“Calling the Owl”

Let us hear your faint vibrato and absorb
what is invisible, wild and nearly gone.” — Terry Blackhawk

Every time I read “Calling the Owl,” I can picture the poet standing still in a snowy meadow just before dawn, listening for that which is “wild and nearly gone.”

Terry Blackhawk is an acclaimed Michigan poet, so I’m especially proud to introduce her to readers who haven’t met her yet. She’s the founder and director of Detroit’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a poets-in-schools program serving over 5,000 students per year. Terry began teaching English in 1968 after graduating from Antioch College. As Terry explains it, she “took up writing poetry” when she was already teaching it to her students.

“I thought, ‘If I’m asking them to do this, I should have the same experience myself,’ ” she says. “I fell in love with it. I became a poet. It’s who I am.”

Poets, novelists, and essayists are often drawn to the unfettered beauty of nature and wildlife. Yet most of our work is carefully shaped, polished, and edited before it gets published. (This might be one reason we’re intrigued by things that cannot be captured or tamed — or face extinction?) If you could write a poem or a tribute to something in nature, what would you honor or explore? — Cindy La Ferle

By Terry Blackhawk

This time the owl eludes us
where we stand trying to call him in
with his own voice,
which we’ve captured on tape
to release to the predawn woods.

Press a button. The air flutters,
rushing from our black box
what is hidden from us —
wing-like quaverings —
soft bursts of song.

If light mutes him, shadows offer hope,
and we listen so intently into them
the snowy meadow
suddenly seems wider, brighter
with news from beyond its perimeter.

Don’t lift, I almost pray,
don’t disappear.
Day will break soon enough.
Let us hear your faint vibrato and absorb
what is invisible, wild and nearly gone.

Mist thickens the silence, promises
patience, echo, sound not sight.

I will let that fluty tremolo find,
fill me, give voice
to emptiness. I hold my breath to sustain
the long vowel of night.

— Reprinted from Body & Field; Michigan State University Press; 1999 —

This post is part of a weekly poetry appreciation series. Want more? Please click on the Poems to inspire section in the CATEGORIES column at right.

–Photo by Cindy La Ferle–

“Advice to Writers”

The more you clean, the more brilliant your writing will be.” — Billy Collins

Last week I shared Jane Hirshfield’s “The Poet” (about a writer at her desk), and in the comment section we all compared notes on where we do our own creative projects.

Writers are inherently messy — in a good way. We save scraps of paper scribbled with notes and ideas. We collect more pens and blank journals than we’ll ever use. And when we’re in the middle of editing an article or composing a poem, we litter and trash our workspace. But I’m not convinced that’s what Billy Collins is talking about in the poem below.

It’s open to interpretation, of course, but I like to think Collins is playing with the idea of clearing the mind to make room for fresh ideas. Each time I begin a new project or assignment, for example, I need to push past my fears, self-imposed limits, and creative road blocks.

Or maybe Collins is talking about writing rituals — the small acts we must perform (procrastination?) before we can lift our “yellow pencil.”  What do you think? In any event, I think you’ll agree that Collins has both a wicked sense of humor and a knack for spotting the beauty in the ordinary. –CL

By Billy Collins

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods.

–Reprinted from The Apple That Astonished Paris, by Billy Collins (The University of Arkansas Press); 1988

— Top photo “Blue Glass” (copyrighted) by Cindy La Ferle —