HOW I CAME TO WRITE CHERRY MOON
(WITH HELP FROM A SMALL SNAIL)
One day when I was little, I went for a walk with my father in the woods. It was May. Sunset. Looking up, the sky slid into wisps of pink while the trees turned a strange incandescent green. Some birds flew off, shaking the leaves as they went. A grey squirrel raced up one of the trunks.
I noticed a full moon overhead. It was pink. Like a distant ripe cherry. I took my father’s hand. Nothing had ever seemed so perfect to me. So mysterious. Or so powerful.
I never forgot that walk in the woods; that electric sense of oneness with nature I had felt so many years ago. And a long time later, when those memories flew back into my head, I just had to write them down. I wanted to experience all over again the sense of joy and wonder I had felt in the woods that twilight. Naturally, the book had to be called; Cherry Moon.
But on the very day I sat down to write poems for this book, a snail began a slow tour up the glass door in the kitchen where I was sitting. ‘What’s he doing here?’ I mused, taking my eye off the ball for a moment. Maybe it is a sign. I like signs. I turned around again and the snail had vanished. Where had he gone?
Of course, you must be wondering why in the world is Zaro talking about snails; such strange flat-footed little things. And really, Zaro, what in the world do wandering snails have to do with poetry?
OK, here goes… Snail… special moments… signs… and the mystery of rituals. Imagine yourselves five years old. Your pet hamster dies … or you find a dead bird … what do you do? You make a parade. Maybe you create a burial ceremony. But whatever you decide to do, it is because you have a deep-seated need to create something special.
Or perhaps you are older, and you spot a racing hare or a totally orange sky or something that looks like a dinosaur print. You want to capture the excitement, the awe, the fluttering pulse you have at that moment. It feels only right to give shape to that powerful feeling that jumps into our hearts when we experience some beautiful, wild or extraordinary thing in nature.
Now if I were to ask that very BIG question, ‘What is poetry?’, my guess is that many of us would say that poetry has a lot to do with discovering meaning through an unusual, heart-throbbing placement of words. Attaching meaning to things, people, plants, animals, planets etc. is the way we humans come to see ourselves. For we do not know who we really are in some kind of vacuum. No, we ‘get’ who we are in relation to the world around us; particularly, the natural world.
Not only does poetry – that unusual and often definitely heart-throbbing placement of words – allow us to be who we are, but it gives us the opportunity, through vivid language, to be many of the things that we cannot imagine ourselves to be. And nature is the everyday that children are closest to. But more than that. Nature is key to the wildness, mystery and magic which every child yearns for.
Now little Snail was surely a sign of how I wanted to start my book. I realised I wanted to write not just about the big things in nature – skies, clouds, trees and moons – but I needed to pay attention to the little things – fireflies, ladybirds, pebbles, fleas, perhaps even snails.
And because childhood is precisely about growing up and learning who we are, poetry and nature speak directly to children. But not only that. They encourage them to get to terms with those things in the world which make us happy or sad or anything else we humans feel or do. For the child’s first task is to grow into their true self.
And what more mesmerising way is there to begin to know what we are all about than through the warm embrace of poetry? What other way of using language breaks the mood of the everyday so powerfully and pitches us into new and show-stopping ways of experiencing and re-imagining the world?
There you have it; why writing about nature is the most exciting thing I can do as a poet. And, of course, many thanks to Snail for helping me to understand that. I just had to read the signs!
I leave you with the first and the last poems from Cherry Moon:
I want to be
where wild things are
and be part of
and let your eye be caught
by little things