Of Barred Owls, Poetry Projects, Postal Birds and Ickabogs: Pandemic Writing.

It’s been an eventful couple of months, to put it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted by semester, my summer travel plans (including my work with the Global Autism Project, now postponed to 2021) and may yet lead to other major changes in my life. But, as with every crisis, there are always silver linings. One, of course, is the online publication of J.K.Rowling’s fairy tale, The Ickabog. But, she’s not the only one using writing to make the pandemic a bit easier to bear. 

My university hosts an annual Doenges Scholar, who, this year, was Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera. Sadly, the pandemic cost the students the opportunity to work with Sr. Herrera in person, but, with the help of a Spanish and an English professor, the university held an online seminar during our three-week May Term. The major creative product of the class was a community poetry project, centered around what the class called CoVIDA, or “the life that emerges out of this COVID-19 moment.” The students did not limit the project to their own writing, but solicited poetry from the wider community, asking for writing about the themes of community, celebration, conocimiento (ancestral knowledge), resilience, and healing.  

I certainly encourage you to check out the full project at the link above.  However, since my contribution had a Harry Potter connection, I thought I would share it here. 

Who Cooks for You?
That wintry morning, the call we were expecting came. A barred owl stopped at my brother’s window, to ask Who cooks for you—and remind him of our father’s laughter, long silenced, now freed, to a place we couldn’t hear. So the owl passed the message along.   My father’s stories were of Reddy Fox and William Green Hill Jenny Wren and Polynesia, the birds of wisdom. The owls’ names were their calls: Too-too and Hooty. He never knew Hedwig, but he’d have liked her, Even though Mr. Lofting wrote of postal birds first. If he sent his son an owl, his daughter would understand, Oh, Sweet Bird.   Who cooks for you—a gift, as if someone is watching. Laughter and intellect, memory and magic linger in the woods, And continue in the stories.

More about the poem, and story connections, after the jump.

My father was an enthusiastic birder, and owls were among his favorites. The morning he died, of Alzheimer’s, in 2004, a barred owl appeared outside my brother’s window, and gave its distinctive Who cooks for you call. At the funeral, my brother spoke of hearing the call, and how it sounded like laughter. The call of the barred owl has had special significance to my family ever since. 

I get my love of books from my dad, who read me multiple series when I was a child, including the Miss Minerva, Old Mother West Wind and Doctor Dolittle series.  Remembering those series reminded me of another connection between Doctor Dolittle and Harry Potter that I missed in my first post comparing the series with Fantastic Beasts. In the third published book of the series (though fifth chronologically), Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office, the Doctor sets up a worldwide postal system, using birds–all types, not just owls–as letter carriers.  As with the owls (or the other birds occasionally used by Sirius when in hiding) of the wizarding world, Doctor Dolittle’s bird post travels unbelievably fast, making a round-trip from West Africa to Alabama in less that 18 hours. In addition, the doctor has to educate some people who, like Mrs. Weasley, believe the stamps themselves are somehow magically responsible for transporting the letters.

I mentioned in a comment on the first Ickabog post that I wished I had a child around with whom to share the new story. Fortunately, I had the opportunity today to record the first two chapters on video, for my daughter’s (a first-year teacher in Northern Virginia, currently trying to do her lessons online) class of third-graders. Although it looks like their school year will end before the story does, I hope at least some of the kids will fall in love with books they same way I did, and be inspired to pick up Harry Potter, if they haven’t already. 


  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Audiobooks (like your video) are the next best thing to reading, and being read to, aloud. I think the ones of Tennyson and Browning reading some of their own works are the earliest we have – and how lucky we are to have those, however ‘primitive’ the sound quality (especially Tennyson letting us hear how Lincolnshire should sound).

Speak Your Mind