On speechlessness and tanagers

Feral friends,

After three days of mycologizing and botanizing with our visiting scientist Kathleen Thompson (UW-Madison) and an occasional break to read Rilke, we arranged ourselves on early morning logs to write poetry under a canopy of tanagers and buntings. Our Sunday poet Joelle Sandfort prompted us to write with speechless awe. In these Iowa sugar-clay woods, how could we do otherwise? 

Find a beauty so deep.

– Jack Phillips

How to Write a Warbler

Hard to follow a warbler in these woods harder even so to write one. Still yourself on a log when the other poets have settled in blink and slide your eyes after canopy flits  

        – flit   –    twitter     

                                                                           twit

                                                          chip                                                             twee-

                                                                                                    peeps

                                      just                                 the                                                           wa

y

           th

ey                                                                                 do

                   mo                             ve                                                  bounce,                                       and 

                                   be.  

*Yellow-rumped warbler in Cass County, Iowa on May 1st. Photo by Troy Soderberg. Prose poem by Jack Phillips.                       

Winter Tunes Frogsong

Feral Friends,

We are devoted to Hylidae even in winter the family we belong to in dreams their trills and crikkity-tik-tik webbing our brains with sweet oozing or maybe just me. Frigid releases of greenish meter duckweed lines jumps and syllables froggishly comes the blank page, vernal murmurs fixed underfoot an equinox prelude, pond-ice tunes the chorus soon to come.

This could be the weekend. Get to a muddy place, still your soul, listen for winter tree frogs.

Jack Phillips

Blanchard’s cricket frog (Acris blanchardi) in late winter, Fremont County, Iowa — one of the earliest spring singers. Photo by Robert Smith. Top: Wild poets listening to tuning-ice during the March thaw. Photo: Billie Shelton.

Sarcoscypha Mooning

Feral Friends,

The Hunger Moon. Some poets prefer Snow Moon to better wrap emptiness in a happy blanket but winter before dawn fills love with longing a thousand glassy eyes keep watch, hands open stiffly for promised blessings grayscale earth awaits her blush, desperately grateful to answer their stirring bellies. Hunger is more reliable.

But I want a better name for the opening of fleshy passions the blazing spores of longering days for the fires of fatter mornings, colors of fungal elfen cups impatiently bathing faeries earthen rubies to meet her luny gaze, by virtue of poetic vagrancy, the Sarcoscypha Moon. 

Opening now.

Jack Phillips. 

Photos by Becky Colgrove and Robert Smith.

Weight of Waking

Waking friends,

However they come to us, the passions and pulses arriving in advance of dawn, our animal selves by virtue of matter and breath feel the weight of being. Sure, you might call it gravity, but an earthbound love makes a better poem. When our rising finds a way into ink or a breathy blessing, when we affirm the creaturely life that binds us to the cosmos, we give our bodies to the making of a morning. No one needs to read your verses or hear your incantation – just offer it up to the day.

That’s what the sparrows do.

Jack Phillips 

Weight of a Winter Poem

The moon in heat plays with mating foxes and when they call it a night she throws cinders mostly ashen juncos flinty titmouses pyrite chickadees and cardinal sparks, finches. Passions fall on this maiden dawn when gravity proves an earthly lust the lyric physics of desire, pinkish lingua on paper in ink, the weight of devotion on snow.

*Photos by Troy Soderberg, February in Saunders County, Nebraska. Prose poem by Jack.

Pupils of Blue

Winter wildlings,

Last Thursday was oddly mild for an Iowa January. When I caught up with some poets in a high ridgetop meadow I found them lying in bluestem and switchgrass in the midmorning sun, reposing in meadow-grasses pupils of the blue. Still a little dozy, we together wove a poem. Bright sun fresh lines warm friends, sometimes winter makes the best day.

– Jack Phillips

*A moment-poem expresses the experience of a single moment in a way that draws us in. The most well-known form is haiku with strict rules in the traditional sense, but for us the honest, bodily, direct and unmediated encounter with a native place is what we’re after. A spontaneous poem becomes part of that place and brings us deeper still; weaving them together binds us to a cosmic community. Photos by Billie Shelton (top) and Katie Sutko Twit, Harrison County, Iowa.

First-morning Poem

Morning Nuthatches

Even on this sharp dawn eleven days into the solar year a thousand eyes shine images, creaturely windows into waking being. We can deny our true bodyselves but here in cold wildnesses not so, stirring earth into bluey-black comes orange her original skin and ours. 

Friends,

Those who live by daylength measure time a little differently – the turn of the Solstice stretches the days and us – but is not every dawn a new awakening? And as it happened our last full moon landed on the Solstice or close enough with the new lunar year landing with her. Whenever it comes to each of us; that is, the feeling of hope and stretch and aborning of something wild and new, we can see the coming days opening before us. And our souls as well.

Feral days,

Jack Phillips

*Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) on the eve of Solstice, Washington County, Nebraska by Troy Soderberg. You can find them in the woodlands of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska right now, accompanied by their white-breasted cousins (S. carolinensis). For best results, wear good socks. **January 1st 2022 morning prose poem by Jack. 

The Moon, a Lune, an Owl.

Cold full moon

oo…oh…

a snowy owl. 

*Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) in Saunders County, Nebraska just before the Solstice. Photo by Kirby Zicafoose. Lune by Jack Phillips.

A lune? Winter is given to spare poetry and for this haiku is perfect. A lune is an American form of haiku and like other variants, it seeks to express the simplicity of the Japanese form in American idiom. We love to write them. A lune can follow a 5/3/5 pattern or 3/5/3; sometimes words are counted as in the method developed by beat-poet Jack Collom. The original form developed by poet Robert Kelly counts syllables. The wild poets in our coterie are less interested in counting and more concerned with shape and feel — the lines should make a crescent waxing or waning and the arc of the syllables should conform easily with a moonish sigh: oh… see the moon? oo… an owl!

Dawn’s Meditation

She sows the seeds of self-seeded souls of lives that are lived as given.

*Photos by TNS member Joe Janowski, during his dawn meditation at Glacier Creek Preserve, Douglas County, Nebraska.

**Poem at first light on Thanksgiving Day, 2021 by Jack Phillips. This poem takes the shape of American sentence, a modern form of one-line haiku. If you write a poem at the beginning of the day as many of our members do, the one-line haiku is a simple form that can help us to live the reality of a single moment. The standard conformation comprises 17 syllables, but counting is not as important as creaturely presence. And gratitude.