Serpentine Resistance

Wild Friends, 

You may have heard that a small group of poets have been keeping Sunday morning vigil by a recently-poisoned pond to witness her recovery. 

She is coming around slowly. Our friends Emily and Angelica scooped a wee serpent from the muddy edge. The summerling Thamnophis radix tried to make tough but we loved that little one even more – inspiring us instead of instilling fear. This small act of defiance helped us feel better about the pond or at least, more hopeful. 

Let the little ones show us the way.

– Jack Phillips

Photos by Emily Anderson, August 14th in Fremont County, Iowa.

Love Little

Wild friends,

A favorite pond breeds the world’s smallest flowering plants and Iowa’s smallest frogs. Duckweeds (family Lemnoideae) look like wee lily pads and it takes a whole bunch of them to hold a baby frog of the family Hylidae. Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris blanchardii (photo above) is listed as endangered in surrounding states, but we are blessed with plenty right here. Tiny hylids and the diminutive duckweeds that support them enliven our waters and are vital to our ecosystems. And of course to mindful pond-seers as they bring us closer, grow our little devotion.

Love little,

Jack Phillips

Photo by Courtney Stormberg

Bee of Green Desires

Unaware of living she simply lives and lusting only for fragrance and the vagrancy of desire, arches her back. 

Tiny native bee of the genus Augochlorella, Fremont County, Iowa.

We love to write flash poetry — sometimes called micropoems — because they carry the rawness of a hungry bee on a blurry thistle, a brief breeze on a humid morning. When you write one it sharpens the moment and when you read it later it takes you back. You can share it like a photo on your phone and maybe next time your friends will join us in a wet meadow.

*Photos by Kristin Zahra, poem by Jack Phillips.

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     


                                                          chip                                                             twee-


                                      just                                 the                                                           wa



ey                                                                                 do

                   mo                             ve                                                  bounce,                                       and 


*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.