Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Poetry of Moths

on the one ton temple bell
a moon-moth, folded into sleep
sits still
(Buson, 1716-84)

Moths inspire poetry ... who hasn't been inspired to write about the moth, attracted to light, singeing the tips of its wings? Or, like the ancient haiku master, the contrast between the one ton bell and the fragile moth?

You don't have to be ancient to write moth poetry. Nor do you have to live in an exotic location. Anywhere you find moths, you'll find the inspiration for poetry. You might try your hand at haiku:

Hidden in plain sight
a gray moth on gray tree bark
waits for night to fall

Haiku are short - like postcards they give a snapshot glimpse into nature. Traditionally, haiku is written in three lines with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last. But if your haiku has fewer syllables, don't worry - not every haiku poet follows the rules.

Try your hand at other kinds of poetry: 
  • a list poem - all the things you know about moths
  • an acrostic - write M, O, T, H down the page and then use each letter to begin that line
  • something rhyming and fun
In Insectlopedia, Douglas Florian begins his poem about the Io moth like this: "The io moth/ Has mam-moth eyes/ That are not real-/ They're a disguise..."
Lisa Olstein has devoted an entire chapbook to poetry about living with moths. Reading Lost Alphabet (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) is like leafing through a lepidopterists's journal. The prose poems reflect on wings, attracting moths to a sheet using a lantern, classification, caterpillars hatching from eggs and shedding skins. But at its heart, it's about people.

In one poem Olstein's character notes: "I have learned to peer at specimens through a small crack in the center of my fist." This is actually a good trick for getting small things in focus. In another poem her character observes a moth wing close up. "What appears smooth is feathered. What appears feathered is scaled." Moths, it seems, wear armor on their wings.

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