Butterfly Poetry and Critique by Elizabeth Gordon

Elizabeth Gordon

Elizabeth Gordon

 A New Poem, with Some Comments on Its Origin by Elizabeth Gordon

fall monarch butterfly

fall monarch butterfly

MONARCH
for Mary Ellen
What is love for
if not to give
to a poisonous insect?
Love should be challenging.
Where’s the thrill
in loving puppies or ponies
dimpled babies or cheery daffodils?
Love instead
the wormlike larva
whose first meal is the eggshell it squirmed from
who by its own gluttony outgrows its body four times
and four times eats its own shedded skin
before wrapping itself inside a green tomb
that morphs into a womb
and wetly births
a six-legged thing
with the compound eyes of a fly
a tongue like a coiled spring
and silent beating black-veined wings.
Love the one who will not cuddle in your lap
who cannot admire or obey or exude perfume
whose color says
consider this a warning.
Love anyway.
Love the one who takes your hospitality
and your nectary hope
and the prayers you pray
and leaves you
always leaves you
staring at the sky
your eyes stinging in the wind
waiting for that spark of orange fire
to light your world again.
____________________________________________

Background:

I’d been invited to participate in a poetry reading in honor of Earth Day 2013 at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church, which my husband and I had recently joined. But what to read?

Always heedful—perhaps too heedful—of others’ expectations, I assumed most people would be anticipating poetry that celebrated the glories of nature: the sunrises and sunsets, the flowers, the seasons, the birdsong, the purple mountains’ majesty—you get the picture. Not that I don’t find “nature” glorious (though even the attempt to define nature, much less enumerate its glories, leads to its own predicaments), but the nature in my poems has seldom been the kind that’s traditionally celebrated. Meaning, I suppose, that it’s neither inspirational nor ephemeral. I like things gritty. Always have.

When others search the skies for rainbows, I’m squatting in the leaf duff, budging half-rotten logs, hoping to meet the shy creatures hiding in that beautiful, dank darkness. Maybe because I felt icky about myself for much of my childhood (okay, for much of my adulthood too), I’m drawn to facets of the planet that most others find icky, or at least not worthy of positive attention. These are my peeps: the silent, coiled and uncoiling snake; the slow and sticky-skinned salamander; the mantis twisting her neck in a measured swivel; the tiny, purposeful ant bearing his impossible load; the spent dairy cow, knees crumpling, being thrashed to keep her walking those final, painful steps toward the kill line.

On the other hand—and, somehow, there must always be an other hand—I’d met an amazing woman at the UU who seemed to me to embody a love and zeal for the natural world that was based not on hokey clichés but on genuine knowledge. Mary Ellen Ryall puts her science and her wisdom and her concern into action. This I admire immensely. Though she is known primarily for her expertise on butterflies, especially the monarch, Mary Ellen understands that the monarch is part of something much, much bigger—the “biotic community” that Aldo Leopold describes in A Sand County Almanac(1948):

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

I decided I wanted to write a new poem for the Earth Day reading, and since I’d been so inspired by Mary Ellen’s grace, intelligence, and passion for all earth’s inhabitants, I thought I’d try to write one for her. Of course, it had to be about her beloved monarch butterfly. But me being me, I knew that my poem had to be gritty, by which I mean not ugly or intentionally bleak, but simply real. And it occurred to me that the way to do this would be to write a poem that reminded us that butterflies belong to that despised category of animal life colloquially known as “bugs.” Scientifically, the classInsecta, which includes reviled species such as flies, mosquitos, termites, wasps, and cockroaches. Somehow, because our culture has sentimentalized and romanticized butterflies as symbols of beauty, the fact that they are (poisonous!) insects (and not “flying flowers”) escapes us.

(There’s a wonderful short story, “Butterflies,” by Maori author Patricia Grace that hinges on, among other things, the disconnect between those who understand the butterfly as a biological creature and those for whom it is merely the representation of an idea. When I teach this story in my college writing classes, almost every student—not surprisingly—fails to “get it.” Does our biotic community’s critical condition have anything to do with the fact that we’ve allowed connotation to obscure denotation? I believe so.)

That’s why my poem emphasizes the creatureliness, not the symbolization, of the monarch. To honor a thing, we must know it, insofar as we can, for what it is, which to me is more important than what itmeans—or rather, maybe I’m trying to say that what something means cannot/should not be distinct from what it actually is. Which reminds me of the last lines of Archibald Macleish’s poem “Ars Poetica”:

        A poem should not mean

        But be.

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Children’s Book Clubs Are Reading My Name is Butterfly

My Name is Butterfly offers book clubs the opportunity to learn environmental education. The children’s book is set in a garden where a young girl discovers a monarch butterfly.

Children’s Book Clubs Are Reading My Name is Butterfly

PressReleasesHQ.com / January 21, 2013 — Book Club Reading List today announced that My Name is Butterfly has joined its growing list of titles from which book clubs can schedule the author to attend their meetings. Every quarter, Book Club Reading List disseminates a newsletter to book clubs around the country notifying them of authors that have joined their program. My Name is Butterfly offers book clubs the opportunity to learn environmental education. The children’s book is set in a garden where a young girl discovers a monarch butterfly.

Ms. Ryall has made herself available by phone and in-person (when available) to attend book club gatherings and discuss her novel, My Name is Butterfly. To view more information about her book or learn how to schedule a time with Ms. Ryall, please visit her book’s page on Book Club Reading List –http://bookclubreading.com/my-name-is-butterfly/.

About My Name is Butterfly

Discover the wonders of a monarch butterfly through the eyes of a young girl. Sarah finds a monarch butterfly. She witnesses the butterfly laying eggs on milkweed, the host plant, and the adventure begins. The butterfly teaches the young girl about its life cycle.

via Children’s Book Clubs Are Reading My Name is Butterfly.

Family festival brings out butterfly enthusiasts

I am all excited because the Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book was published and is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=Mary%20Ellen%20Ryall&search-alias=books&sort=relevancerank

Dan Gunderson gets bird houses ready to paint for children

Dan Gunderson gets bird houses ready to paint for children

This is not a sales pitch but rather a test market to see how kids respond to the book. Happy Tonics exhibited with Fresh Start, at Family Festival in Spooner, WI, on June 2. Dan Gunderson, Fresh Start, made copies of the coloring book pages and children stopped by to color.

Father and child coloring pages from "Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book" copyright Mary Ellen Ryall

Father and child coloring pages from “Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book” copyright Mary Ellen Ryall

I got a kick out of seeing a father coloring for his baby, so sweet.

Gideon Fegman coloring a page from "Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book" copyright Mary Ellen Ryall

Gideon Fegman, came by to talk and color. He was excited. Gideon told me, “I’m a naturologist.” I was impressed by his intelligence and told him, “You might grow up to be a scientist. He loves everything  ologist. Well, that means it could be anything from entomologist to biologist or beyond. Caption: Gideon Fegman coloring a page from Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book copyright Mary Ellen Ryall

Hundreds of families, grandparents, and children came. I even saw a few of my friends, on their walkers, from Terraceview Living Center, a nursing home in Shell Lake. One reminded me to bring over a few butterfly plants for the outdoor garden. They want to have a butterfly garden. What a grand occasion it was for community and the butterflies.

Stacie Theis of Beach Bound Books reviews My Name is Butterfly

Book cover copyright Salt of the Earth Press

Book cover copyright Salt of the Earth Press

My Name is Butterfly by Mary Ellen Ryall is a wonderfully written educational story about the birth and life of a Monarch butterfly. The story is told through the eyes of the Monarch caterpillar who eventually transforms into a Monarch butterfly.

A young girl named Sarah discovers a mother Monarch laying eggs in their garden. Sarah enthusiastically experiences first hand the birth and transformation of the Monarch caterpillar. The butterfly becomes her teacher as she learns how the caterpillar is born, what it eats and how it becomes a butterfly.

The illustrations by Stevie Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza vividly depict the Monarch caterpillar’s and Monarch butterfly’s characteristics.

A great book for parents and teacher alike to educate children about the life of Monarch butterflies.

Available at www.amazon.com.

Stacie Theis interviews published author Mary Ellen Ryall

Meet Mary Ellen Ryall, Author of My Name is Butterfly

What inspired you to become a children’s author?

I became a children’s author quite accidently, perhaps by serendipity. I have a passion and great love for the natural world in which I live. An Ojibwe elder, Margaret Lynk (Soaring Woman) once told me, “Let nature teach you.” I never forgot that lesson.

I am an environmental educator and executive director of Happy Tonics, Inc., a nonprofit, 501 (c) (3) environmental education organization and public charity. Children need to learn from nature. Hopefully they will feel a passion for the natural world throughout their lives. One day, in the not so distant future, children will inherit the Earth from us. Hopefully some will become future stewards of the land. Nature can exist without the human species, but humans cannot survive without nature. Robert Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, addresses this critical fact in his book. He believes children and many adults have nature deficit disorder.

Each of us is given gifts. I was given a great love for nature. I want to share my life’s work and expertise with the younger generation. I want to teach children about the beautiful natural world on this planet, which we call home. 

How did you come up with the idea for your first book, My Name is Butterfly?

Back in 2003, I witnessed a monarch caterpillar in my garden. Each day, I would go to the garden to check on the monarch’s life cycle. I was in the garden when the adult monarch butterfly emerged. I spent the first three hours, of the monarch’s life, taking notes and photographing the experience. I even wrote, “What is this butterfly trying to teach me?” In 2006, I wrote the story of a young girl in her garden who learns about monarch biology from a butterfly. One can read the story behind the book. Frank Zufall, reporter, Spooner Advocate, wrote an article, “This county story begins under a plant,” at www.spooneradvocate.com.

How long did it take to get My Name is Butterfly published?
In the summer of 2008, I hired several youth through a grant from Concentrated Employment Program. It just so happened that I had unwittingly hired a publisher’s granddaughter. I told India Casey that I had written a children’s story about the monarch butterfly. Happy Tonics had implemented a native restored remnant tallgrass prairie, which is a Monarch Butterfly Habitat, on city land in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. India told her grandmother about the story. A few days later Lindy Casey, owner of Salt of the Earth Press, came to the office. She read the story and said, “This is important. I am going to publish it.” It took from 2008 until 2011 to get the book published. The reason it took so long was that the publishing house burned down. The publisher had to resurrect the business from the ashes.

What was your favorite book as a child?
I don’t know the title, and I wish I did. It was a story about an elder, a grandmother- type person. The grandmother had a house that was on the way to school. The grandmother made chocolate candy. The young child, in the book, would stop at the elder’s house on her way home from school. She would open the white picket fence gate. Hollyhock flowers grew along the fence row. The child would walk up to the house. The immaculate white house felt secure and safe to the child. She would visit the grandmother and have a piece of candy before she walked the rest of the way home.

I think it is important to know why a certain children’s book is special to a writer. Children’s books often help youngsters cope with difficult situations. Many children grow up in dysfunctional homes.  In the story, a child needed to feel safe. How wonderful that a child could feel love, in the tidy white house, where a grandmother lived.

What do you hope children will learn from your book?
I hope that children will become curious about nature and want to learn more about butterflies. The book teaches about one pollinator and what the insect needs to survive. Without native host and nectar plants, there would be no butterflies or other pollinating insects, diverse crops, or plant pollination.  Environmental education needs to be taught, in grade school, in the United States. Published author, Eva Apelqvist, originally for Sweden, informed me that Europe taught environmental education starting in the lower grades. No wonder many American youth of today have Native Deficit Disorder.

Children’s authors don’t always get to choose who illustrates their books. Are you happy with how your illustrations turned out? Are the characters as you imagined them?
The characters in the book are based on reality. I chose Tanya and her daughter Cassandra (Cassie) Thompson to model for the story. Cassie attends Northwood School in Minong, Wisconsin. Cassie has been a monarch butterfly advocate since she was a youngster. The publisher requested that I have models act out parts in the story. I photographed the story while Tanya and Cassie acted out the parts. Photographs of a monarch butterfly life cycle, and photographs of the story models were sent to the publisher. Then illustrator and artist, Stevie Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza, Las Vegas, Nevada, was commissioned to do the illustrations. Stevie Marie did a fantastic job. At the time she was pregnant with her first child. By the time Stevie Marie finished illustrating the book, her baby daughter was sleeping in her own room. The illustrator told me that the butterfly would always be with her and Olive, her child. The monarch butterfly teaches us about transformation.

Are you currently working on any more books?
Yes. Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book is about ready to be published. I am waiting for the graphic designer’s cover. Cindy Dyer, of Alexandria, Virginia, is the owner of Dyer Design at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com. I chose an artist, Mora McCusker, of Gordon, Wisconsin, to illustrate the book. Mora used my photographs to illustrate the coloring book. The project is a teaching book. Cindy Dyer is responsible for the art, page layout, and cover. We are jointly publishing the book on CreateSpace, a book publishing company, owned by Amazon.

At present, I am writing a Field Guide for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat, Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The guide will illustrate the symbiotic relationship between pollinators, native host, and nectar plants. Invasive species as host plants cannot support pollinators. The goal of the book is to teach that native plants are necessary for pollinating insects. The finished book will be published by Butterfly Woman Publishing.

Hopefully writers and visitors to your Website at www.beachboundbooks.com will enjoy staying in touch via our Blogs and Social Network Sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. I believe writers and anyone connected to the publishing world will have more success when we work together. It is in working together that we can show our work to the world. Bless each and every one of us. It is all about seeing beyond ourselves.

You can read a sample of  My Name is Butterfly at www.amazon.com.

Find out more about Mary Ellen Ryall and her books at:
www.happtonics.wordpress.com
www.insectamonarca.wordpress.com
www.butterfly-woman-publishing.com

You can also find her on Twitter (@happytonics) and on Facebook.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Butterfly-Woman-Publishing/186481664768990

Kristi’s Book Nook reviews my book about butterfly

Dear publishing friends,

Cassie, the model in book.

Cassie, the model in book.

I am honored that Kristi Benard did a review of my book, “My Name is Butterfly.” If you are a published author and want a children’s book reviewed, contact Kristi at Kristi’s Book Nook at http://kristisbooknook.blogspot.com/

I am noting the review below:

Read in April, 2012
format Paperback (edit)
review 5.0 out of 5 stars Kristi’s Book Nook, April 7, 2012
By
Kristi Bernard (Overland Park, KS) – See all my reviews
This review is from: My Name is Butterfly (Paperback)
Children love learning about the insects that share our world. And now that Spring is here somewhat early, the insects are busier than ever. If you have a garden full of beautiful flowers, you will soon see butterflies everywhere. Butterflies love flowers. This wonderful story will introduce young readers to the life of a monarch butterfly. Everything you would want to know is right here on these pages.Sarah Reynolds and her mom have a beautiful garden. It is free of pesticides that would be harmful to the plants and butterflies. Sarah’s garden has a very special plant called a milkweed. Sarah learns from her mother that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed so that baby caterpillars will have food once they hatch from eggs. The babies eat the milkweed leaves. Sarah learns a lot from her mom about the monarch butterfly. Did you know that another name for a caterpillar is larva? Did you know that a butterfly pupa has a protective shell called a chrysalis? There is lots more for young readers to learn about this amazing insect.Ryall has done an excellent job of sharing her passion for butterflies. She has woven interesting facts about the monarch in an easy to read, colorfully illustrated book. Young readers, parents and teachers will have fun learning about the monarch. Young readers will be anxious to visit their own back yards on a search for the monarch butterfly.

About the author:
Mary Ellen Ryall grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York. In pursuit of butterflies, she worked and traveled in south America in the 1970s. In the 1980s Ryall completed the Master Gardeners Program, University of the District of Columbia, and became involved with community gardens. Living in Southern Maryland in the 1990s, she wrote about the environment and founded Happy Tonics. In 2006 Ryall relocated the organization to Shell Lake, Wisconsin where she spearheaded the implementation of a Monarch Butterfly Habitat.