Responding to Miss Rumphius

This month our writing group changed its name to Inklings, and Catherine challenged us to write an ekphrastic poem. She suggested writing in response to an illustration in a wordless picture book, but left the prompt open for us to choose other illustrations, photos or artwork. Catherine was inspired by the current wordless picture book exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. (I’m supremely jealous that she was able to visit this exhibit in person, but those of us further afield can still get a sneak peek here.)

I had a tough time deciding what image to use. I checked out the Eric Carle exhibit highlights and also ran through books in my mind: The Girl and the Bicycle, A Boy a Dog and a Frog, Sector 7, etc. But even though it wasn’t wordless, my thoughts kept returning to one of my favorite picture books, Miss Rumphius, and to this picture in particular:

Miss Rumphius Notecard Collection – The Bowdoin Store
illustration from Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Miss Rumphius, set on the coast of Maine, has long been a favorite in our family for the heartwarming story and the wonderful, often familiar, illustrations. Barbara Cooney, the author/illustrator, was a local resident in the last town we lived in. She was a familiar site around town, a slight woman with her long white hair braided into a coronet upon her head. She occasionally read aloud to children at the library.

In the late 1990s, Ms. Cooney was instrumental in funding the new town library. In addition to donating a significant sum of money, she allowed the library to sell numbered prints of the above illustration from Miss Rumphius. We scraped together the money to purchase one, and it’s been hanging on our wall ever since. No doubt that’s a big reason why the picture came to mind and wouldn’t leave. I gave in to the inevitable.

Knowing the story so well, I wondered how to respond creatively to something already so imbued with meaning for me. How could I separate the illustration from the story? Did I need to? While pondering and looking at the illustration, my eye was drawn over and over to Miss Rumphius’s hand, reaching out to touch a lupine. I went with that focus.

The Lupine Lady Contemplates

Her hand
brushes the delicacy
of a single blossom
considering her legacy
as she
the creator
approaches her end

©Molly Hogan, draft

If you’d like to see what others did with this challenge, check out their sites here:

Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Mary Lee Hahn at A(nother) Year of Reading (here). She’s sharing a rich villanelle and an invitation/reminder to contribute a line for Christie Wyman’s Roundup next week.

P.S. While writing this post, I discovered some things I hadn’t known: Barbara Cooney donated the illustrations for the book to Bowdoin College, lupine isn’t native to Maine and Miss Rumphius is based on a real person! Long ago, there really was a woman, though her name was Hilda Edwards, who planted lupine seeds all around Christmas Cove, Maine. She was clearly the inspiration for this wonderful story and you can read more about her here.

A glimpse of Maine's famous wildflowers. Photo: Down East Magazine
photo of coastal Maine lupine from Down East Magazine

36 thoughts on “Responding to Miss Rumphius

  1. katswhiskers says:

    This poem/story makes me think of all the introduced ornamental plants that become weeds. (I’m assuming lupines are introduced?) Like in ‘The Story of Rosy Dock’, a Jeannie Baker collage book – and work of art.) And then there is lantana. A pest that we know very well!

    That said, the lupine looks so pretty! Especially with the pastel skies in the background of that photo. I can see why Miss Rumphius/Edwards would want to plant them and share their beauty. What a treasure you have, in that print! I loved your little backstory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Denise Krebs says:

    Oh, Molly, so beautiful! Thank you for the links to all the inspiring pages (wordless picture book art gallery and the real “Miss Rumphius.” I can see why you wrote your poem about that image. That word “supplicates” about her hand is making me shiver! So amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. maryleehahn says:

    What a craft move — rhyming the title inside the poem! WOW. Also delicacy/legacy. Nice. I’m thinking this poem pairs nicely with mine today. That hand, touching a flower, cupping around a flame…contemplation of endings and continuings…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tabatha says:

    I love that you have that beautiful illustration hanging on your wall. What a cool pairing of your poem and Mary Lee’s!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your connection to Barbara Cooney. I seem to be all about YOU publishing to a wider audience. There has got to be a way for you to connect to the Barbara Cooney Society of America or the Miss Rumphius Lives in Our Hearts of America Association. Unfortunately I have no website for you. I’ll keep looking.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Linda Mitchell says:

    Neat! She wanted Lupine in Maine so she brought them there. I love that. They are such a beautiful flower. Good for collage too. I might need to play with some paper to see if I can create some. I really love,” as she,
    the creator…” making the place pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just can’t find a Barbara Cooney Society. Our loss!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. margaretsmn says:

    This is a lovely post with a sweet family story as well as an heirloom in that print. The poem carries a tinge of sadness as she contemplates her end and the legacy of lupine.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. mgminer says:

    I was enchanted by Miss Rumphius back in the 80s and even more so now, with your lovely poem and informative post! I was particularly interested in your word choice, “supplicates,” which added a spiritual dimension.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Molly, I love knowing that Mrs. Cooney/Miss Rumphius live on in your house, and the gentle rhyme of delicacy and legacy. Ekphrasis with a piece you know so well is challenging indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Susan T. says:

    That’s a lovely tribute to Miss Rumphius. The book is one of my all-time favorites; I read it many times to our son.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. lindabaie says:

    Love this book, too, but love your own connection to it & that you have that print, Molly. What a lovely poem for “Miss Rumphius” & Barbara Cooney!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. haitiruth says:

    What an amazing post! I too love that book, and the information you’ve shared makes me love it more. And how great that you have this picture on your wall! Your poem is wonderful as well. ❤ Ruth,

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I was dazzled by lupines on one of my first trips to Maine in 1978, so I fell in love with Miss Rumphius immediately and it has remained a favorite ever since. Your gorgeous poem adds depth to her story. I love the word “supplicate,” and agree with Mary Lee about rhyming with the title. Well done, Molly!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Elisabeth says:

    “considering her legacy” fits so perfectly with the history you learned while writing the post. This is lovely – thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Jone R MacCulloch says:

    With this connection to Barbara Cooney living in Maine and her legacy, it’s the perfect choice. I love the line: supplicates
    brushes the delicacy
    of a single blossom

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Wonderful post, poem, and intriguing story about the origins of the lupine and Hilda Lupina. And what a wonderful treasure to have a Barbara Cooney print in your home. Those lupine are magical… I have purplish blue lupine growing in my garden and it’ll be blooming soon, but mine aren’t as tall as your image–thanks Molly!

    Liked by 1 person

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