The Terribly Irresponsible Art of Poetry


Here’s our favorite new book at the Land Library — Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry, edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan. This is an inspiring mix of essays, interviews, and lessons plans on how we can share the joy of poetry with kids of all ages. The editors describe their intent in their introduction:
“A call to action for poets who want to teach poetry in their communities, Open the Door is also a practical guide for those interested in developing their pedagogical skills, or even in setting up community poetry programs of their own.”

Open the Door includes an invaluable roundtable discussion with leaders of grassroot poetry organizations across the country, including Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club, Megan McNamer of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, and Dave Eggers of 826 National, a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers that help students age six through eighteen to improve their writing skills.

The essay portion of Open the Door provides a jolt of new approaches as well, from authors such as Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and a poet we wrote about just last month. We are still stuck on the wonderful words of William Stafford:

Let’s face it, though — poetry will always be a wild animal. There is something about it that won’t yield to ordinary learning. When a poem catches you, it overwhelms, it surprises, it shakes you up. And often you can’t provide any usual explanation for its power.

For all of us in our careful role as educators, there is something humbling in the presence of the arts. There is no use thinking hard work and application and responsibility will capture poetry. It is something different. It cannot live in the atmosphere of competition, politics, business, advertising. Successful people cannot find poems. For you must kneel down and explore for them. They seep into the world all the time and lodge in odd corners almost anywhere, in your talk, in the conversation around you. They can be terribly irresponsible.” — William Stafford, from his essay The Door Called Poetry.

As the Land Library continues to plan for its urban learning center, Open the Door will remain close by. As will another idea-filled volume, Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities, edited by Katharine Coles (also pictured above).

The Poetry of Birds & The Legend of Pale Male

poetry of birds

Thanks to the generosity (and imagination!) of a Land Library supporter, a few times each year we receive a shipment from an English bookseller. As you can imagine, we’re always excited to open a well-traveled box of new and used books, containing treasures we have never before seen, this side of the Atlantic.

In the middle of National Poetry Month, we wanted to sing the praises of one very special book from the UK — The Poetry of Birds, edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee. What a wonderful anthology!

The editors have arranged their collection by bird type, not poet. There’s Sylvia Plath on the shrike, Elizabeth Bishop on the sandpiper, Robinson Jeffers on hawks, John Ashberry on orioles, W.S. Merwin on crows, Edward Thomas on lapwings, Kathleen Jamie on the dipper, and Wallace Stevens on the red-winged blackbird. There’s certainly a wide range of birds written about in this 384-page collection, and just of few of the other featured poets include Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Charles Simic, Marianne Moore, Paul Muldoon, Alice Oswald, John Clare, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and many, many more.

Here’s a very fun link to The Guardian, which lists Simon Armitage and Tim Dee’s Top 10 Bird Poems, starting with Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Windhover: ” a poem that enacts as well as describes, as if Hopkins were channelling a kestrel hovering 100 feet up in the wind; it is mind-blowing no matter how many times you read it.

And for all you bird-lovers out there — and come to think of it — all you poetry-lovers, now’s the time to get your tickets for the Colorado premiere of the award-winning film, The Legend of Pale Male!

movie posterbloomsbury cover

The Land Library is proud to be a co-sponsor of this benefit screening for The Bloomsbury Review, a national literary treasure that has been celebrating and promoting great writing since 1980. We’ll be celebrating two legends that night — The Bloomsbury Review, as it launches into its next chapter, and Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk of Central Park, now courting his eighth mate somewhere over midtown Manhattan!

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church

For more information on the April 27th premiere, call 303-455-3123, or 800-783-3338, or visit The Bloomsbury Review website!

We hope you enjoy this inspiring film clip!

City Wild, and a few of our favorite books!

The citizen takes his city for granted far too often. He forgets to marvel.” — Carlos Fuentes

Good news! The Land Library continues to work toward opening a Urban Homestead Library in inner-city Denver, along with our second Kids and Educators Nature Library. We’ve been devoting more and more of our resources to find some of the best urban nature books available. These books are wonderful tools, and a powerful remedy for ever taking your home town for granted!

Books such as these, that help you learn about:




stroudtree book







For the rest of this month, we’ll be featuring many more books on nature in the city — all leading up to the April 27th Colorado premiere of the award-winning film The Legend of Pale Male:

movie posterbloomsbury cover

The Land Library is proud to be a co-sponsor of this benefit screening for The Bloomsbury Review, a national literary treasure that has been celebrating and promoting great writing since 1980. We’ll be celebrating two legends that night — The Bloomsbury Review, as it launches into its next chapter, and Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk of Central Park, now courting his eighth mate somewhere over midtown Manhattan!

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church

For more information on the April 27th premiere, call 303-455-3123, or 800-783-3338, or visit The Bloomsbury Review website!

We hope you enjoy this inspiring film clip!

Finding that One Place

pale malecharles

Last week’s post announced the April 27th Colorado premiere of The Legend of Pale Male, Frederic Lilien’s award-winning film celebrating the story of what happened when a red-tailed hawk (Pale Male) suddenly nests along the high-rise apartments surrounding New York City’s Central Park. The result: one of the best films we’ve ever seen on nature in the city!

A central character in Pale Male’s story is Charles Kennedy — naturalist, poet, and photographer. Marie Winn offers this personal insight in her book Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife: “When I first met him back in the early 1990’s, Charles was trying to become a birdwatcher. His goal was to find every bird mentioned in a book called Falconer of Central Park, and I think he was up to 65 out of the book’s 150 species on the day I ran into him. When a young red-tailed hawk arrived in the park a few months later, Charles put his list away. He had lost his heart to a single bird. That was when he and I began to follow Pale Male and the wildly successful nest on Fifth Avenue.”

Charles Kennedy’s red-tail essays and photographs are compiled in Pale Male & Family (pictured above, and thoughtfully edited by Steve Kennedy). Pale Male may have captured Charles Kennedy’s attention — but not all his attention. He was just as likely to drop to his knees to watch cicadas emerge, or spiders weaving their webs. Day turns to night, and Charles and his friends would lead nightly excursions into America’s greatest urban parks. Or as Charles Kennedy wrote:

the sun drops
the cold slides in
owl time

owlscharles w/ lens

Steve Kennedy, Charles’ nephew, has edited his uncle’s essays, haiku, and photography in the book Owls of Central Park. Steve writes in his introduction:

The last time I was with Charles was two weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. During that last quiet time together, what he most wanted to do was read to me from his newest compilation, his ‘owl book.’ He had engaged his friends in producing, by hand, large copies of the book — in part to keep them from focusing on his deteriorating health, and in part to make sure it was finished and available to his close network of friends and family. As Charles read his book about Central Park owls he charged me with tending to his large body of written and photographic work. So this book has a special place in my heart. It also is a favorite among Charles’ friends and acquaintances.

This memorial plaque can be found on a bench in Central Park, not far from where Pale Male flies to this very day:


Friends choose a particularly apt haiku from Charles Kennedy’s notebooks, to honor Charles’ many days (and nights) in a place he loved best.

Here’s a wonderful volume that preserves more of Charles Kennedy’s work:

fish jumps

The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon: Haiku of Charles F. Kennedy, edited by Steve Kennedy and Dan Guenther.


Charles Kennedy’s books will be available for purchase at the Colorado premiere of The Legend of Pale Male (Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm, at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church). All proceeds will benefit The Bloomsbury Review — a literary legend in its own right.

You’ll love the film’s trailer (below), and keep your eyes open for Charles Kennedy, always searching the skyline for the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world:

For more information on the April 27th premiere, call 303-455-3123, or 800-783-3338, or visit The Bloomsbury Review website!

And for much more of Charles Kennedy, be sure to visit the beautifully done site, kennedyworks — exploring the life and works of charles francis kennedy.

Legends Live On

movie posterbloomsbury cover

Save the Date! The Land Library is excited to be a co-sponsor of the Colorado premiere of the award-winning documentary, The Legend of Pale Male (Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm, at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church). This will be a benefit screening for The Bloomsbury Review, a national literary treasure that has been celebrating and promoting great writing since 1980. We’ll be celebrating two legends that night — The Bloomsbury Review, as it launches into its next chapter, and Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk of Central Park, now courting his eighth mate somewhere over midtown Manhattan!

More details will follow, but for now enjoy this inspiring clip!

Over the next month, the Land Library will share more on April 27th’s premiere of The Legend on Pale Male. Along the way, we’ll feature many wonderful books that celebrate nature in the city. Here’s two volumes inspired by Pale Male himself:

kidsred tails in love
A wonderful children’s picture book, Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City by Janet Schulman, with illustrations by Meilo So, and Marie Winn’s classic Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park.

large yellow cab

Ode to the Livable City

smaller specksolnit

“Jeff Speck understands a key fact about great cities, which is that their streets matter more than their buildings. And he understands a key fact about great streets, which is that the people who walk along them matter more than the cars that drive through them. Walkable City is an eloquent ode to the livable city and to the values behind it.” — Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters.

Jeff Speck is a veteran urban planner, and he has written one of the Land Library’s favorite books to the year: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. This is a book that literally changes the way you look at the place you live. After reading this book, we have a better appreciation why some city blocks energize us, while others seemingly sap whatever life force we have!

Jeff Speck’s General Theory of Walkability says that a walk needs to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. It needs to engage us at a human level. Getting walkability right brings enormous benefits:

Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure. While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality. After several decades spent redesigning pieces of cities, trying to make them more livable and more successful, I have watched my focus narrow to this topic as the one issue that seems to both influence and embody most of the others. Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow.

Reading Walkable City reminded us of one of our favorite passages from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking (also pictured above). She definitely knows all about walkability!

I lived in rural New Mexico long enough that when I came back home to San Francisco, I saw it for the first time as a stranger might. The exuberance of spring was urban for me that year, and I finally understood all those country songs about the lure of the bright lights of town. I walked everywhere in the balmy days and nights of May, amazed at how many possibilities could be crammed within the radius of those walks and thrilled by the idea I could just wander out the front door to find them. Every building, every storefront, seemed to open onto a different world, compressing all the variety of human life into a jumble of possibilities made all the richer by the conjunctions. Just as a bookshelf can jam together Japanese poetry, Mexican history, and Russian novels, so the buildings of my city contained Zen centers, Pentecostal churches, tattoo parlors, produce stores, burrito places, movie palaces, dim sum shops. Even the most ordinary things struck me with wonder, and the people on the street offered a thousand glimpses of lives like and utterly unlike mine.

abbey road

…since midcentury, whether intentionally or by accident, most American cities have effectively become no-walking zones. In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers — worshiping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking — have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to but not worth arriving at.” — from Walkable City

There’s nothing like the rambling meditation of a good walk. Over the years the Land Library’s Book Club has discussed two books on this theme — both are among our all-time favorites:

Connecting to Landscape and Yourself, simply by taking a walk: The Walk by William deBuys (solitary New Mexico hikes, along the same route over many years), and Chet Raymo’s customary walk to work, one that opens his eyes to worlds beyond: The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe.

If you live in a town or city, we hope you enjoy your explorations! Here’s a few good books to help you along the way:

Exploring Home, Wherever it May be

The greatest ownership of all is to look around and understandWilliam Stafford

The City Alive

mcsorleys'Up in the Old Hotel

The New York Times just reported some truly exciting and unexpected news. The New Yorker‘s next issue will feature a new essay by the legendary author Joseph Mitchell. The newly discovered “Street Life” is the first published work by Mitchell since 1964.

Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996, was the great wandering and listening soul of New York City. True, you won’t find any of his titles at local Nature Centers, but his sketches of the urban scene shows us a writer immersed in his home landscape. From Fulton Fish Market to McSorley’s Saloon, Joseph Mitchell observed his given plot of land keenly and compassionately, like the ideal naturalist that he was. Back in 1992, his work, long out of print, was resurrected in a wonderful anthology, Up in the Old Hotel.

There are too many to choose from, but here’s one of our favorite passages from that collection:

The Rivermen, from Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor

I often feel drawn to the Hudson River, and I have spent a lot of time through the years poking around the part of it that flows past the city. I never get tired of looking at it; it hypnotizes me. I like to look at it in midsummer, when it is warm and dirty and drowsy, and I like to look at it in January, when it is carrying ice. I like to look at it when it is stirred up, when a northeast wind is blowing and a strong tide is running — a new-moon tide or a full-moon tide — and I like to look at it when it is slack. It is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft, but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays, when there are lulls as long as a half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.

The success of Up in the Old Hotel led many publishers to reprint Mitchell’s earlier books:

My Ears Are Bent, a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s earliest (pre-New Yorker) pieces, mostly from the 1930’s. Old Mr. Flood, a slim volume centered on the comings and goings of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market.

And two of his all-time classic collections: The Bottom of the Harbor, and McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library will always have these books on our shelves, for the simple fact that Joseph Mitchell is one of the greatest writers of people and place that we know!

In the last few days, New Yorker editor David Remnick commented on the exciting find of new writings from Mitchell’s pen: “What’s so poignant about [the excerpts] is the sadness of the incompletion but the brilliance of the voice. There’s an ambition in the voice; the voice is becoming more Joycean. He’s looking outward, but all of these pieces are very interior. He’s at the center of it.


When things get too much for me, I put a wild-flower book and a couple of sandwiches in my pockets and go down to the South Shore of Staten Island and wander around awhile in one of the old cemeteries down there.” the opening passage of the classic Mr. Hunter’s Grave, from The Bottom of the Harbor.

Our Wild & Moveable Feast

joy ofwild

A couple of years ago, the Rocky Mountain Land Series was lucky enough to host Gary Lincoff for his authoritative (and extremely fun) book, The Complete Mushroom Hunter. In his latest book, The Joy of Foraging, Lincoff takes on the entire plant kingdom. This is a wonderfully illustrated handbook, and Gary’s enthusiasm is certainly infectious. He’ll have you searching out nuts, wild fruits, edible greens — and even seaweeds. Along the way, you’ll learn much more about the place where you live.

That’s exactly what happened to John Lewis-Stempel. Looking around his English farm he saw a trout flash in the brook, mushrooms sprinkled across his fields, and a squirrel eating hazelnuts. That led him to think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could live on what nature provides for free? The result is one of the most unusual and well-written books we’ve read in quite sometime: The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food (also pictured above).

Here’s John Lewis-Stempel on the humble hazelnut: ” There is no sensible reason for me to be out at eleven at night, shining a torch up into the leaves and incipient catkins, gathering hazelnuts. Whatever is left on these few last trees will remain till first light, when I will have to come back anyway with a shepherd’s crook to pull down the high branches, an exercise impossible to combine with torch-holding. I am picking solely to do something to satisfy a squirrel-like urge to store up for the oncoming winter….
Hazelnuts are more amenable to the jaw when roasted, when they become starchy, like semolina. Roasted hazelnuts can also be pressed for oil. The process is laborious and the amount of pale amber oil that can be obtained from a pound of nuts is to be measured in parts of a teaspoon. Hazelnut oil is precious. Outside of duck fat, it is the only cooking oil I can obtain from the land.”

Here’s two more books on the art of feeding free!


Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, Langdon Cook’s foraging tale from the Pacific Northwest, and A Feast of Weeds: A Literary Guide to Foraging and Cooking Wild Edible Plants by Luigi Ballerini.

As for urban foraging, we’ve been really inspired by the work of this group:

orchard project

The London Orchard Project plants new community orchards, rejuvenates neglected ones, and (in one of their strokes of sheer genius), they map existing London fruit trees, all ripe for foraging:

london map

For more on foraging in the wild, here’s one of our all-time favorite past posts:

The Ancient Art of Honey Hunting

Pushcarts of Change

apple pushersgreen cart

We love this film! The Apple Pushers is an exuberant, life-affirming documentary that takes on some of the most urgent issues of our day — namely food justice, obesity, and immigration. All these concerns are closely related, as writer and director Mary Mazzio so artfully shows.

New York City, like every metropolitan area across the country, was faced with food deserts throughout the city — neighborhoods where finding a red ripe apple was a challenge, but where fast-food reigned and obesity rates soared. There isn’t a single fix for this problem, but here’s one we love: flood those food deserts with over a thousand street vendor carts, and bring fresh fruit and vegetables to neighborhoods in need.

And so, New York City’s Green Cart Initiative was born:

For more on The Apple Pushers, be sure to check out their very informative website!

And here’s two more excellent books on the urban food movement!

winnewill allen

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winnie (a book we keep going back to, again and again), along with Will Allen’s The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities, the subject of a recent Land Library post, Greening the Food Desert.


This Just In: White House Kitchen Garden Wins Second Term

smallersmaller kids

We posted this piece back on May 25th. In the midst of harvest season, and at the end of a hard-fought campaign, we wanted to take another glimpse at Michelle Obama’s new book!

We were prepared to not like this book, thinking it might be a photo-rich, thin-on-substance look at kitchen gardens and healthy food. Well, were we ever wrong! A preview copy of Michelle Obama’s first book just came across our desk, and we’ve spent the morning paging through it. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America is definitely photo-rich (the images are wonderful, especially the ones with visiting schoolkids), but this book goes into impressive detail chronicling the history of kitchen gardens in America, and tells scores of inspiring stories about contemporary backyard, school and community gardens across the country.

The White House Kitchen Garden is a very visible piece to a larger national effort. In February 2010, Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity by bringing healthier food into schools and encouraging kids to get outside, and be more active.

American Grown hits the bookstore shelves on Tuesday, May 29th. Spend a glorious Memorial Day weekend planting your own seeds outside, but find time to watch these fun film clips of the White House Kitchen Garden, from its first planting in 2009, through all the subsequent harvests. Then, on Tuesday, storm your local bookstore for a copy of this wonderful book!

Most of you know how much the Land Library loves books on bees, beekeeping, and honey. And so, we couldn’t resist adding this quick clip:

There’s so much good work being done, and so much more to do. The Land Library hopes to establish it’s second Kids Nature Library, this time in inner-city Denver. And we have more than enough books to launch a truly unique Urban Homestead Library for Denver families, gardeners, urban farmers, beekeepers, and the like. Help us make it happen!


For more on White House food initiatives, check out this website with a name you won’t want to forget!

Obama Foodorama: The Blog of Record About White House Food Initiatives, From Policy to Pie