Writing Exercise 22.3

If you missed my previous post, please check out my conversation with Lauren Davis about her new poetry collection, Home Beneath the Church. Lauren talked about how difficult it was her to write deeply personal poems about her body and health. The poems in Home Beneath the Church also explore holy spaces. Those holy spaces begin and end with the body, but there are also churches, French basilicas, and other spaces reserved for traditional religious figures. And there is also the outside world. Lauren’s poems are never far from nature. It’s clear that she is a gifted student of observation, although I must assume there’s some amount of research that supports her knowledge of the natural world.

Two of my favorite poems in this collection are “If I Were a Resurrection Fern” and “I am a New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar.”

If I Were a Resurrection Fern

And you were the wind-shipped rain,
I’d draw you up. My fronds bright soaked

without shame. Imagine my grief this past
drought. I shivered in my little

plot of lack. Come my mineral nip,
my sky-dropped lake.

Nothing can keep us apart,
not even climate nor gods.

you come down and down
and never stop coming down,

and I revive, baptized.

I am a New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar

Unseen since 1998,
I am nearly a lost breed.

No one has heard my voice but you—
a different genus of bird
who sought and discovered me.

I beat my wings against yours
unable to mate, but look

how groomed my semiplumes.
I pluck them into dead air.

Now I am ready
to be collected beneath
your breast.

Let scientists say I dared to survive—
that you came down from your perch

to quiver against me,
my last known touch.

They will find me in the brushweed,
virgin. But a song in my throat.

In both poems, the narrator takes on the identity of non-human forms in order to express very human yearning. One poem is qualified with the word “if.” The second poem is more declaratory: “I am.” But in both poems, the narrator embodies another form.

For this writing exercise, start with a quick online search for vulnerable species in the region where you live or within a geographic area that has significance for you.

Reading these poems prompted me to think about what animal or plant I would choose to speak through in a poem. So I started with a quick online search for “endangered birds of Appalachia.” The first link expanded my original idea by taking me to a website that listed vulnerable species beyond birds. I chose to search for species in Appalachia because that’s where I live, and it felt more appropriate for my writing.

I love that a minimal amount of research can keep me from feeling that I don’t know what to write. So once you’ve selected your species, see what you can find about their behaviors. This will help you embody that species for yourself by borrowing where they are and what they do.

Notice that in both poems, the narrator speaks directly to a beloved by addressing that person as “you.” Do the same in your poem by speaking directly to someone.

Speaking from a non-human voice is not limited to poetry. A New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar likely would have just as much to say in a short story as she does in a poem. The same is true in an essay, and in an essay, there’s even more room for research. Whatever form you’re writing in, you may find it wonderfully freeing to speak through this other voice.

Huge thanks to Lauren Davis for speaking to me about her new book and for inspiring this writing exercise. If you enjoyed Lauren’s poem, you’ll want to hear her read from Home Beneath the Church on Tuesday March 1, 2022 at the Birch Bark Editing Reading (online). For more opportunities to hear Lauren read, keep on eye on her event listings online.

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