Nancy Willard teaches in the English department at Vassar College. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in both fiction and poetry, and her children's book A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers was awarded the Newbery Medal. In her novel Sister Water, Willard sees reality as full of mysteries and magical moments, a perception that is honored in all the spiritual traditions. In the Salt Marsh is her twelfth book of poems, and here she focuses most of her attention on the manifold delights and charms of the natural world. Her home turf is the flora and fauna of Cape Cod and the Hudson Valley.
Our favorite poem is "The Ladybugs" where Willard describes the enchantment of receiving a box from the Sierras containing 4,000 of these industrious little creatures to fight the pests on her trees and shrubs. The poem includes various instructions such as "The ladybugs will want a drink / after their long journey. / Sprinkle the sack before releasing them." And "Keep on hand, always, a small bag / of ladybugs in your refrigerator. / Do not freeze." The sweetness of the poem comes through when the author shows how these little warriors adopt her as a guardian.
We were also quite taken with "The Snow Arrives After Long Silence" where Willard describes her cat watching at the window: "So many feathers and no bird!" Willard has the gift of long looking, and it is evident through poems about the retreat of a deer at dusk, her encounter with a moon snail, a rabbit who marvels at a swing moving back and forth, a butterfly that hitches a ride on her shoulder, and her heartfelt goodbye to a dead goldfinch. We always admire a poet can write lovingly of stones and trees, paying tribute to them as close friends. A final treat is "Phone Poem" where the poet ponders receiving a call from her father in a dream after his death.
The 32 poems in this wonderful collection will reawaken your wonder for the natural world and your appreciation for the mysteries that cannot be unraveled.