Bookmonger: Poulsbo anthologist celebrates the love of gardening

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 15, 2014 

With May comes nature's full-blown extravagance - springtime is at its peak - so of course I was primed for the book called "Garden Blessings." When it arrived in the mail last week, I dug in right away.

This is the latest offering from Poulsbo anthologist June Cotner, and in terms of design and compact size it is a pleasure to leaf through its pages. The book is organized in chapters dedicated to gardens, gardeners, the act of gardening, flowers, fruits and vegetables, harvesting, seasons and so on. The writings include poetry, prose, and prayers and meditation.

Cotner always has seemed to have more of a literary sweet tooth than I, so some of the works she selects for this collection are, to my taste, untenably sentimental.

Nonetheless, she includes enough variety that the chances are pretty good you'll hit upon something you like - there are selections from A (Roman philosopher/emperor Marcus Aurelius) to Z (contemporary Colorado poet Lisa Zimmerman).

To my mind, you can't go wrong with the equanimity of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 ("To every thing there is a season") or the exuberance of Walt Whitman ("Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.... Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturb'd.")

There are plenty of excerpted gems from other well-known literary and historical figures, too - Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe and Willa Cather, just to name a few.

I admit I was flabbergasted, however, to find that while Cotner includes Wordsworth's iconic poem about daffodils and memory, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," she chooses to omit the glorious culminating stanzas. This is like cutting the piece off at the kneecaps and completely neglecting Wordsworth's message.

To add insult to injury, other pieces in this book also deal with gardens and memory - and take more space to do so - but none comes close to the effervescence of Wordsworth's classic poem.

As for the contributions from contemporary writers, poet Barbara Crooker has several pieces in this book, and while some of her lines seem overworked, she clearly has a lovely way with words.

Another writer, Gayle Brandeis, contributes a couple of spunky poems on produce - one on avocados (with a nod to Sylvia Plath), and the other on artichokes, "high and top heavy / on their tendony stalks...."

I'm sorry to say that few of the pieces I found most noteworthy were written by Northwest poets, but one exception is Marjorie Rommel's "Orchard Blessings." This Auburn poet consistently does a good job of distilling images - no floppy, flowery phrasing, but crisp language, incisively rendered.

I also liked Bellingham poet Susan J. Erickson's "Gardening Credo," especially the appreciative way she equates worms with yoga masters.

Overall, "Garden Blessings" offers many different ways to contemplate and appreciate gardens and gardening. Whether you prefer to concentrate on roses or radishes in your garden, this little book aims to help you enjoy the nourishment for both body and soul.

THIS WEEK'S BOOK

"Garden Blessings," by June Cotner

Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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