Friday, April 30, 2010

Poetry Friday - The Clover. The Plover.

When visiting San Francisco last week, I went into the Mission District (thanks to recent VCFA graduate Sharry Wright for the invitation to wander with her and with fellow graduate Sarah Tomp)  to 826 Valencia (the kids' writing center founded by Dave Eggers) and bought a book at their "Pirate Supply Store." First published in 1907, this little book, titled How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers (the original had a subtitle: A Revised Manual of Fornithology for Beginners) was written and illustrated by someone named Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955) - I had NO clue when I bought the book who he was, but I've found out since then that he was a physicist and inventor, well-known for his work in optics and ultra-violet light. He invented something called the "liquid mirror astronomical telescope" and was the father of infrared photography. Not the typical resume for a poet.  It's going to be his birthday on Sunday, so posting this is an homage w/ birthday celebration.

The gist of the book is this: An animal and a flower are compared in each poem. The names of animal and flower must sound alike. Here's a look at the some of the pairings:

The Crow. The Crocus.
The Tern. The Turnip.
The Lark. The Larkspur.
The Parrot. The Carrot.
The Quail. The Kale.

And here's one in its entirety, called The Clover. The Plover. 

The clover and the plover
Can be told apart with ease,
By paying close attention
To the habits of the Bees.
For ento-molo-gists aver,
The Bee can be in Clover,
While ety-molo-gists concur,
There is no B in Plover.

That is just plain great. I wish my name were at the bottom of that.
Today's Poetry Friday Round-up is being hosted by Mary Ann  over  at Great Kids Books. Go see what other people are posting there.

Also: If you're in SF, have a bite to eat at Cafe Divine, on Washington Square in North Beach. Food is SCRUMPTIOUS, atmosphere is just what you want when you come in from a sunny interlude watching people at Washington Square.


  1. Oh, how clever, I love these poems. Thanks for sharing, they made me smile!

  2. What a great find. Love that poem! Happy Birthday to Mr. Wood :).

  3. Will you post another one on occasion? I love the witty clover/plover one.

  4. You bet, Diane. I'll post a couple more over the next few Poetry Fridays. I'm still wondering why we haven't ever heard of this book? I suppose it was seen as a physicist's dalliance. Wood didn't identify himself as a poet, and his other identity (and successes)overwhelmed the poetry. But I think it's right up there with Edward Lear and Ogden Nash.

  5. I look forward to more of these too...what play!

    I also wanted to let you know that after reading your poems, I ordered HAVE YOU EVER DONE THAT? Well, it just came in today, and my daughters and I are in love. 'Cannot wait to sleep out again. It's beautiful!


  6. Oh my goodness. Now of course I'm going to have to haunt used bookstores for that treasure! Thank you and yes, like Diane said, please post more.

  7. I had never heard of Wood either. I look forward to your Poetry Friday posts with more of his poetry!

    Laura Evans
    all things poetry

  8. It does sound like something you could have written, and I agree with the Ogden Nash comparison as well. Looking forward to some more!

  9. I decided not to wait for your additional posts, and on the basis of that one poem alone, I went to and ordered myself a copy! Thanks for the introduction!

  10. Julie~What a fun afternoon! I loved wandering with you and Sarah. Now I want to go back and get this book plus the newest McSweenies publication, The Clock Without a Face: check it out at:

  11. You went to the original pirate supply store?! That is indeed enviable.

  12. Amy. thanks for your kind words about HAVE YOU EVER DONE THAT. I'm glad summer is coming up - backyard tent time!

    Susan - I've linked the title now to used copies at I bought mine new, but it is available used (Dover brought an edition out at one time.)

  13. Thanks for the smiles, and the introduction to Mr. Wood. We hope you come back to SF soon.