Welcome to Arkansas!
We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity, in which we highlight the 50 states of America and give people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Arkansas.
Butterflies Are a Girl’s Best Friend
State capital: Little Rock. State flower: apple blossom. State gem: diamond. State butterfly: Diana Fritillary. State bird: mockingbird
I have repositioned my desk so I can watch the activity surrounding my backyard’s new flowers, swarming with bees and butterflies—snouts and cabbage whites, monarchs and swallowtails. But I’ve never seen the Diana. For that I’d have to travel to Arkansas.
Diana Fritillary butterflies are large, with a wingspan of 3½ – 4½ inches. In the spring they feed on violets. They have one flight, from June to September. As Arkansas is The Natural State, it’s no wonder an endangered butterfly calls it home. There are more than 150 species of butterflies in the state, but the Diana is the official state butterfly.
Do you know who liked butterflies? Maya Angelou.
The poet wasn’t born in Arkansas, but she and her brother lived in Stamps, with her grandmother, during part of their childhood. Arkansas is where she began to become herself—no longer Marguerite but Maya.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
— Maya Angelou
Like butterflies and like Angelou herself, diamonds also undergo a change to become what they are, and Arkansas is one of the few places in North America where diamonds are present in natural rock. The importance of diamonds in Arkansas history is acknowledged on the state flag and the state quarter. The only diamond mine in the world with public access is Crater of Diamonds State Park. Pay your entry fee, dig, and take home your treasure.
Arkansas is larger than you might guess—larger by land than Pennsylvania, although considerably smaller in population. It has distinct geographic regions, including two mountain ranges (the Ouachita and the Ozarks), a coastal plain, and the upper and lower Arkansas delta. And then there’s Crowley’s Ridge, its own natural phenomenon.
The state’s history is complicated. Before it was found by Spanish explorers, before it was claimed by the French and sold as part of the Louisiana Purchase, it belonged to many Native American peoples, including the Quapaw, from which the state takes its name. The remains of a complex mound site can be viewed at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park.
In the 20th century Arkansas was the site of Japanese internment camps. The city of Little Rock came to national attention when the Little Rock Nine, nine Black students, integrated Central High School following the ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. The school is now a National Historic Site.
Angelou’s time in Arkansas was nurturing, but not altogether rosy. She wrote a poem titled “My Arkansas,” the kind of poem only a daughter of the state could write. The kind of poem only a daughter of the state has the right to.
There is a deep brooding
Old crimes like moss pend
from poplar trees.
The sullen earth
is much too
red for comfort.
Sunrise seems to hesitate
and in that second
incandescent aim, and
dusk no more shadows
than the noon.
The past is brighter yet.
Old hates and
ante-bellum lace, are rent
but not discarded.
Today is yet to come
It writhes. It writhes in awful
waves of brooding.
— Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise
Writhing in a cocoon takes a long time. But the black, the orange, the white and blue spots of color—those are worth waiting for.
Poetry Prompt: Arkansas Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Arkansas (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Arkansas: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Dave Malone, poet published by T.S. Poetry Press! (His collection from T.S. Poetry Press—O: Love Poems from the Ozarks—includes a poem about Hawksbill Crag, the area you see above in the featured photo.)
Big Dam Bridge, longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America
Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Glen Campbell, singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor
Johnny Cash, singer-songwriter, poet
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville
Crescent Dragonwagon, author and writer
Hot Springs National Park, thermal springs
Louis Jordan, saxophonist, The King of Jive
Charles Portis, author of True Grit
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, godmother of rock ‘n’ roll
Browse more 50 States of Generosity
“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist