RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's tough to make a living as a poet, and author Barbara Kingsolver knew that when she started her writing career nearly three decades ago.
BARBARA KINGSOLVER: Writing novels has always been my day job, but poetry is the thing that I always did just because I loved it. So it feels more personal to me. When I write a poem, I'm really not thinking about anyone reading it. I just kind of put it in a drawer.
MARTIN: She has just published her second collection of poetry. It is called "How To Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)." These are poems she has written over the last several years, way before there was a global pandemic and all the strife that came with it. One poem, though, is so very much of now. I asked her to read it. It's called "How To Survive This."
KINGSOLVER: (Reading) O misery. Imperfect universe of days stretched out ahead, the string of pearls and drops of venom on the web, losses of heart, of life and limb, news of the worst - remind me again the day will come when I look back amazed at the waste of sorry salt when I had no more than this to cry about. Now I lay me down. I'm not there yet.
MARTIN: So you wrote this will before the pandemic, right? (Laughter).
KINGSOLVER: I did, maybe four or five years ago. When I wrote it, I was thinking how, you know, things can always get worse.
MARTIN: Where have you found solace throughout this?
KINGSOLVER: Well, you know, the funny thing about being a writer is that we're professional introverts. In order to be successful, we have to close ourselves all alone in a room for most of our waking hours. And I live on a farm. I love my home. I love being here. And in earlier times, you know, you could call me a hermit for staying here and not leaving for days on end, but now I get to call myself a good citizen.
MARTIN: Tell me about the poem "Ghost Pipes."
KINGSOLVER: This one is about a plant that we know as ghost pipes. They grow in the forests in North America and other parts of the world. And they're very unusual because they're pure white. They aren't green. It's a little flower that you might mistake for a fungus because it's not green. And one day when I was hiking in the season - in the part of the summer when these are blooming in my - forests all over the place, I thought about what I had in common with this plant. So this is the poem "Ghost Pipes."
Not fungi, ethereal flowers, the slim stem piping up through scale of leaf, the downturned bell, all perfectly white, not cream or pearl. Translucent jewel of ice gleaming from the toes of a forest.
Once this plant was ordinary heath. Then came the day it renounced the safety of photosynthesis, turned away from the sun's daily bread for a riskier life, tapping deep strata to drink from tree roots, pulling their blessed sugars straight from darkness. Disparage the scroungers all you please. This flower is my darling.
Imagine forsaking chlorophyll. In my own time, I have walked clean away from numbing shelter, marriage, the steady paycheck, taking my own wild chance on the freelance life. And when I walk among ghost pipes, their little spectral music in the dark wood quickens my heart. Song of a moment, the risky road - yes, taken to desire, escape - the day that changed everything.
MARTIN: What did you escape?
KINGSOLVER: Oh, haven't we all walked away from a job that was safe but that was killing our souls? Haven't we all walked away from relationships that we knew were not good for us? The balance of the risk and the joy is what I wanted to address in this poem - and to know that even plants sometimes take amazing risks. It's a slower process for a plant; it's evolutionary time rather than a lifetime. But you asked earlier where I turn for solace, and it's to nature. I'm - I think any of us, wherever we are, can find some place where we can feel the comfort of being among species beyond ourselves.
MARTIN: Barbara Kingsolver's newest book is a collection of poems titled "How To Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)."
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