Shackleton Found

Poet at work

By December 1911, the South pole was just another notch on Roald Amundsen’s belt. Robert F. Scott, as we know, reached that awful place a month later, and then perished on the return.

If you were a south polar explorer in 1914, all the good stuff had been claimed already. But Ernest Shackleton couldn’t bear to stay home, so he came up with a bold idea and he gave it a grand name: The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His aim, in short, was to be the first human to walk across the Antarctic continent.

Shackleton, no stranger to Antarctic expeditions (having been part of Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition, and claimed the Farthest South prize in 1909) was full of grand plans and schemes and the story of his expedition is riveting, replete with danger, disaster, impossible odds, extreme bravery, and all you’d expect of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. His ship, the Endurance, was beset and then crushed in the pack ice off the coast of Antarctica and there he was with the rest of his crew, the sled dogs, three lifeboats, and anything else they could drag from the doomed ship before it sunk below the ice.

Stranded on the ice with no one who would even notice they were missing for at least a year.

Dark odds.

But there’s a difference in this story: he came out of it alive, and so did every single member of the expedition. This was no small feat in a place that has no respect for human life, where even today, in the age of synthetic fabrics, specialized diets for athletes, and satellite phones, brave explorers perish just miles from safety.

So here I am, armchair polar explorer who detests the cold and is so low on the bravery scale that I’ve repeatedly refused to walk across the frozen Connecticut River in deep mid-winter even though M really really really wants to.

Here I am, 100 years from the end of that story, exploring the only way I know how: by rereading the words of the true explorers and charting my own kind of expedition across the ice.

Beginning April 11, each day for 30 days, I’m writing a found poem from Shackleton’s book South, beginning from the port of London and stopping at each significant milestone along his journey, to the final rescue. I’ll be posting the poems along the way.

Will I make it to my goal? I have a lot of granola, chocolate, good tea, highlighters, pens, pencils, and a faithful dog. What could go wrong?

Now, hand me that harness and hook me up to the sledge of words. Onward!

April, come she will


We’re here at last.

The landscape still says winter, but it’s April on my calendar and in my heart. There’s a smidge of lightening in the air, the urge to dust the cobwebs away, to air the comforters and sweep the stairs.

M and I spent time over the past week sorting through all our books. We took each one down from its shelf, decided its fate (donate, sell, or keep), then sorted the keepers into categories and reshelved them. At least temporarily, all of the poetry is in one place, filling two whole shelves. That’s a nice way to start April: knowing where the poetry is. And just in time for National Poetry Month, too.

In addition to working on my own poetry every day, I’ll celebrate as I’ve done in past years, by updating this post with a link to a new poem each day in April.

How will you celebrate? Read a poem a day. Share a poem you love in the comments here. Write a poem. Put it in your pocket. Put it in a letter. Send the words out to the world.

Love unfolded then, like crumpled petals
opening into sunlight,
unfurling at the stroke of spring

as we walked the seven miles of estuary,
reaching, after long mudflats, the beach,
the windless bay, the candle of the lighthouse,
waxen in the hazy air that hung like gauze
between us and the islands

and through an undertow of sea-mist
came the warmth of April sun
nuzzling at our dazzled, new-born skin

–from “Solway”, by Elizabeth Burns

April 1 ~ Solway, by Elizabeth Burns
April 2 ~ Jack, by Maxine Kumiin
April 3 ~ Lares and Penates, by Caki Wilkinson
April 4 ~ Tam Lin, Scottish ballad (see also, Fairport Convention’s version, with Sandy Denny singing)
April 5 ~ Maple Syrup, by Donald Hall
April 6 ~ La Tortuga, by Pablo Neruda
April 7 ~ Spring, The Sky Rippled with Geese, by Ted Kooser
April 8 ~ Tell the Bees, by Sarah Lindsay
April 9 ~ The Sick Wife, by Jane Kenyon
April 10 ~ Surrounded by Wild Turkeys, by Gary Snyder
April 11 ~ Dirt Cowboy Café, by Cynthia Huntington
April 12 ~ Carrefour, by Amy Lowell
April 13 ~ The Underground, by Seamus Heaney
April 14 ~ To Earthward, by Robert Frost
April 15 ~ The Long Meadow, by Vijay Seshadri
April 16 ~ The Hive, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
April 17 ~ Walking in the Woods, by Grace Paley
April 18 ~ Brokeheart, Just like that, by Patrick Rosal
April 19 ~ The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz
April 20 ~ Animals, by Frank O’Hara
April 21 ~ Involution, by Cullen Bailey Burns
April 22 ~ In Breton, by Ian Stephen
April 23 ~ Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I, and The Bees, by William Shakespeare
April 24 ~ Levin in Love, by Anne-Marie Turza
April 25 ~ I started Early – Took my Dog – , by Emily Dickinson
April 26 ~ Blueberry, by Diane Lockward
April 27 ~ Silence, by Marianne Moore
April 28 ~ Palindrome, by Lisel Mueller
April 29 ~ On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble, by A. E. Housman
April 30 ~ A Woman Written in as a Wren, by Mary Kane

Friday Five ~ Reasons to be grateful for an extended winter

Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but…

1. Bare branches reveal shy visitors:

Strix the Aviatrix

Strix the Aviatrix

2. It’s the perfect time to make this citrus salad with goat cheese-stuffed dates. Even if you don’t eat it, you might get some vitamin D just by looking at its sunshiny face.

3. Since the garden and lawn are still covered by two feet of snow, you likely have a free fifteen minutes to sit and watch this:

4. If you decide to venture out, you might see wildlife on the move. Like last night, when I was invited out by a friend to a great talk about the history of local brick making, and, on my way home, I watched a young fox cross an ice-covered pond, its deep red fur neatly outlined against the pond’s whiteness. Also, talks about brick making are fascinating and these are the types of things that only happen on winter evenings when we need an excuse to get out of the house.

5. You have a little more time to snuggle down with your books and prepare for National Poetry Month. As in past years, I’ll be posting a link on this blog to a different poem every day in April. How will you be celebrating?

A Barred Owl

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

–By Richard Wilbur, from Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. Copyright © 2000 by Richard Wilbur.

And I love the rain



April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.

–Langston Hughes, from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes.


Because it’s raining today, and it’s the start of April, and it’s National Poetry Month, let’s stand out on the deck, hold the bucket out, let it fill with poems, and get a bit drenched.

As I did last April, I’ll update this post every day this month with a link to a different poem.

April 1 ~ April Rain Song ~ Langston Hughes
April 2 ~ Instructions for how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines ~ Jenny Bornholdt
April 3 ~ Things keep sorting themselves ~ Jane Hirshfield
April 4 ~ Thinking of Madame Bovary ~ Jane Kenyon
April 5 ~ Ave Maria ~ Frank O’Hara
April 6 ~ Gic to Har ~ Kenneth Rexroth
April 7 ~ Sphere – Kate Gale
April 8 ~ One Day ~ Robert Creeley
April 9 ~ The Mower’s Song ~ Andrew Marvell
April 10 ~ The Things ~ Donald Hall
April 11 ~ Here ~ Grace Paley
April 12 ~ General Prologue, The Canterbury Tales ~ Geoffrey Chaucer
April 13 ~ Lovers on Aran ~ Seamus Heaney
April 14 ~ I Started Early – Took my Dog ~ Emily Dickinson
April 15 ~ Oystering ~ Richard Howard
April 16 ~ A River ~ John Poch
April 17 ~ Rules for Captain Ahab’s Provincetown Poetry Workshop ~ Martin Espada
April 18 ~ Early Morning: Cape Cod ~ May Swenson
April 19 ~ The Peace of Wild Things ~ Wendell Berry
April 20 ~ A Recipe for Whisky ~ Ron Butlin
April 21 ~ Pied Beauty ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
April 22 ~ Earth Day ~ Jane Yolen
April 23 ~ A Cold Spring ~ Elizabeth Bishop
April 24 ~ Musée des Beaux Arts ~ W. H. Auden
April 25 ~ Musée de Beaux Arts Revisited ~ Billy Collins
April 26 ~ Ulysses ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson
April 27 ~ Edward Hopper’s New York Movie ~ Joseph Stanton
April 28 ~ Some days (For Paula) ~ James Baldwin
April 29 ~ A Dish of Peaches from Russia ~ Wallace Stevens
Arpil 30 ~ The Shape of the Air Around the Girl in the Birchbark Canoe ~ Annie Dillard