Poetry Friday– AT THE POND, Poetry Book by David Elliott, Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

Happy Poetry Friday and Happy Earth Day!

I’m tickled pink today, or perhaps green to be sharing a book review and comments from author and poet, David Elliott on his new poetry book, AT THE POND!

David Elliott, photo: Lisa Hull.

David Elliott’s new verse picture book, AT THE POND, sensitively invites us to cozy up and take a closer look at the changing critter and flora life of a pond throughout the day. Each spread begs a story from a pond resident in lyrical verse employing end rhymes, internal rhymes, assonance, alliteration, similes, and a net full of pond related metaphor.

I’m going to share a few of the spreads, along with some thoughts from David on his book.

From, AT THE POND, by Davide Elliott, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, © 2022 all rights reserved.

“His reputation swims well
beyond the banks of the pond.
The stories he has spawned
have been repeated so often
no one knows truth
from exaggeration.
They have even given him
a loving appellation: Old Harry,
the Catfish That Won’t Be Caught.”

© 2022 David Elliott, all rights reserved, from AT THE POND.

While in morning, one large fish brings us “beyond the banks of the pond.” He has a reputation with, “stories he has spawned,” and from them, “no one knows truth/from exaggeration.” I love your use of spawned here, related to fish releasing eggs.

Hmmm. So maybe the first question is why catfish?  I knew with the double spreads – a design feature shared by all the books in the series – that the number of creatures and therefore the number of poems was limited to somewhere between fourteen and sixteen. But a pond is home to many species –many, many more than just fourteen — and I knew I didn’t want the book to be only about the fish that make their home there. So I chose just one to represent all the others–the catfish.

But why not a bluegill, or carp, or bass? It seemed to me that the catfish has more personality, or more accurately, it’s easier to project a personality onto a catfish, maybe because of those amazing whiskers, or as I learned when researching the book, barbels, which also give the illustrator more to work with. Speaking of which, it’s nearly impossible to think of a catfish as beautiful, but Amy’s amazing illustration, has helped me to see it with new eyes.

As for the poem itself, while I do not fish, my father and all twelve of his brothers and sisters were avid fishermen and women. And they were talkers. I grew up with stories of the one that got away, so it’s possible that the ethos of the poem finds itself in listening to one or another of my aunts and uncles sitting around our kitchen table, trying to outdo each other. But now that I think about it, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” https://poets.org/poem/fish-2–a poem I know well and love – might also have played a part.

As for the name, I knew that it should be something that showed not only affection but respect, but I don’t know how I hit upon “Old Harry.” And yes, spawned. Sometimes, we get lucky. Thanks for noticing.

From, AT THE POND, by Davide Elliott, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, © 2022 all rights reserved.

We pop up near the ponds surface and meet a delicate dragonfly, though you share another side too…

“The dragonfly:


as fierce
as any fighter


© 2022 David Elliott, all rights reserved, from AT THE POND.

I have a fascination with dragonflies, and found your polar opposites here quite intriguing. I’d enjoy hearing about your relationship with dragonflies and what brought you here.

I live in rural New Hampshire. Each August, for a period of one or two days, we are visited by swarms of dragonflies. Hundreds of them, zooming around the yard, so many, in fact, that the air is alive with the buzzing of their wings.

It’s interesting, isn’t it?  All of my years on the planet I have shared with dragonflies, and yet until I wrote the book, never once did I think about the apparent contradiction in the adjectives we associate with them –beautiful, gossamer, incandescent – and what we call them dragonflies. As it turns out, the dragonfly embodies both – beauty and ferocity. In spite of their delicate appearance, they are carnivorous and among the world’s most efficient hunters. I read somewhere that they catch up to 95% of their prey. I wanted the poem to hold these opposites. I am interested in that quality –the paradox of balancing opposites. To me, it’s one of the great –and most difficult to manage– secrets of living a full life.

And ah, your “water strider” is a writer, and not an ordinary one but writes in “rippling hieroglyphics.” What a gorgeous image you painted here on the surface of the rippling water, please share this strider’s muse influence…

“The water strider:
but prolific.
Each day
he writes
his story
in rippling

© 2022 David Elliott, all rights reserved, from AT THE POND.

Oh dear. I wish I could say something useful here. Or smart. Or interesting. But the truth is I have no idea how this poem came about except that in my work, I try to allow the poem to suggest what it wants to say. I know that isn’t helpful, but at the very least it’s honest, and also tells you something about the level of understanding I have about what I do. So much of any creative work is mystery, especially in the generative stage. It’s only later, once the thing is born —often in a larval state —that we can apply what we know about craft to it, give it a shape so that, hopefully, it can stand and walk on its own.

From, AT THE POND, by Davide Elliott, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, © 2022 all rights reserved.

“In the silvered evening’s dim
the little muskrat comes to swim
over boulder, sunken limb.
The pond would be a different pond
without the busy, swimming him.”

© 2022 David Elliott, all rights reserved, from AT THE POND.

And as light has left the pond we visit “the little muskrat” that “comes to swim.” How did you happen upon “the busy swimming him?” Being an artist I have to mention how much I am taken with the art on this spread by Amy Schimler-Safford, and how she wed her art to your words with such a soft sparkling feeling. Please share any thoughts you may have here.

Oh. I am so happy that you brought this poem into the conversation since, as simple as it may be, it’s one of my favorites, maybe even because of that simplicity. I’m suspicious of work that dazzles because so often it’s about the writer and not the work itself, and I find this supremely uninteresting no matter how startling the turn of phrase. That isn’t to say that I don’t like beautiful language, but only when the language comes from the poem and not the poet can it be honest, and if creative work isn’t about honesty, then what is it? Having said that, the phrase you ask about “the busy swimming him”  may work because of the repetition of the short “ i”, which to my ear is pleasing in its simplicity and softness, and a little like swimming itself, which is repetitive, soothing, soft.

As for what Amy brought to the book, I can’t say enough. A pond is so much about light. I am astounded at the way she was able to capture that luminosity. To me, it almost feels like light is pouring from the book itself. Incredible.

As the story comes to a close we hear some whispering amongst a family of pond flora, but you’ll have to read David’s book to find out whose whispering…

But there’s more…

There’s back matter at the end of the book. Here David shares a couple of pages of “Notes About the Animals and Plants,” and they are quite fascinating.  One tells us about how “bullfrogs are amazing athletes.” And they really are for “they can jump up to ten times their body length.” He then compares this to how far an American girl could jump, and it’s pretty far, and pretty amazing. I don’t want to give it away, but you’re going to want to find out. David please fill us in on these wonderful tidbits you offered at the end.

We began to include backmatter only with the fifth book in the series, In the Past, but I so wish we were able to do that for the first four. For one thing, every creature, even the most humble, even the most familiar has an interesting story somewhere in its physiology or habit or diet. For another, the backmatter gives me the opportunity to talk directly to the reader, not as the persona in the poems, but as myself and I love making that connection.

One last question, would you fill us in on your inspiration for this book and your relationship with ponds, or perhaps this particular pond?

The idea for the book came from the series editor, the one and only Elizabeth Bicknell at Candlewick. Anyone who has worked with Liz, knows that her instinct for what will make a good book, is like no one else’s. I am so grateful for all that she has given me.

I do have a relationship with ponds –but not a great one. For a while, when I was young, my father and one of his brothers, raised minnows, or, as they called them, “minnies”,  which they sold in large numbers to bait stores.  In order to do this, they dug four ponds, each surrounded by a levee. But the ponds were not like the one depicted by Amy. They were manmade, all the same unnatural rectangular shape, and thanks to Ohio’s abundant clay, the water was brown, opaque.

My relationship with my father was difficult. I hated going out to those ponds, which seemed to me not places of peace, but an environment where you could drown or be bitten by a snake; in other words, it was a place not to be trusted, just like him. I wonder now if this book might in some way be an attempt to repair that relationship with nature and with him. Dimestore psychology? Maybe. But if I have learned anything, it’s that our lives are guided by many unseen and even unknowable forces. Part of our  responsibility as adults is to bring as many of those forces out of the shadows as we can. Perhaps, AT THE POND, was an attempt, however unconscious, to do just that.

By David Elliott
Illustrated by
Amy Schimler-Safford
Candlewick Press, © 2022
Available here
Use the code: CANDLEWICK
at checkout to receive a 25% discount.

Thanks David for letting us take a closer peek into your thoughts about AT THE POND. Your candid comments gave me that gratifying feeling that I gain from spending time, at the Caldwell Lily pool, a hidden treasure pond in Chicago.

Caldwell Lily Pool WIP detail, © 2022 Michelle Kogan, watercolor.

caldwell pond thaws,
critters crawl flutter fly and
inspire us humans…
© Michelle Kogan

Appreciations for inspiring us all David, with AT THE POND!

Enjoy Earth Day!

Margaret Simon at her blog REFLECTIONS ON THE TECHE is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup, thanks Margaret! She’s also hosting the Progressive Poem– make sure to stop by to check out her new line and fill up on more poetry!

About Michelle Kogan Art, Illustration, & Writing

Michelle Kogan is an artist, illustrator, instructor, and writer, creating colorful allegorical figure, flora and fauna paintings and children's illustrations, which have a sensitivity to endangered species, and the environment. She is an art instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Evanston Art Center and offers Plein Air Painting Workshops at nature venues in the Chicago area including the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Lurie Gardens at Millennium Park. Visit her online Etsy Shop at: http://www.MichelleKoganFineArt.etsy.com and her website: http://www.michellekogan.com
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9 Responses to Poetry Friday– AT THE POND, Poetry Book by David Elliott, Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

  1. Just – WOW! David Elliot does it AGAIN! Each of his books becomes a mentor text for me!

  2. So looking forward to savoring this book!

  3. jama says:

    Wonderful hearing more about the book from David. Of course I especially love that adorable muskrat — and “the busy swimming him.” Beautiful blend of words + art in this book. Perfection! Thanks to both of you. 🙂 Happy Earth Day!!

  4. janicescully says:

    I loved hearing more about individual poems and the more personal aspects of David’s life that he shared, about ponds, and how one’s writing can be healing. Wonderful interview, Michelle, and a book that will delight and interest many.

  5. Linda Mitchell says:

    What a beautiful, beautiful book! Thank you for this rich review and interview.I know just the aunt and uncle I need to gift this book to. Thank you!

  6. lindabaie says:

    It’s a beautiful interview, Michelle, with David offering more of and about his new lovely book. Thank you!

  7. Sally Murphy says:

    Oh this book looks absolutely divine! Thanks for the detailed insight. AM off to spend some dollars 🙂

  8. What a beautiful book! So interesting to read your conversation today. Thank you for the interview, Michelle, and thank you, David, for the insight, inspiration, and dime store psychology. You’ve certainly whet my appetite for more. And that Caldwell Lily pool—how I’d love to hang out there for an afternoon!

  9. What a perfect way to celebrate Earth Day – thank you both! Thoughtful post, and the book looks and sounds so inviting (as does your peek at your beloved pond, Michelle). Also, “rippling hieroglyphics” is delicious!

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