Monday, April 29, 2013

Poetry A-Z: Day 29 ... Gardens

My son and I spent Saturday morning in the community garden on campus pulling weeds. Growing weeds seems to be my forte, while growing vegetables ... NOT SO MUCH! My garden partner and I have planted radishes, broccoli, two kinds of basil, squash, and sunflowers. We're waiting a bit to put in the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I do love fresh vegetables, so pulling weeds will be tedious and highly annoying, but I have to keep reminding myself of all the good things that will come in the end.

Given my recent experiences, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to write about poetry in the garden.

Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses, written and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, is a collection of poems that provides an unusual view of the garden and its inhabitants in all their (sometimes disgusting) glory. It begins:
Once upon a garden rotten,
Twice forlorn and half forgotten . . .

Drip--drip--cold and wet.
Winter isn't over yet.

Drip--drip--soaking, sopping
Always dripping, never stopping.

Drip--drip--sound of thunder
Wakes a weevil way down under.

Drip--drip--burrow deep.
Wait for spring. Go back to sleep.
When the temperature rises, all manner of oddhoppers (bees, beetles, crickets, fleas, etc.) come out of the woodwork! There's a beetle on his back (kicking to right himself), a snake in the grass, katydids, a walking stick, stinkbug and, more. Here's one that always makes me smile and makes listeners wrinkle their noses in delight.
Bugs are digging--scoop it out.
Move it, boys, let's hack it out!
Front feet, back feet, scrape it out.
        Dig we must.
        Excuse our dust.
Black muck, brown muck, mix it up.
Watch it, boys, it's breaking up!
Punch it! Pat it! Patch it up!
        Bless my soul--
        It's time to roll.
Dung balls rolling--move 'em out!
The rhythm of the text, the cadence that propels you forward, the hidden jokes in the illustrations--all artfully combine to make this one thoroughly enjoyable book. Perhaps most of all I like that Oddhopper Opera is a handsome invitation for young readers to explore the world of the garden and its inhabitants on their own time, while getting down and dirty with some real live bugs.

    I Heard it From Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden, written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is a collection of poems by turns both whimsical and scientific, Juanita's first poetry book (though far from her first published work!) is a magical collection about growing things. Here's the poem that opens the book.
    When I Grow Up

    In the still chill of a winter night
    seeds on the gardener's bench
    rattle their packets
    with chattering.

    "When I grow up,
    I'm going to be . . . "

    "The biggest watermelon."
    "Greenest spinach."
    "Toughest kale."
    "A rutabaga round as the world."
    "An everywhere zucchini vine."
    "Cornstalk so tall I touch the sky."

    Little seeds
    with big plans,
    chittering, chattering,
    except for one,
    not a murmur from his packet.

    Hey, little seed,
    what about you?
    What will you be
    when you grow up?

    In the still chill of the winter night:
    "I'm going to be FIRST!"

    And the radish is right.

    Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    Given that seeds and plants "talk" in this collection, readers will find all manner of garden gossip, and what fun it is! However, I'm still quite fond of this very simple poem.

    Plant seeds early in the spring
    when the ground is warm,
    two inches deep in well-tilled soil
    where they'll be safe from harm.

    Let the sun and rain pour down.
    Be careful where you hoe.
    A miracle is taking place:
    Seeds split and start to grow.

    Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    Juanita followed this book of poetry with Grow: A Novel in Verse. It is the story of Kate Sibley, a twelve-year old girl and Berneetha, a teacher who decides to plant a community garden on a vacant lot that has long been neglected and is strewn with trash. While folks at first just watch Kate and Berneetha work in the garden, soon they join in to help. Just as the garden begins to take shape, Randall Conn, the owner of the lot dies, and troubles ensue when his son decides to turn the lot into a parking garage. Will the garden survive?

    The story is deftly told in a series of poems that allows readers to watch both the characters and the garden grow. But more importantly, readers really get to know these characters inside and out. They are well drawn and utterly human. Here's an excerpt from the poem "About Berneetha."
    She does things:
    sizzling, stirring,
    zapping, rocking,
    purring, jumping,
    dancing things.
    With Berneetha
    everything happens
    big time
    even the quiet things
    like sitting still
    and staring at frost
    on the window in winter
    or counting cricket chirps
    when the summer sun sets (p. 13)
    Here's another excerpt, this time from the poem "Harlan's Favorite Flower."
    Once he asked Berneetha
    how a whole plant
    can sprout and grow and flower
    all from a sliver of seed.
    What was it
    in that seed
    that made it grow
    in the dirt
    and bloom yellow, white,
    purple, orange, maroon,
    like a conjure man had spoken
    a spell over it?

    Berneetha said
    we all start as seeds--
    each of us different,
    each of us beautiful. (pp. 58-59)

    Poems © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    In Our Backyard Garden, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Marcy Ramsey - Set in the garden and around garden events, this is a collection of poems all about family that is filled with love and laughs.

    September's sun
    falls golden
    on the garden.
    A butterfly
    wings past
    my baby brother.
    Grandad picks
    the last of
    the zucchini.
    Grandmother cuts
    a last bouquet
    of mint.
    Aunt Sissy and I
    take one last
    hammock ride
    to places we have
    read about
    in books.

    Poem © Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

    That's it for today. See you tomorrow for another mystery post and a wrap-up. Where has April gone?!

    1 comment:

    1. A round-up of bug books of poetry is what I should do someday - this weekend with the nephews I really discovered just how INTO bugs they really are - it was kind of funny. If they're not poking them or staring at them, they want to babble on endlessly about them. And their misconceptions are hilarious - wasps are slimy, in case you didn't know.