Chapter 4 of Reader, Come Home begins with this quote from Wordsworth’s A Poet’s Epitaph, part of his Lyrical Ballads. Author Maryanne Wolf goes on to say the best way to nurture that “harvest of a quiet eye” is to read poetry. I spent March reading and rereading Paul J. Willis’ new collection, Little Rhymes for Lowly Plants.
I was familiar with Willis because I’d planned to use his poem “Piano” in The Joy of Poetry, but it dropped off in the revision. He was so gracious about the whole thing. Willis’ new collection promised depth, whimsy, and rhyme.
Most of the poems I’ve learned By Heart include rhyme, and memorizing the nine I have so far has revealed a shocking lack of rhyme in my life. So, little rhymes? Lowly plants? Just in time for Poetic Earth Month? Yes, please!
Willis’ poems invite us to read deeply about specific plants (scientific names often included) in specific places, often a national park, forest or recreation area. I looked up every plant and place mentioned, most of which are in California. Section II has many poems inspired by the bible, including its stones, deserts, and hills.
Rhymed poetry and form poetry — section III is almost all sonnets — give us both the comfort of familiarity of anticipating the rhyme and the surprise of actually finding it. “Soft Air” is about El Niño, a weather phenomenon that affects how much rain we will get, which is always a concern in the West. Willis, in these six lines, describes something I’ve often tried to write about and failed to convey — how when the land and its people are in drought, we’ll count even mist as rain.
But mist (how missed) is mist enough for us,
a promise not quite kept, a ring inside
a box that may unclose an empty haze.
For still we see the suitor on his knee,
his open hand held up as if to catch
first drops of rain from our unclouded gaze.
This month, Poetic Earth Month, Tweetspeak Poetry invites you to “read and write the world with us poetically” in our 30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge. Read a poem a day. Write a poem a day. Or do both. Cultivate “the harvest of quiet eye.”
And all you poets out there, consider following Willis’ lead and write rhymes, even little ones.
The epigraph for Little Rhymes for Lowly Plants is from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost:
Dumaine: In reason nothing.
Berowne: Something then in rhyme.
Little Rhymes for Lowly Plants, Paul J. Willis
“Clemency as the Soul of the Constitution” in The Journal of Law & Politics, Mark Osler (Does a long journal article count? I’m counting it.)
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
Early Readers and Picture Books
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, Franck Prévot, illus. Aurélia Fronty (a future book club selection)
Wolf in the Snow, Matthew Cordell (Join us for Children’s Book Club, April 12!)
Middle Grade and YA
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell (This was labeled YA, but all the characters are out of college.)
1. Join us in the 30 Day Challenge for Poetic Earth Month. For plants’ sake.
2. Have you tried writing rhymed poetry? If not, start by reading poems that rhyme.
3. Did you make some time for deep reading this month? What stories stirred your soul?
4. Share your March pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro