Welcome, readers. We’re going on a field trip today!
Don’t worry, there are no planes, trains, or automobiles involved in this trip. To join me on Louisiana’s Bayou Teche, all you need to do is open the pages of a book.
We have two tour guides to the plant and animal life, the sights and sounds of the bayou. Poet and educator Margaret Gibson Simon and illustrator Anna Amelia Cantrell. The book also includes photography by Henry Cancienne. (Note: The photographs were not available in my review copy of Bayou Song.)
From the opening poem and images of our Bayou Song experience, Margaret and Anna invite us to read, explore, write our own poems, sketch, and learn about the natural world of this unique landscape.
Although I have traveled to many states and a few countries, I have never been to Louisiana. As a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic states (New Jersey and Maryland, specifically), I found this poetic field guide to the bayou fascinating. For each animal, plant, and tree featured in the book, the reader is treated to brief informative text and photos, a poem and accompanying illustration, and a “you try” spread with prompts — and extra space — for writing and drawing.
Let’s take a peek at one stop on the tour: Bald Cypress Trees.
You’ll find photographs of Bald Cypress trees at the National Forest Foundation’s Sentinels of the Swamp page. Now let’s look at the poem and illustration.
by Margaret Gibson Simon
They stick up like a woody weed
Not really knees
Do you ask questions when you’re on a tour? I usually do. Here are a few things I wanted to ask Margaret:
You have not always lived near the bayou. What were your first impressions of it?
I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. Purple Creek ran behind my childhood home. It was a small body of water, but I remember taking walks in the woods over the “waterfall” which was actually a group of concrete scraps. The sounds of nature and the animals that lived near water have always attracted me. My parents currently live on a lake. The herons, ducks, and Canada geese on their lake have all made their way into my poems. Waterways have always been a part of my life.
My first impressions of the bayou were more cautious and fearful than they are now. After spending time out canoeing with my husband, I am not so worried about the creatures there. I once watched a snake back away from our canoe as it tried to ingest a large fish. It was actually more fascinating than frightening.
How has this setting influenced your writing?
I don’t think I have yet exhausted the ways I can write about the bayou. As I answer your questions, I am looking out at the setting sun beaming a light on a cypress tree and listening to the loud cicadas. Poetry allows me to capture this amazing setting over and over.
If you were playing tour guide for a friend who had never been to the bayou, where would you take them? What would you want them to see?
We have taken visitors on canoe trips on the bayou. I would not take them in any other kind of boat. A canoe makes you one with the water. You become part of the bayou. The experience is slow and peaceful. I would show them grandmother oak in our backyard, a live oak that is one of the oldest in New Iberia, 250+ years. I would also show them the fields of sugarcane and the old mill down the bayou. I’d take them to a boardwalk off Main Street or on a walk in City Park. We have a plantation home, The Shadows on the Teche, where I’ve taken students on a writing marathon. The grounds are beautiful and make you feel like you are walking in a different time. I hope you will come someday, Laura.
I would love that, Margaret. “A canoe makes you one with the water” is tugging at my heart already.
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 31 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. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. Margaret writes a blog regularly at http://reflectionsontheteche.com.
Would you like to know more about Bayou Song? Continue your tour at these blogs, where you’ll find more poems and illustrations from the book, interviews with Margaret Gibson Simon, and other surprises.
Friday, June 22: Michelle Kogan
Tuesday, June 26: Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Friday, July 6: Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes
Friday, July 13: Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Tuesday, July 17: Laura Shovan
Tuesday, July 24 Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy
Friday, July 27: Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink
Monday, July 30 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Friday, Aug. 3 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters
Thanks for your review. Cypress knees are fascinating. People around here cut them and carve them and shellac them to use for home decor.
I’d love to see that, Margaret. The illustration intrigued me, with the wizards in their hats.
A wonderful review. I’ve so enjoyed getting to feel a part of the roll out of this beautiful book. Thank you Laura and Margaret.
The book makes me want to visit Margaret’s corner of the world.
The pages for writing and drawing were a wonderful surprise. I can’t wait to hold this book in my hands.
Another great peek into Bayou Song! I love the mix of information, poetry and illustration.
I agree, Molly. And the space to write an sketch — the whole design of the book is very inviting.
You’re a great tour guide, Laura! Every time I come to one of these stops I learn a little more! It makes we want to wait until they’re all done to get my own hands on the book….
This book is a real treat. You’ll want to take a canoe ride with Margaret after reading it.
Thanks Laura, for this rich review of Margaret’s book, “Bayou Song.” I enjoyed the trip over to view the Cypress trees, the in-depth conversation with Margaret about growing up in Mississippi, and especially the canoe trip down the Bayou.