Poems are Like Bats by Megan Willome

 

poems are like bats

(Mexican free-tailed bats)

I’ve asked several poetic-type friends to share some words with us during this month of Making Manifest. Today I welcome my dear friend, Megan Willome–who’s comparing poems to bats. Wait… What?

The weather is warm, and that means one thing in Central Texas — the bats are back! These creatures of the night will sojourn with us from around May (when it stops freezing overnight) through October, until temperatures drop again.

Last night we were in Austin, welcoming my cousin, her husband and their son, who recently moved from Los Angeles. My nephew can’t wait to see the bat emergence from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Some of you reading this post are probably thinking, “Yuck! Don’t bats have rabies?”

Well, any mammal can get rabies, including cuddly puppies. I wouldn’t advise making a pet of the bat that is most common in my area, the Mexican free-tailed bat, although they are kind of cute (in a creepy way).

However, if you were to banish all the bats, guess what would happen? Insects would take over the world. Not good.

Poems are like bats. They are small. Five hundred bat babies per square foot? That’s nothing. Try a poem with five well-placed words.

We tend to think of poetry as a little scary, like bats. We need to see it in context. Most of us only experience it in a language arts classroom in April, when the curriculum dictates Thou Shalt Discuss Poetry During National Poetry Month. We need to get poems out into the wild, where they can do some good.

The first time I saw a bat emergence was on a summer evening about eight years ago at Old Tunnel State Park, an empty railroad tunnel home to about 3 million bats. When they flew out of the abandoned space in a dark smoke-like column, I was mesmerized. I knew they were doing their job, eating pests that destroy crops and drive me indoors when I should be lounging on the back patio, grilling veggies. I knew they were a mysterious part of creation, like the mysteries in my own life that are more creepy than cute.

If you find poetry a little scary, if it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, get it out of the cave of the classroom. If bats never emerge from out of caves or under bridges, then vermin overpopulate the earth. If poems are stuck in textbooks, they starve, too. Poems need to get out, fly around and destroy parasites.

The more I let these tiny bat-like creatures into my life, the more they clear away life’s insects — writer’s block, depression, loneliness, lack of just the right word.

 

(Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from the Congress Street bridge)

(Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge)

 

Photo credits: USFWS/Ann Froschauer, Wikimedia Commons and Peter17, Wikimedia Commons

 

Laity Lodge - Megan

Megan Willome is the managing editor of the WACOAN magazine. Her forthcoming book, The Joy of Poetry will be released by T.S. Poetry Press in 2015. You can catch up with her on her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Comments

    • says

      Isn’t that amazing? Hundreds and thousands and millions at once swirling in the sky? I have to try not to freak out when one or two swoop out of the dark. Of course, I have my reasons. :)

  1. says

    One of my favorite things I’ve done with my daughter in Austin is watch the bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge. And, fellow journalist, we should note that one viewing area/parking lot is provided by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

    The storybook to accompany this is “The Bat-Poet” by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062059055

    And then there’s Jarrell’s poem about bats, and also about motherhood:

    Bats

    A bat is born
    Naked and blind and pale.
    His mother makes a pocket of her tail
    And catches him. He clings to her long fur
    By his thumbs and toes and teeth.
    And then the mother dances through the night
    Doubling and looping, soaring, somersaulting—
    Her baby hangs on underneath.
    All night, in happiness, she hunts and flies.
    Her high sharp cries
    Like shining needlepoints of sound
    Go out into the night and, echoing back,
    Tell her what they have touched.
    She hears how far it is, how big it is,
    Which way it’s going:
    She lives by hearing.
    The mother eats the moths and gnats she catches
    In full flight; in full flight
    The mother drinks the water of the pond
    She skims across. Her baby hangs on tight.
    Her baby drinks the milk she makes him
    In moonlight or starlight, in mid-air.
    Their single shadow, printed on the moon
    Or fluttering across the stars,
    Whirls on all night; at daybreak
    The tired mother flaps home to her rafter.
    The others all are there.
    They hang themselves up by their toes,
    They wrap themselves in their brown wings.
    Bunched upside down, they sleep in air.
    Their sharp ears, their sharp teeth, their quick sharp faces
    Are dull and slow and mild.
    All the bright day, as the mother sleeps,
    She folds her wings about her sleeping child.
    Laura Brown recently posted..Once more to the lake

    • says

      “She lives by hearing.”

      So much in that one line.

      Thanks for this, Laura! You always know where to find such good stuff. My bat stories aren’t quite as beautiful. :)

    • says

      Laura, WHAT a gift! Thank you! I’m off to look these up.

      And thank you, Austin American-Statesman, for making it easier for us to enjoy part of what keeps Austin weird (and wonderful).
      Megan Willome recently posted..4 May 2014

    • says

      Never would I have thought to connect bats with poems. My bat stories revolve around trash cans, bed canopies, brooms, animal control, Ragu jars, and rabies. Though come to think of it, there are poems of a different kind in those words, perhaps. :)

  2. says

    That is awesome Megan. We have bats too in Missouri. Down at our cabin we even have houses for them. I am no longer frightened of them as I welcome their work. To rid our camp fire side
    gatherings of biting mosquitos. I loved poetry as a child and wrote a lot of it, papers still stuffed inside a 70’s style binder in the closet downstairs. Something about the value of each word and the weight it held, allowed me to express what a string of words would take away from the matter. I am looking forward to this time of revisiting poetry. I appreciate your perspective so much.
    Kelly Greer recently posted..Can I Get a Witness?

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey says

    Hi Megan,
    Neat post and very interesting metaphor. Now, I’ve heard of having bats in your belfry before, and sometimes writing a poem drives me a little batty, when the metaphor won’t come or when it’s difficult to flesh out, but I think once the poetry bug bites, it’s hard to eliminate it. I love the economy of words, the deeper meanings, the description, and music of language.I think there is a poetry revival going on, and not just in April for National Poetry Month. You’re helping me to see bats in another light, and I hope you are doing the same for those for whom poetry seems too enigmatic to tackle. Perhaps for some, it’s an acquired taste.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Lynn

    • says

      “You’re helping me to see bats in another light.” That made me smile, Lynn, seeing’s how bats prefer the dark… and I prefer to keep most of my poems in the dark. Maybe it’s time to see poetry in a new light, too. I so loved this post!

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says

        One of my passions too. Just doing this lovely post you are helping. I get metaphor, but I personally feel poetry should be sensical in using these devices. As I’d said, it’s wonderful that we can each have a personal take-away, and yet if poetry is so mystical that no one gets the poet’s meaning whatever, I don’t think it serves much purpose–for the poet, yes, but not with publication. Ok, off my little soapbox here. Thanks again so much to you and Sandy, Megan, for what you are doing!
        Fondly,
        LYnn

  4. says

    Ah!!!! I am most seriously creeped out! I’ve got stories–stories, I tell you, about bats.

    My favorite is the one in which, after my high school boyfriend dumped me in the town park, a bat swooped down and landed on his chest.

    To this day, I think he believes I’ve got dark, magical powers and called the bat down upon him. And I’m perfectly okay with him thinking that.

    Even though I’m so totally over it. I mean, like totally.

    In any case, this is a poetic metaphor I won’t soon forget. Cause, you know me and my fears about poetry, right? I think I’ve made more peace with poetry than I have with bats, though.

    Love seeing the two of you together here :)
    Nancy Franson recently posted..Jesus Loves His Little Misfits: All His Misfits Of the World

    • says

      We’ve got stories here, too, Nancy. Did you see the photo of my Ragu-jar-pinned bat on the kitchen windowsill… the one that turned out to be rabid and caused Lillee to have to get shots?

    • says

      Nancy, just so you know, I just read a novel which has a death scene at a cave well-known for its bat emergences. It wasn’t the bats’ fault, but it made for an extra-spooky scene.
      Megan Willome recently posted..Poems Are Like Bats

  5. says

    Now that’s a comparison I would never have thought of! LOL! I don’t think I’d want to take it too far, but I do like the idea that if poetry seems “a little scary, if it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, get it out of the cave of the classroom.” My high school English teacher beat every poem into the ground in an effort to eek out every drop of blood… er, of meaning. It’s a wonder my interest in poetry survived.
    Carol J. Garvin recently posted..Will it be survival of the fittest or of the most diligent seeker?

    • says

      Reminds me of Billy Collins’ words from his Introduction to Poetry that inspired Tania Runyan’s book, How to Read a Poem.

      “But all they want to do
      is tie the poem to a chair with rope
      and torture a confession out of it.

      “They begin beating it with a hose
      to find out what it really means.”

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says

        And this line of discussion reminds me of the wonderful movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams, stanindg atop his teacher’s desk, had his poetry class rip out pages from their standard textbook! =] I don’t mind analyzing poetry, per se, but sometimes in so doing, we spoil meaning which each inidividual takes away. That’s what I love about poems: Each person sees a different facet of the same jewel. I might add that sometimes I don’t think the original poet means all the intricacies that the poetry analysis finds. Just a thought . . .

        • says

          Confession… I’ve never seen that movie. I need to rectify that!

          In the past, Lynn, I was often so caught up in trying to figure out exactly what a poet meant, I lost the joy of poetry. If I ever had it before.

          When I spent my month with Eliot as part of a TSP dare, I was lost in many (most) of the poems. He was so well read and made reference to people and quoted phrases I’d never heard of, so a little research opened those up for me. But it was fun. Because I didn’t have to understand it all.

          It seems to me that it’s okay for us to see with our own light, from our own angle… and that if a word, a line, a whole poem touches us in a way totally different from the poet’s intent, that’s okay, too–and perhaps a compliment to the poet. And is it possible, that the poet doesn’t even comprehend the depths of his/her own words? Words can take wing, and a poem can live and breathe and fly on its own.

          • Lynn D. Morrissey says

            I concur with all you say here, Sandy! Oh, and yes, a thousand times yes! Please rectify this situation and watch that movie! You will be soooo glad you did. It’s stellar.

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