Letter from Birdland | Two great evenings of poetry

Letter from Birdland | Two great evenings of poetry

It's not that I forgot to shut the chicken coop door, but it was after dark when I went out to carry the day's compost to the birds.

I shone my flashlight around to make sure everyone was accounted for. Rosabelle, the turkey hen, was atop the little chick coop all hunkered down; four big white hens and two yellow ones peering down from the rafters, Minnie May, the little serama hen, sitting on her nest; LaBoeuf, one of my big roosters, roosting near the food bin.

I shine my flashlight around and it lights on a pile of feathers in the corner. They look brown in the shadows. Emerson!

Minnie May's consort is the only one with brown feathers. So sad! But I shine my light around again, and ... there he is ... up in the eaves with the big hens.

So whose feathers are those? I shine my light around again and then realize Rooster Cogburn is missing. The feathers are black and white after all. My biggest, baddest rooster is gone to feed some fox kits. I like to think he put up a brave fight to protect his flock before he was dragged out into the night.

But let us talk of happier topics. Last week, we had not one, but two, evenings of poetry. The first was in Chicago at the Poetry Foundation. If you've never been there, you might consider going. It's a lovely, open space that houses a huge poetry library you can see from the windows.

Double-decker stacks of books open to a high ceiling to line the open, modern space. The gentle lighting and the simple maple shelving give the whole library a golden aura.

You climb stairs to access the second-tier shelves, but all is visible from the glass walls of the courtyard. They have an exhibition space (Yoko Ono has an exhibit right now) and many free events, including the one we saw: a reading by Danez Smith.

Smith's poetry has a thread of sanctity running through it, even when it's about something mundane or even profane, like a fistfight.

Do yourself a favor and search online for one of the many versions of Smith's poem, "Dinosaurs in the Hood." I recommend the most recent, but it's also interesting to look at earlier versions to see how the poem has gathered power with small changes of words and inflections.

The other event was right in our backyard. Did you know that we have a new independent bookstore in Monticello? Hartfield Book Company is right on the square. It's a small, friendly space, with comfy chairs in the back and even a coffee and tea station if you care to sit and read for a while.

I was honored to emcee the inaugural event. The first half was an open mic reading, and we had readers from far and wide with poems that often had a strong theme of nature or animal life, from moles to wolves to sheep to the prairie.

The two featured poets, Matt Murrey and John Palen, read from their recent books and continued with themes of nature and human nature.

Palen's poetry, especially, embodies the prairie steeped in history. His carefully wrought poems show the craft and research of a journalist, and, indeed, Palen worked for many years as a journalist and teacher.

His new book, "Distant Music," was published by Mayapple Press in 2017.

Murrey gave a dramatic reading (which actually reminded me some of Danez Smith's reading — full of gesture and spice).

He read from his new book, "Bulletproof," Jacar Press, 2019.

You can find information about these fine poets on their blogs, matthewmurrey.net andjohnpalensblog.blogspot.com.

Look for more events at Hartfield Book Company athartfieldbookco.com.

In the morning, when I went to let the chickens out again, I found that something had worked hard, unsuccessfully, to get back into the coop.

A couple more piles of feathers in the yard show the fox's progression with his quarry. We'll have to be extra vigilant about the chicken door, and the dogs will take turns guarding outside in the night.

Read in beauty; recite in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. Mary wants to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to her mom and to Linda. You can follow Birdland on Instagram and Twitter@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Books