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Poetry Friday.
A Photo Exchange:  More than Meets the Eye

In April, Margaret Simon and Molly Hogan came up with a plan and invited poets to join in a photo/poetry exchange. Those who were interested submitted a form and then Margaret matched us with someone in a totally different geographical location. Our charge was to write a poem about the photo we received and post it on our blog for Poetry Friday Roundup on May 25th. Our photos were not to include people because “people tend to complicate things.” There were no rules or requirements for the poetic form. I signed up, and Margaret paired me with Cathy Miller, a literacy coach for Bradford Public Schools, Connecticut.  Cathy sent me a photo of a red fox that visits her yard. She snapped the picture from her window during a spring snowstorm {one of those we all remember this spring}.

Red Fox  by  Cathy Miller

Magical creature of folklore fame
Hunted for your glossy red coat
Known by your long bushy tail
that covers you in sleep,
long thin legs, lithe form,
and cat-like eyes.
You are most

© 2018 Alice Nine, all rights reserved


Writing about my writing

A red fox!  I immediately thought of a great favorite of mine, The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein. It is a fairy tale-like allegorical novel with a fox as a central character, set in the old country–a place where “all the fairy tales come from, where there was magic — and there was war.” I thought, perhaps I could use Gerstein’s words and write a found poem. And so I did {see below}. However, the found poem just didn’t pair with Cathy’s photograph and the little I knew of her red fox. So I set it aside to begin again.

I needed words. Fox words. So I began searching and reading about the red fox, the Vulpes vulpes. As I read, I strung a list of words and phrases down my paper. I stopped reading and taking notes when the texts became repetitive.

It was time to decide on a form for my poem. I thought I might write a free verse poem, perhaps after “A Doe” by Kristine O’Connell George. (Use the “Look Inside” feature to see the poem in Toasting Marshmallows.)  I thought about a sonnet. About a skinny poem. Or perhaps a golden shovel created with a fox proverb.

So I searched for fox proverbs.

  • An old fox understands the trap. –William Blake
  • The sleeping fox catches no poultry. –Benjamin Franklin
  • The fox changes his fur but not his habits. –Anonymous

And there are so many more. But nothing worked, so I stopped, to return on another day.

Next, I thought about the fox in literature.

  • About thirty of Aesop’s Fables have a fox character (index to fox fables).
  • Indigenous People provides links to numerous collections of fox stories from across time and around the world.
  • Whispering Books has a site search. Put “fox” in the search and you will have ten pages of links to fox stories on that site.

Again, nothing seemed right. I put it aside for still another day.

I thought about pangrams. You know the ones. We use them, or should I say used to use them, for handwriting practice, the ones that have all the letters of the alphabet.

Still, nothing was coming together, and May 25th was approaching . . .

Then one evening, I picked up my fox notes–the words and phrases I had strung down my paper. I read down the list and then back up the list — out loud, and it seemed that a poetic form was hiding in my notes. It was a form that started with a certain number of syllables in the first line and then every line decreased until the last line had one syllable. Or did it start with a one-syllable line and gradually increase? I searched my poetry notes. I found it. A nonet.

A nonet is a 9-line poem that has 9 syllables in the first line, 8 syllables in the second line, 7 syllables in the third line, and continues to count down to one syllable in the final (ninth) line.

I began pulling phrases from my notes, sequencing ideas, counting syllables, juggling words, counting syllables again. The poem seemed to write itself {Isn’t it an amazing feeling when a poem begins to write itself!} … and as it did, it seemed natural to address Fox. So I wrote in second person.


My found poem from The Old Country

Here’s the book jacket. Isn’t it wonderful! Can you see why I thought of it immediately?

To appreciate the found poem, you need a bit of the backstory.

The text I chose was about a trial that takes place in a magical forest. A white spider is the judge. A crow is one of the jurors. The defendant is a fox. The plaintiff is a girl, Gisella. The crime? The fox stole and ate Gisella’s hens. I lifted words from trial scene to create a poem.

Gisella v. Flame

My name is Flame.
I am a fox.
I live by my nose,
by my teeth and feet,
by my wits.
How can I steal?
How can one creature 
own another — except to eat it?
Don’t we all belong to ourselves?
Until someone else–someone 
faster, hungrier, smarter–
catches us?
And eats us?
I didn’t steal. 
I hunted.

I didn’t murder. 
I fed.
I am accused of being a fox.
If that’s a crime, then so is 
being an owl,
or a cat, or a spider, or a girl.

I am Gisella.
I believe the fox.
We each do what we must
to live. I love our chickens
and do my best to protect them.
She loves them in her way,
and does her best to catch them.
The jury will decide if these
are crimes. But if I catch her
taking our chickens again, I will
kill her. I give her fair warning.
And if that’s a crime, do to me
what you must.

Jury have you reached a verdict?

We have a verdict, your honor.
We find the defendant, Flame–
the fox whom we hate and fear
because she kills and devours
birds and small animals–
we find her to be innocent.

Court dismissed.

And after the trial !

Gisella had been warned by her Great-Aunt Tanteh to never look into the eyes of a fox. But . . .

I shared a photo of Pacific harbor seals enjoying the sun at Otter Rock, Oregon.
Cathy wrote a delightful poem and because she doesn’t have a blog,
she posted as a guest on mine: Harbor Seals.

Please stop by Cathy’s post and welcome her to our #PoetryFriday community!

Pacific Harbor Seals at Otter Rock

Margaret over at  Reflections on the Teche is hosting the week’s Round-Up. Thank you, Margaret!

Poetry Friday Schedule
January – June 2018