Turtle words

The box turtle had mistaken a fallen knit cap for a burrow and was busy trying to enlarge it when I found him. I lay down on the lawn beside the small tortoise and informed him that he had made a mistake. He backed out of the hat and fixed his gaze on me. Rather than retreating into his shell, he clawed his way up onto my chest and touched his snout to mine in what seemed like a fairly aggressive gesture, and began to vocalize. What seemed at first a meaningless series of grunts gradually resolved into speech — and English, at that.

I was just beginning to make out the words when the alarm jolted me awake. Later, when I mentioned to my mother, the naturalist, that I’d dreamed about a talking turtle, she said, “I think you need to get out more.”

That evening, I did get out in a matter of speaking when my poem about the loggerhead turtle appeared in Poets for Living Waters. This caught me by surprise, since I’d submitted it a couple months earlier and never heard back, but I gather that the curators, Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King, have been deluged with submissions. The latest issue of Poets & Writers has an article on the project, “Poets Act on Oil Spill.”

“People talk about poets as a tribe,” Staples says, “and I think [creating the site] was as if we were calling out, saying, ‘This is happening! What can we do? Let’s gather!’ — as if the screen were the fire we’re now all gathered around.” [...]

King and Staples modeled their group after Poets Against War, a popular Web site established in January 2003 that solicits and anthologizes poems protesting war, though Staples and King wanted Poets for Living Waters to be “for” something, rather than “against.” Yet “people are sending in a lot of work reflecting anger and grief about what’s happened,” Staples says. Even so, the two poets believe such emotion is simply part of the process of mobilizing the community. “It’s something we need to do,” King says. “This is why we have ceremonies, this is why we have funerals. If you don’t have that moment when you’re articulating horror and grief and anger, how can you begin to respond?”

Regular readers of this blog will recognize both the poem and the statement on poetics. Publications that consider previously blogged work are unfortunately so rare that I hardly bother sending things out these days, which is a shame: the pressure to spruce up “Loggerhead” for publication elsewhere did improve the poem, I think. Whether it also made me more likely to dream about talking turtles, I’m not sure.

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  1. I enjoyed the poem and the statement, both of which I had read here. I found myself hoping as I was reading the poem that your statement would be the gist of your post about the need for poets to consider extinction. As I’d hoped, they paired nicely.

    I’m finding more and more that I don’t want to bother with publications that don’t accept previously blogged work either, but then I worry about losing that motivation to revise after blogging. It’s a conundrum I haven’t quite worked out yet. (One of many).


    • Yeah. I’ve been vaguely thinking I should start some sort of Facebook group urging publsihers to consider previously blogged material, but don’t know that I have the energy for that kind of campaign.

      It’s been fun seeing blogging friends appear at Poets for Living Waters, including you, Christine Swint, and Jason Crane.


  2. :-) If they start talking to anybody, I expect it will be you.

    That’s great, that they took that poem. I like it a lot.


  3. Oh you really had me going with that turtle encounter. Right up until the moment when it spoke I was completely enthralled and reeled in!

    Congratulations re inclusion of ‘Loggerhead’ in Poets for Living Waters. Well deserved my friend.


  4. I didn’t see that poem when you posted it here earlier. It’s a fine one — elegant, even.

    I revise after I post stuff all of the time, so I don’t need the hope of print publication to motivate me. I’d like to try my hand at print publication, though, but that process — especially when it doesn’t permit previously blogged material — seems counter to my general writing process.


    • Well, it’s not print publication per se that provides the pressure to get something in the best shape I can — in general I prefer online zines, actually — but simply the prospect of a piece appearing someplace else where I wouldn’t be able to keep tweaking it forever and anon, as I can if it lives only on my site(s).

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