Saturday, July 7, 2018

BAYOU SONG


Margaret Simon has hit the G7 octave (the highest octave in music) with her latest book of poetry, Bayou Song. Her explorations of the Bayou Teche, using poetry and art to showcase plant and animal life in this fecund part of southwest Louisiana, reflect a clear voice, accessible style, and a naturalist’s love of bayou country.

This is a workbook for young people who are interested in writing poetry and contains forms of poetry ranging from tercets like “Bayou Fairy Tale,” to Welsh poetry forms (clogyrnach) represented in “Weeping Wisteria.” Poems accompanied by whimsical illustrations of Anna Cantrell and the masterful photographs of Henry Cancienne, which resemble landscape painting, take the reader on a vivid journey through fragile Louisiana wetlands.

The author’s style is often playful and spontaneous, reminiscent of two books for young people in my personal library — A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by poet and songwriter Shel Silverton; e.g., Simon’s “Bayou Fairy Tale:” “Spanish moss twirls/Like Rapunzel’s hair curls/In ghostly gray swirls.” The imagery in this three-line rhyme is accentuated by the capricious illustration of a young girl with a Raggedy Ann face and tangled long hair.

Simon has a voice both whimsical and serious; and I was especially drawn to “There Is Always,” an insightful poem about a bald eagle, deserving of repeating here: “There is always/a light/flowing through leaves/creating stained glass/on a duckweed carpet./There is always/an altar/emerging as a pyramid,/fans of needles pray/in the sanctuary./There is always/a cathedral/rising near the bayou/where bald eagles nest/in a bell tower.”

Simon’s explanations of the sample poems create a valuable reference guide in notebook form for students like her own gifted students in Iberia Parish and represent her long-time professional experience as a talented teacher. Cantrell, her illustrator, has perfectly synchronized the art with poetic imagery. 

As a child, I teethed on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Simon’s poems took me back to verses I learned at my mother’s urging at age three, a lighter time when poetry inspired curiosity and interest in the natural world. I think the imagery in each poem will inspire feelings of nostalgia and a sense of wonder in adults, as well as young people.

Henry Cancienne’s photographs of the bayou and critters that abound in the wetlands — cypress trees and knees, the meandering Bayou Teche itself, alligators in the marshlands — interspersed with explanatory texts, add another dimension to Simon’s creative explorations.

Readers are invited to sketch, write, photograph their own creative explorations in interactive pages placed after each poem, and, as former Louisiana poet laureate, Ava Haymon, writes, creative writers and artists will feel restored to their own creativity.

Over twenty years ago, when Simon was a member of a Creative Writing Group, Reflections, at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia that I led, her creative essays in Meditations Of My Heart showed exceptional talent and exhibited her playful spirit that is now at its zenith in Bayou Song. C’est Magnifique, Margaret!

Margaret Simon lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband Jeff. She’s a native of Mississippi who is a Louisiana transplant, teaches gifted students in Iberia Parish and has published in The Aurorean, Today’s Little Ditty, Poetry Friday Power Book Here We Go and in National Geographic’s The Poetry of US. Border Press published a collection of her poems with her father’s Christmas card art entitled Illuminate. Blessen, a novel for young readers, was also published by Border Press. She has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. 

Anna Amelia Cantrell is a freelance illustrator based in south Louisiana who “collects stories, moss, and rocks.”


Published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press.


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