Janet M. Ruth of Corrales is a poet, a writer, an artist, a photographer, an ornithologist and a birder. What’s astonishing is that she comfortably and engagingly brings those talents together in her compact new book “Feathered Dreams, celebrating birds in poems, stories & images.”
The poetry is the book’s dominant creative element, and Ruth’s poem “Archaeopteryx,” ponders the oldest known fossil bird and its evolutionary links to present-day aviary relatives.
The poem opens, “We praise you, amazing Archaeopteryx for this wondrous radiation of birds,/multitudinous rays of soaring, flapping, wingéd light.”
Later in the same poem, Ruth wonders: “From transformative adaptations/in your crow-sized form,/no one could have imagined – albatross soars aloft for months above the sea on 12-foot glider spans,/hummingbird hovers before a penstemon with tiny helicopter-rotors/and peregrine falcon stoops/at 200 miles per hour on scimitar wings.”
Ruth suddenly twists the poem’s perspective in asking, “Who doesn’t dream of flying?” Indeed, we humans are joined to the natural world.
Ruth said she keeps notes on the different birds that visit and reside in her busy backyard, which is where she got the stories documenting thrashers (“Held Hostage by ‘Thrashers”) and screech owls (“Living With Otus”). Black-and-white photos accompany both. Try not to stare at the owlets staring at the camera.
Separate poems detailing the backyard behavior of a thrasher and a screech owl follow the stories about them. And many of Ruth’s pen-and-ink sketches of single feathers accompany poems.
Her backyard isn’t the only environment where she observes feathered friends. Ruth and husband Dave Krueper are international birders. Consider the front cover image of a Southern Cassowary Krueper photographed in Queensland, Australia.
E. Ethelbert Miller’s collection of poems, “If God Invented Baseball,” bubbles up with loving remembrances of the sport he played with pals.
The poems take the reader from his youth in the South Bronx playing stickball in the streets until dark, (“Exhausted but happy./The light in our eyes/even stars could see.”) to adult recollections of famous professional players, of moments of baseball history. That’s the legendary pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige in a 1940s Kansas City Monarchs uniform on the cover of the book.
Miller, a longtime Washington, D.C., resident, alludes to jazz, politics, Shakespeare and Picasso. He writes in “Rain Delay”: “The rain stops in mid-air/like Satchel Paige throwing/his hesitation pitch or the Supreme/Court deciding it’s all deliberate/speed when it comes to integration.”
He refers to himself as “a literary activist.” It’s a term he coined.
“What I mean by that is 1. I place a heavy emphasis on preservation in terms documenting historical events. 2. I try in my own small way to promote writers. When I look back to the 1970s, I was organizing readings for Afro-American writers. We need to hear these voices and meet these individuals. … And 3. I write and contribute to literary traditions. And I want to make sure there are those who come after me.
“Langston Hughes was helpful to younger writers. I try to do the same thing,” Miller said in a phone interview.