Finding Poetry in Nature: A Conversation with Margaret Simon
by Margaret Simon
With schools closed and social distancing recommendations in place, many parents have now taken on the additional role of teacher. Because of this, cross-curricular activities have newfound importance in many households. Margaret Simon’s beautiful collection of poems and activities entice readers of all ages to develop their poetic and artistic skills while exploring the different plants and animals that call the bayou home.
UL Press (ULP): Many parents across the state are looking for resources to continue education at home. How might Bayou Song help with this?
Margaret Simon (MS): Bayou Song was specifically created to be interactive. The book has a spiral binding and opens like a notebook. After each poem, there are prompts for writing and drawing with space for a writer, child or adult, to write inside the book.
ULP: The book combines poetry with natural science, highlighting the Louisiana wetlands. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
MS: I was contacted by J. Patrick Lewis who was working on an anthology of poems for National Geographic about each state. I wrote the poem Bayou Song for this anthology. It appears in a beautiful spread in the book The Poetry of US. Once I wrote this poem, I wanted to continue writing poems about bayou life. I was inspired by photographs from Phillip Gould and Henry Cancienne.
ULP: Bayou Song encourages the reader to write and draw using many different prompts. Why is it important to practice these skills?
MS: My first response is because it’s fun, but that’s because I enjoy creative activities. Writing poetry comes from a different place than prose. Poetry is more language-centered in that attention is given to word choice, sounds, meter, and meaning. The practice of writing and drawing both require attention to detail and taking notice of things in the world.
ULP: In addition to your work as an author and poet, you have also been an elementary educator for more than thirty years. How do you use poetry and writing in your classroom?
MS: In my classroom, I present a poem almost every day. Many times we discuss the poem, then use it as a mentor text for writing. With distance learning, I have been sending a poetry lesson to students each week and when we gather for an online meeting, we write a poem together. Poetry is a way to connect.
ULP: How long have you been writing poetry?
MS: I have a diary from when I was 13 or 14. Early poems are there, but they were pretty terrible. I came back to poetry when I went through the Acadiana Writing Project Summer Institute in 1995 and had mentors like Ann Dobie and Darrell Bourque.
ULP: What inspires you to write? Is there one style of poetry you are most drawn to?
MS: I am most often inspired to write by other writers. I read and listen to poetry every day. I am often inspired by nature and find poems while walking along or canoeing on the bayou. I am drawn to short poems that pack a big punch. Word choice is important to me. I am drawn to surprising metaphor and imagery that immerses the senses.
ULP: How often do you write? Do you have a particular process for writing, or is it more organic as you are inspired?
MS: I write every day. When we were in school, I would write alongside my students. At home, I have to be more intentional and make time. I carry a journal with me. I gather lines, notes, images, whatever may lead to deeper writing.
ULP: Do you have any other ideas or resources that parents might use? Any words of advice?
MS: I have made some videos of me reading from Bayou Song and sharing prompts. These are available on my YouTube channel. They will also be appearing on the Acadiana Open Channel. My advice to parents is to read aloud to kids every day. Find books with lyrical language. Steep your children in words. Listen to them. Sometimes all you have to do is say, “That sounds like a poem.” I believe every child can write a poem.
About Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape
Poetry by Margaret SimonIllustrations by Anna Cantrell
Photography by Henry Cancienne
Selected to represent the state of Louisiana in the “52 Great Reads” children’s book program at the 2018 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape is a poetic journey along Louisiana’s Bayou Teche. Through poetry and art, explore the plants and animals that live along and in the bayou. Teachers will find ideas and prompts for teaching students about the habitat of Louisiana wetlands through poetry and creative writing. Invitations to write and draw make this book an interactive journal for those of all ages who wish to admire and be inspired by South Louisiana’s landscape.
Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life. She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, with her husband, Jeff. Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha. Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for thirty-one years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish. She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, anthologies for Today’s Little Ditty, in Poetry Friday Power Book Here We Go, and in National Geographic’s the Poetry of US. Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013. Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. She holds a master's degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. Margaret writes a blog regularly at http://reflectionsontheteche.com.