmth of a poetry class was especially welcome this week. I had read that April Halprin Wayland was offering a 3-hour poetry class through UCLA extension, and the price was right (as in free.) It was a fun class, and got the juices flowing.

We started the class with a 10-minute observation. I had just filled our bird feeders before the class began and taken some photos of bird tracks and wing imprints in the snow. Rather than bundle up again, I opened a window, binoculars in hand, and watched and listened. Our assignment was to jot down a list of facts and feelings. My list was heavy on the facts (no surprise there.)

Our lists led to writing three poems during the class. The first poem was meant to start from a fact or feeling from the list. Here’s my very-rough, 10-minute draft:

Under the Bird Feeder

Tiny pitchforks mark the snow-covered ground,
left by a congregation of insistent beaks.
Trails of tracks wander, crisscross, 
side-by-side in perfect pairs.
Some end in wing marks,
where the small and timid
fled the bustle,  the hubbub.
Reigning bullies fly like torpedos 
and scatter the crowd, 
hungry to make their mark.
--Buffy Silverman 

After April shared examples of poems in different poetic voices, we had ten more minutes to rewrite our poems using one of those voices. I attempted a dialogue poem, which is not a form I had explored before. And finally, we were asked to choose one of our two poems and add one of the poetic tools that April had highlighted in the poems she shared–metaphor/simile, personification, and repetition. I played with my final poem after the class had ended, tossing in a little rhythm and rhyme:

A Question for Backyard Birds       

When the wind is a howling coyote
and the snow is a falcon in flight,
When the air holds the scorpion’s sting
and bugs disappear from your sight,
Why do you stay through the dark days of winter?
Why do you stay in my yard?

We stay for the seeds and the suet.
We fly to the feeders for snacks.
We flit and we flutter through branches,
and hide when the Cooper attacks.
We hop through the drifts, and we dine through the day,
we stay for the feast in our yard.
--Buffy Silverman

Looking for more poetry? Hop over to Life on the Deckle Edge where my multi-talented pal, Robyn Hood Black, is hosting Poetry Friday.

59 thoughts on “A little April-warmth in winter

  1. This week I had my grandchildren (school was canceled due to cold; don’t ask, Louisiana doesn’t handle cold well). I held up the three year old to watch the birds at the feeder. I wanted to teach her their names- chickadee, tufted titmouse, cardinal. She didn’t remember them 5 minutes later, but maybe she’ll remember the warmth of my arms and how I loved her enough.
    Your poem inspired that memory. Love the rhyme and the birds’ answer “our yard.”

  2. Thanks for the blow by blow vicarious experience of your class with April, Buffy! I’m a fan of these lines–
    “the bustle, the hubbub.
    Reigning bullies fly”
    and of your attention to the birds. Nothin like a few rough drifts to get a poet going!

  3. Buffy, I love the ending line of each stanza and the transition from my-to-our yard. It gave authenticity to the conversation. I wish I had followed up re: April’s course. I remember seeing a notification about it – then life got away from me! So glad to experience it vicariously through your post. Thank you.

  4. Buffy, what a sweet surprise to find April’s poetry class and be able to be there. The tracks in the snow are fascinating. I love reading your first responses. Then reading your dialogue poem was fun. I can hear the birds in your sweet sing-song word choice you made for their answer. It reminded me of how important it is to keep my bird feeder filled, for those who choose to stay back in the cold.

  5. I love poems in two voices and yours is masterful, Buffy! Thanks for sharing your process and leading us through April’s class.

  6. Oh, this is such fun to read. I kind of feel like I was present at a birth of sorts! It was fascinating to hear about your process and see the transformation of your poem. Both are just wonderful!!

  7. As a fan of bird feeder birds, I enjoyed both poems. I especially love “Tiny pitchforks” in the first poem, the question-and-answer format of the second, and the way the birds claim possession of the yard. Perfect!

  8. Buffy: Great question… why do they stay? How warm can those feathers be? Still, don’t we love to see them all winter? And the wing pattern in the snow… I love it! I saw one years ago in MN… I thought it was an owl’s wings, but now I’m considering maybe a hawk. Thanks for your observations. I especially love the wind being a howling coyote.

  9. Buffy: Great question… why do they stay? How warm can those feathers be? Still, don’t we love to see them all winter? And the wing pattern in the snow… I love it! I saw one years ago in MN… I thought it was an owl’s wings, but now I’m considering maybe a hawk. Thanks for your observations. I especially love the wind being a howling coyote.

  10. Buffy, I liked both of these. Your word choices, (pitchfork, torpedo, bullies) add life to the lively scene . I also like the back and forth in the second. How can we know things unless we ask?

  11. You found some great words to add spark to your poems: pitchfork, torpedo, and hubbub. The birds are hungry but so are the bullies. The poem provided a true to real life image. I also liked the back and forth in the second. We don’t know why birds do what they do unless we ask.

  12. I’ll admit I’m right there with your hound, icy paws are not my thing either. We had a very unusual deep freeze (“polar vortex”, they called it!) last week, and I was not a fan. But even I had to admit that it was worth bundling up and getting outside, however briefly, to marvel at the sun sparkling on the frost crystals.

  13. I enjoyed seeing the movement from poem to poem, Buffy, but really like that final one using the birds themselves as descriptors. I think we have the same bird feeder pole, FYI, but I had to add an extra baffle because, you know, squirrels! Also, finally, I just got word that my quest for your newest book is ready for me! It’s had many, many holds so hope you’re proud of that! Happy writing!

      1. Buffy, your class with April sounds enjoyable. Short spurts of writing time is a practice I engaged in with my district teachers and a writing consultant. The first stanza was full of imagery and the second voice in the 2nd stanza was a nice surprise.

  14. Hi wonderful Buffy & You are wonderful to guide us through wonderful April’s prompt & your winterwonderland for the avaians.

    You strike me sweetly with your vivid feathery details, but O! my Heart stopped at the bird’s term: “our yard.”

    We feed our Carolina wrens, cardinals, tufted titmice & some unidentified [by us] frowsy browny birds at our
    tall squirrel-deterrent feeder pole at a distance from the kitchen window & we always think of it as being in
    “our yard.” Appreciations for a better way to say it. Pus, all the groove else, here. Have a great outdoors weekend!

  15. Buffy,
    Fun post. I especially enjoyed reading your first, quick response. I am partial to those first responses we have when observing nature- either in word or in drawing. Thanks for sharing! Best, Annie

  16. What a wonderful workshop. I love how one poem can lead to another over the course of a writing session! When I’ve done this, I’m always amazed with the last poem – marvelling at how I would never have written that poem if I had written the ones that preceded it.

    Thanks for sharing your poems with us today! I love the personification in your final poem – it really draws the reader in.

  17. I am a fan of your poetry and your photography. This was so cool (cold?) to see your two versions. The second version brings so much life to the scene. I love it! What a great outcome from the workshop. I aim to take one of these someday. I need to get out of my day job schedule a bit…maybe retirement? One can only hope.

  18. I would love both of your poems on their own, but with the backstory about how they grew, I love them even more. The way you used both voices in the second poem is masterful, and your shift from “my yard” to “our yard” is all kinds of perfect! Kudos to you and to the teacher who helped you bring these poems to life!

  19. Buffy, I love your poems and pics! You have a lot of finches and juncos. In your first poem I love your images, word choices, sounds…: tiny pitchforks, congregation of insistent beaks, crisscross, side by side in perfect pairs, timid fled the bustle, the hubbub, and your ending is great reigning bullies fly like torpedoes…hungry to make their mark. Torpedoes perfectly describe some of the birds I saw flying yesterday in my backyard.

    Your second poem has great voices! I felt like I was there hearing and seeing the conservation. I love the question & answer format, repetition, sounds, rhythm, and rhyme. Your first line “when the wind is a howling coyote” hooked me. And you kept reeling me in, “and the snow is a falcon in flight” both of those lines are beautiful metaphors and imagery that I could see and feel! I love it! It reads and flows like a book. Great how you ended with the birds saying, feast in OUR yard! Thank you for showing both of your poems, describing April’s class, your process and your inspiration. 🙂
    PS I was so excited about your poem, I forgot to mention we use beef lard in our suet containers. Even blue birds love it and a variety of woodpeckers. Years ago, when I was in a grocery store, I noticed an older woman with 6 packages of beef lard in her cart. I thought, there has to be a reason why she is buying all of those packages. I asked her. She smiled and told me it was for her birds. We’ve been using ever since, and the squirrels don’t like it!

    1. Thanks, Gail! I used to get lard from the butcher, but now am a bit lazier and get the prepackaged stuff with seeds inside. When it was really cold this week, I noticed many species on the suet feeder (nuthatch, Carolina wren, hairy and down woodpecker, tufted titmouse, chickadee, a few others.) Usually its just the woodpeckers (we’ve had 6 species!) and the wren. Today a bluebird was under the feeder, so I’m guessing it was on clean-up crew.

  20. Wonderful poem Buffy, and I enjoyed seeing how it transformed and grew from the original draft. April’s class sounds like a treasure filled poem. I’ve been filling my backyard bird feeder this week, as the junco’s, sparrows, mourning doves and all come and empty it out, and we have a couple of Cooper’s hawks they have to watch out for too. Thanks for this feather-filled post, loved it!

  21. Buffy I’m so excited by how your poem moved across the exercises. That last poem… wow. Really, really wonderful. You combined the dialogue form and incorporated similes…how evocative those images are! I was excited when I saw your name on the class roster And I’m honored that you came!

  22. Buffy I’m so excited by how your poem moved across the exercises. That last poem… wow. Really, really wonderful How you combined similes and dialogue and how evocative the poem is. I was excited when I saw your name on the class roster And I’m honored that you came!

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