Friday, July 9, 2021

slps 7: Shovan and Bramer

Last week I wrote about responding to a writing challenge that "I get good mileage from putting two poems side by side and aiming for the overlaps in between." This week I return to that practice as a reader, continuing my self-led poetry study, which I unintentionally abandoned when National Poetry Month struck back in April. So many items of the moment (progressive poems, climate emergencies, retirements, cicadas, challenges, Juneteenths) to distract a person from her studies!

But this week things are settled (allow me to pause here in the moment and note that: THIS WEEK THINGS ARE SETTLED. There is an unrushed feeling of peace and refreshment. I needed it and I am getting it. Glory be and gratitude!), so I'm pulling books off my shelves and studying.

I have owned the chapbook MOUNTAIN, LOG, SALT AND STONE since its author, your friend and mine Laura Shovan, gifted it to me in 2011. It is my shame to admit that I never really read it--intimidated to find, I believe, that my new SCBWI friend also had adult chapbook chops! My loss, and apologies to you, Laura.

Today I find  this poem:

The Listening of Plants | Laura Shovan

On the buffet where she kept her celadon dishes,

Mother placed a vase of pussy willows

hurried out of their branches

The buds were cat toes walking up a mottled branch,

miniature koalas hanging on their eucalyptus

in a scattered line.

I snapped one off the twig and rolled the bud 

on the flats of my thumb and finger,

Its smoky grey coat how I imagined koala fur might feel.

I rubbed the willow bud along the bone of my jaw

wanting to know how a plant can wear animal skin.

It was too small, like touching nothing.

I splayed my hand along its curves, 

felt the hairs rise in the divot of my palm.

I would have needed a sweater of willow to be satisfied. 

Instead I slipped it into my ear. How did I know 

a pussy willow was the right shape for the foyer of my ear,

long hall leading to the eardrum and the bones behind?

The bud rested there and I listened,

wanting to hear what it had to say

which was quiet, which was the muted listening of plants.




I guess I chose this one because I am smack in the middle of BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a book which is speaking to me directly about why as a kid I was powerfully drawn to "playing Indians." That's a thought I'll come back to another day, but for now, see how that child reached out for a quiet conversation with a plant clad like an animal? 


Scanning the shelves for a children's book which might have a companion poem inside, I pull down CLIMBING SHADOWS by Shannon Bramer, which we included in our NCTE Poetry Notables List for 2020. I'm not is another quiet poem.




You Speak Violets | Shannon Bramer


sometimes you are     quiet as a trillium     yet your eyes speak


the language of wild basil     red butterflies     impatient


for a buzzing loud summer     you've got a young forest inside you


i see waterfalls     beyond tall     white     sleeping trees


birches     poplars     where everything is moving and alive




I see rushing water in your eyes when you get a new idea


sun through the branches making shadows inside you


when you find it hard        to say what you are feeling



                                                                                                    you speak violets




I'm not currently in thinking-about-school mode, but wow--all I can think right now is how much noisy TALKING I do in the classroom and how it might be a goal to let it be     just    quiet     sometimes, so that the children can hear what the plants, animals, shadows are speaking.


 Thanks to my pal Margaret over at Reflections on the Teche for hosting us today and bridging the distance online as we have become maybe too accustomed to doing. Wishing you plenty of SETTLED right now!


  1. Every line of this post needs an Amen at the end of it. Everything from the full on interruption of April's Poetry Month to the dismount from very loud talking in the classroom. Yes, let's be quiet and let the quiet give us the refreshment of no hurry...time to pick up a book. Gosh, I feel refreshed just reading these two poems and saying, wow. wow. wow.

  2. Heidi, thank you for sharing Laura's sweet poem. I so love the progression of trying to feel that animal-furred plant. It makes me want to feel a pussy willow in my ear! That you went looking for a companion piece in a children's poetry book is so sweet. I love "You Speak Violets." How sweet that you made the connection to be quiet and let your students hear what the "plants, animals, shadows are speaking." I want to take that lesson today too.

  3. I so love this pairing of poems and also love knowing Laura as a listener of pussy willow blossoms. And that lovely line, "You speak violets." But most of all I love hearing you are feeling settled. I hope this feeling lasts.

  4. I like all of these, and appreciate the mention of Braiding Sweetgrass, which I hope to read soon. The line, "You speak violets," will stay with me. Lovely.

  5. Oh dear. There were so many beautiful combinations in this (miniature koalas hanging on their eucalyptus😍) - but the thing I best related to was slipping it into my ear; a hibiscus and a cotton ball as a child. It didn't end well.😬

  6. I wish for you another week or two of SETTLED, and I chuckle to hear "I'm not currently in thinking-about-school mode" because clearly you ARE. :-) I love your poem pairs. So much to ponder.

  7. Thank you for sharing these two lovely poems. Laura's took me back to my childhood. We had pussy willows in our back yard and they always fascinated me. As a little girl I wondered how a kitten's fur could grow on a plant.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!