Thursday, November 9, 2017

Buffy Silverman: Let Your Camera Inspire Poetry


"Camera" by Paul Hammerton


Ahhh, November!
The clenched fist of Florida heat has finally begun to loosen.

It's the perfect time to get outdoors with a notepad or camera—preferably both. Buffy Silverman is our tour guide today as we explore how photography can be used to harness the power of observation in our poetry.

Lead on, Buffy . . .


LET YOUR CAMERA INSPIRE POETRY

I have been enamored with photography since I was a teen.  I was lucky enough to attend a public school with a fine arts program that included a photography/dark room course.  In recent years I’ve revived that interest. A digital camera often accompanies me outside, whether I’m exploring new places or my own backyard. I find that photography helps me focus and notice the small details of life, and remember where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.  I’ve no doubt that a notebook or sketchpad could also accomplish this and perhaps spark observations that a camera lens might overlook. But for me photography helps me slow down and see sights that I might otherwise fail to observe. It allows me to reflect on the seasonal changes and the world that I see through my lens.

An added bonus is that I have an ever-growing file of poetry prompts! As someone who can be obsessed with the lives of insects and other backyard critters, my photographs often send me searching to learn more about the natural history of my subjects. Those details can inspire my writing as much or more than the photograph that led me on my chase.  But they can’t replace the connection that I feel after observing my subject and “capturing” it with my lens.

Consider this photograph of a spring peeper that I recently chased down in my front garden.

© Buffy Silverman (click to enlarge)

I was initially surprised to find a peeper out in late October and was mainly trying to get close enough for a good view. The photograph reminds me of that day and reveals other details that I did not notice at the time. I see the gold rim around the frog’s unblinking eye. I notice the small circular pads at the end of each toe that let it cling to almost any surface.  I see the rough texture of the frog’s skin, especially compared to the smooth, brittle oak leaf. The muted colors of the photograph speak of the growing silence of autumn to me, which contrasts with the new spring greens and loud peeps that I most often associate with this frog.

When I briefly captured the peeper I focused on the feel of its cool skin, its squirminess, and trying to take a photo with one hand.

© Buffy Silverman (click to enlarge)

But now that I look at the photograph, I consider how tiny this creature is compared to my hand.  I see the speckles of dirt on my palm and under my nail and compare them to the peeper’s unblemished skin. The rough texture of the frog’s skin is much closer to the weathered look of my skin, than of the oak leaf! The frog looks momentarily content in its hand cave, but I recall how it leaped away when I loosened my grip.

My observations and experience could lead me in many directions. I might write of this experience from the frog’s point of view, focusing on the challenges of surviving as a small creature in a world of giants. I might write a poem that links the frog’s preparations for winter with the seasonal changes happening around it. Perhaps I could imagine its winter slumber and its dreams of spring. Or I might take on the depressing question of why a spring peeper is hopping about on a day in late October that feels like the end of summer, or the mystery of why male peepers make a futile attempt at love by calling in the fall.

A photograph can lead in an unexpected direction, as happened with this photograph of a Black-eyed Susan with unopened petals in my yard this summer.

© Buffy Silverman (click to enlarge)

I loved the way the petals curl and cross, seeming to protect the center of the flower. I liked the sharp focus on the flower and the blurred green in the background. But when I looked at the photograph, my only ideas for a poem seemed trite and unoriginal. I kept it on my cluttered desktop, waiting for inspiration. When I was considering a poem for a teacher friend for the summer poetry swap, it occurred to me that this could be a metaphor for students in a classroom and that a teacher can tend her budding students like a gardener.

For me, an unexpected connection like this makes for good poetry inspiration. Help yourself to one of my photographs and look for a poem in it.

© Buffy Silverman (click to enlarge)

© Buffy Silverman (click to enlarge)

Or better still, take your camera for a walk and see where it will lead you!


Thank you for leading so many of us to inspiration, Buffy!


Check out Buffy's other contributor posts on Today's Little Ditty:


Buffy Silverman is the author of 80 nonfiction books for children, winning awards from Science Books and Films, the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College, and the Society of School Librarians International.  She's also written poems and stories for popular children's magazines, poetry anthologies, and educational resources. Visit Buffy at her website, www.BuffySilverman.com.


Our DMC challenge for November is from Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books: write a poem that finds beauty in something that is not usually considered beautiful. Click HERE to read Carol's spotlight interview, then post your poem on our November 2017 padlet. There are quite a few there already! This week's featured poems were by Robyn Campbell, Dianne Moritz, and Rebekah Hoeft.



Now follow your creative wanderings to the Poetry Friday roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup. (Did I mention she's got donuts?)

20 comments:

  1. A beautiful post, Buffy. I love your photos AND your poems, and the way you remind us to revisit and re-examine what we see or have seen. I, too, love taking photos and using them as writing prompts.

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  2. Your pictures and your poetry are always amazing!
    I love to take pictures of the beautiful, peculiar and fascinating. Some lead to poems, or at the very least, have me thinkingly entertained!
    Thanks for sharing your images and thoughts!

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  3. "But for me photography helps me slow down and see sights that I might otherwise fail to observe." Love this!

    I take too many photos and don't really do anything with them--and annoy my family on outings--my slowness and constant "ooh look at this." Will be making them read this and will look at my photos with new eyes--not sure why I haven't been using them as prompts more often.

    I really like the poem for your teacher friend--a good reminder on frustrating days.

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  4. It's always a pleasure to see your photos on FB, Buffy, but this time it's also wonderful to read about your thinking as you examine what you've captured. I love looking and looking for nature's wonders. Your poem connection from teachers to an unfurled flower is lovely. Thanks for a great post!

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  5. Wonderful post, Buffy -- you are such a good photographer, and so right about how we can notice so many unexpected details through a photo lens. That little peeper is adorable, and I enjoyed your black-eyed susan poem.

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  6. Your photos are marvelous! And your poem is one I think we all wish we had written!

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  7. Great post, Buffy, and I love your poem for Heidi.
    I was just checking my phone to see if I had any photos that might suit as inspirations and I found one of a squirrel staring down at me after I interrupted it (eating a pumpkin we have balanced in our tree). Not sure there's a poem in there, but you never know!

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  8. Hey Buffy! This comes at a perfect time for me because I signed up for a photography workshop this weekend. I can't wait to see where my photos take me. Thanks for the inspiration. Love your poem for Heidi. I want to give it to every amazing teacher I know.

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  9. I loved this post, Buffy, and enjoyed reading your thoughts on photography and poetry. I also love taking photographs and find that it slows me down and helps me notice and appreciate what's around me. I'm inspired now to return to many of my photos and see what else I notice. Thanks!

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  10. Thank you, Buffy, for sharing your journeys and photos and poetry. The photos and poems are breathtaking! You and Ruth are on the same wavelength this week with gardening metaphors for teaching.

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  11. Hey, Buffy, we were thinking alike this week! I love to use photography for my writing. This was a wonderful post - thanks!

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  12. Thanks, all, for the kind comments. I hope your photographic journeys lead to inspiration!

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  13. Buffy, you absolutely ROCK. I have been an adoring fan for years now, I guess - the way you blend that incredible eye of yours, and your love of sound science, and just the right words always astounds and inspires. Thanks, and thanks to you, Michelle, for a post brimming with inspiration.

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  14. *click* - a picture perfect post, Buffy! Your black-eyed Susan bud poem is all kinds of awesome...just like you.

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  15. I love your poems and your pictures!

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  16. I can't count how many of my poems have started with a photograph!

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  17. This is a lovely image of a peeper frog you captured Buffy, what an intriguing little critter. I love the contrast in texture between the frog and the leaf. And thanks for sharing this rich pool of pics, all very inspiring as is your writing!

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  18. I love the way you set all this out. I do all these things, too. It's an endless source of inspiration to just take a walk with a camera. I like to think of it like Basho's journal, recording the moments of that day.

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  19. Hey Buffy, this is fantastic. I love your photographs. And advice. The black-eyed Susan photo has got to be my favorite.

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  20. I'm a true Buffy fan and am always delighted with her poetry. I love the way Buffy explored her thoughts about and observations of the peeper and how those thoughts and observations provide material to take a poem in several directions.
    Thanks for the inspiring post, Buffy and Michelle!

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