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