Spring has sprung


Spring has sprung, the grass has riz,
The birds are singing in the trees.

So goes the only poem I ever heard my dad recite. And we heard it every spring, often several times daily. You can probably imagine my surprise just now when I found out Dad had it all wrong.

Despite his relish for this corny half-stanza, Dad had little regard for poetry or poets. After Mom confided she had penned poems in her youth under the nom de plume Leona Dare, he teased her about it mercilessly until they finally divorced 40 years later. (There may have been other contributing factors.)

Growing up in a house where poets were mocked for sport made coming out of the poetic closet a daunting prospect. As a general practice, I tried to avoid being the butt of Dad’s jokes. So my inner poet went underground, emerging only briefly to express adolescent angst.

But April is national poetry month in North America. It’s time to fling open the closet door!


It’s a Month-Long Poetry Party

Canadians tend to be understated in their approach to most things, and that appears to include national poetry month. The League of Canadian Poets is sponsoring a series of poetry readings through April. The Americans are throwing a party! They offer 30 different ways to celebrate. I’m in for at least a dozen. How about you?

Over the next 30 days, let’s put poetry in unexpected places. Take a poem out to lunch. Start a commonplace book. I live in a pavement-free zone, but I bet you have plenty. Why not put a poem on it?

Commatology Poetry Challenge

Five wordless Wednesdays this month, I’ll post a photograph on this site. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a poem about it (or inspired by it) and submit the poem using the comment box at the bottom of the page. You may use your own name or make one up. A proxy for each entry will go into this pot:


All entries must be submitted before midnight Pacific time on April 30, 2014.

At 8 a.m. on May 1, 2014, I’ll randomly select one name. The lucky poet will win a $25 gift package (your choice of five packages) from Brick Books. (Who said Canadians don’t know how to party?)

Enter as many poems as you like, but make each one original. Don’t worry if you’re “not a poet.” The idea is to have fun. Vancouver’s poet laureate Evelyn Lau has no better chance of winning than the anonymous author of Springtime in the Bronx.

Now, to kick off my own celebration of national poetry month, here is another poem about spring, by one of my favourite American poets, Mary Oliver.

Photo credit: Perry Stone. Reprinted with permission.

Photo credit: Perry Stone. Reprinted with permission.


by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.


“Spring” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems. © Beacon Press, 1992.

Happy spring, and happy national poetry month!

Look for the first of commatology’s five April poetry challenges tomorrow. Tell your friends. Let’s have a poetry party.


9 Responses to “Spring has sprung”

  1. Diana Z

    Game on! I’ve never written a poem….but I can rhyme so I’ll give it a whirl!

    This isn’t an April Fool’s joke, is it? 😉

    • commatologist

      Thanks, Carin. I look forward to poetrying with you! Leslie

  2. carin

    You tell me that crocus
    are nearer to blue than purple
    but if for a bouquet
    I brought you purple
    (for I know purple)
    you would mutter
    This is not purple
    this is blue… again with the bloody blue
    and you would put it in a vase upside down.

    (with thanks to Leonard Cohen)

    • commatologist

      Carin, it fascinates me that one can mimic the structure of a poem and just by changing a few words (mutter, bloody) change the tone of the whole piece.

      I like the way your writing is infused with humour. Yesterday I read your “Bride of God” piece in Geist. It answered some of the questions I used to ask my Catholic cousin, who evaded them every time.

      Do you support the Leonard Cohen for Governor General campaign?



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