Vineyard poet Ellie Bates’ fourth book of poetry, “Seasonal Wonderings: Poems for Summer Fall Winter Spring,” is a gift for anyone who appreciates nature. One doesn’t have to be a poet or like poetry to relate to any of her poems. This beautifully composed collection reflects the wisdom and “rich bounty” gained from intimately witnessing and emotionally ingesting the natural world that surrounds us.
Throughout, Bates, with sensitivity, reminds the reader to not just look at nature as a landscape, but to take in its every changing whim, color, shape, detail. Ellie concludes her poem “Epiphanies” with the stanza, “outside and inside/ I observe new growth/ witness change/ learn to be a gardener of the spirit.” And in “Revelations,” reminiscent of the haiku poetry form, she writes, “a bronze post office box key/ hides in the squishy brown mud/ of a melting puddle.”
More than musings, many of her poems take on different and challenging questions like whether to pick up a piece of frozen driftwood on the shore’s edge. What will nature do if she leaves it where it is? In her poem “Symbiosis,” Ellie gives the reader the challenge of finding his/her/their own story when observing tightly wrapped vines on a thick stem. Stems that together whisper. Vines, as metaphor, for the ties that may inhibit us.
Bates is wonderfully successful infusing her work with her accessible poetic style, noticing the ordinary with a heightened understanding of the parallels of nature and our daily lives. She utilizes different poetic styles, from modern free verse to the timeless Asian structures of haiku and tanka, an ancient Japanese form. In “Spring Tankas” she takes the tanka and quadruples it into four stanzas. Each stanza can stand on its own as well as seamlessly meld into a complete observation of the season when read as a set. In “Solstice Storm,” the three-line haiku is beautifully done in six stanzas. In one, she writes “rhododendron leaves/ curl for warmth in frigid times/ like your hands in mine.”
Her inspirations range from Emily Dickinson and Jane Kenyon to three-time U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo. Ellie says, “I believe these three see nature, and I admire their ability to show wonder, joy, and sorrow in what is close by … noticing the ordinary, whether it be home, family, or place, and personally elevating it with emotion and language.” In addition, Ellie says that during her time living in the Southwest, learning from the Hopi and Diné people greatly influenced her reverence for its land and culture, and ultimately into her poetry finding solace, hope, healing, and truth.
This collection will awaken and inspire a person of almost any age to slow down and contemplate our connections with our natural surroundings. It is a book that I encourage readers to take with them for reference on a long walk, no matter the season, and then ponder and reread for many a year. Ellie sets an example for us all in “Abundance,” writing, “I started empty handed/ now hold unexpected gifts.” Discover these gifts, as I have, when reading “Seasonal Wonderings.”
“Seasonal Wonderings” is for sale at Featherstone as part of their “Love Lives Here” exhibit, with all proceeds there going to FCA! It’s also available at Edgartown Books, and online at kelsaybooks.com and Amazon.