Friday, February 15, 2008

A Poetry Friday post for the birds

As many of you will recall, I've decided that this year, I'm going to participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count. Details can be found in my post from January 30th. And guess what? The GBBC starts today! And runs until Monday!

Naturally, I went to my local Wild Birds Unlimited and purchased a brand new "Cranberry Fare", a cylindrical mass of dried fruits and nutmeats that the neighborhood woodpeckers all come and sample. And then I got to thinking about bird poems, what with it being Poetry Friday and all. I considered posting someting from Feathers by Eileen Spinelli. Perhaps her poem about woodpeckers:

Wake Up
by Eileen Spinelli

No rooster to wake us.
We're not on a farm.
But we have our very own
feathered alarm.
It drums before breakfast
on shingle and pole.
I think there's some rooster
in woodpecker's soul.


But no, I didn't want to limit it to the birds in my yard. So, maybe something from The Company of Crows: A Book of Poems by Marilyn Singer that deals with bird watching:


Beak or mind,
Heart or wings,
Crow watchers all see
  different things.
Nest or sky,
Flock or few,
Watching crows have
  their own point of view.


But then I got to thinking that perhaps crows, although familiar to most folks, are a bit dark as subject matter goes. (Punny, yes?) And what if someone only wants a short bird poem?

So I opened my copy of If Not for the Cat, my favorite Prelutsky book ever, and picked one of his riddle-ish haikus:

I, the hoverer,
Sip the nasturtium's nectar
And sing with my wings.


It's about a hummingbird, as you'd clearly see if you had the book and opened it up, since Ted Rand's illustrations are genius. But alas, I could find no web image to share with you, so you'll just have to use your imagination. Or get to the library. Or something. And hummingbirds are many places - my aunt sees them in New Hampshire, my in-laws see them in New Jersey, and my mother sees them in the desert of Arizona. But usually, I don't see them at all. Maybe because they are small and fast, or because I am inattentive.

What I do notice, when I see them, are cardinals. The girls are all lovely and olive-colored with just a hint of plummy red. But the boys, particularly in season, are scarlet. Which reminded me of CYBILS nominee Today at the Bluebird Cafe by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin, which even mentions yesterday's holiday:

The Cardinal
by Deborah Ruddell

Stoplights and cherries
and roses and berries,
a ruby, a wagon,
a flame from a dragon;
crimson-vermilion,
a sunset Brazilian,
the tip of his tail,
the cap on his head:
valentineSantaClaustotallyred.


And then it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, what I was really wanting wasn't a poem about ordinary birds and birdwatching, but about GREAT birds, for the Great Backyard Bird Watch. So I turned to the lovely new book of poems someone sent me as a gift, the latest book by Julie Larios and Julie Paschkis called Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures. (Thanks, J!) And being in the mood for a change from all that lovely rhyme (what is it about birds that makes folks want to rhyme?), I decided to share with you a poem called "Thunderbird", which is accompanied by an illustration that looks very much like an Alaskan totem image.

Thunderbird
by Julie Larios

Do you hear the thunder crack?
Do you hear it rumble?
Here he comes!
His wings
beat the old drums.
Cedar scented,
he carries the wind
in his bent beak.
Rainmaker.
Whale hunter.
Great Tlingit chief.


I highly commend this book to poetry lovers and art lovers alike, as well as folks who like folktales (i.e., pretty much every elementary school librarian I know), as it covers mythical creatures like mermaids, dragons, centaurs, trolls, sea serpents, and hobgoblins, as well as gargoyles, the firebird, cockatrice, the sphinx, will o' the wisp, the naga and the phoenix. And the aforementioned Thunderbird, as well. The artwork is absolutely phenomenal, as you'd expect from Julie Paschkis, and even the endpapers in this book are a thing of beauty - a tone-on-tone production featuring all the images from inside the book, and matched inside the front and back covers so as to be mirror images. The same image is available as a coloring/activity sheet as part of the free downloadable teacher's guide at the Harcourt website. Go. See. Print. Color. Buy the book.

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