“how small, confronting morning” by Lola Haskins

Poet Lola Haskins’s enthusiasm for her adopted state of Florida is expressed with grace, power, and beauty in how small, confronting morning (Jacar Press 2016; released as ebook 2021), a collection of thirty-five poems. The words and images captured in the book quietly yet passionately evoke a wild and natural Florida that is being lost daily to population growth and development, but which readers can enjoy within the vivid visions and words of Haskins. These eloquent and lush poems flow with a dancer’s dignity and fluidity of movement. They will stay with readers, inviting them to savor the words again and again.

In her preface, Haskins notes that she uses all lowercase letters in the poems, even lowercase i, because “in the natural world,” she observes “every species is equally valid.” She also writes, “By aiming for poems that have the feel of having been written under the sky, I also hoped to create pieces that in another era might have been interpreted as devotional, pieces worthy of being called ‘ecstatic nature poetry.’” And, yes, these poems are devotional and ecstatic, but their power moves well beyond description into a kind of worshipful awe with a foundation of wilderness philosophy and a keen awareness of the fragility of nature. Haskins understands the value of the natural world.

Haskins often touches upon the same emotional nerve endings as poet/philosopher Wendell Berry does in his poems, such as his popular “The Peace of Wild Things:”

when suddenly in a rush of wings

an osprey lands


on the fence ahead

i breathe like a falling wave.

Yet there is often an edge to this finding of peace, as if Haskins senses a prelude to sadness even in the mist of reverence and beauty. In “Walking with my Son,” she describes how “hundreds of vultures / cross / the humming air” only to conclude, “oh my boy / i wish you had / not already lived / half your life.”

Balancing such awareness of fragility, Haskins’s poems often convey a sense of hope within their words. In “Dusk, Cypresses,” she writes, “all the crickets / we thought we’d lost / begin to sing.”

Many of these poems are written about being on rivers and wetlands in Florida in a canoe or kayak and are sensitive to the fact she is intruding into another world. In “Or Not,” she writes “in the dawn hush / my paddle sounds like greed.” And in “Red-winged blackbirds,” she writes again of her intrusion:

no matter how softly i try to stand

you flash your thousand epaulettes

and retreat to a leafless tree

from which you hurl such invective

i’m left wondering

What did i say?

Whether by narrative phrase or metaphor or simile, Haskins’s talent in describing natural flora and fauna creates a profound beauty in this collection. “A creek flows like lit dark honey,” in the poem “Through Gumroot Swamp.” An otter swims with “hair slicked back like / a businessman’s” in the poem simply titled “Otter.” In “Swallow-tailed Kite,” she writes “blue air pours through your tail.” In “Lake Alice,” a wading wood stork’s reflection becomes “its liquid twin,” while in the poem “Oklawaha,” the “lily leaves swoop so gracefully they’ve no need to bloom.”

Often compact, always expressive, these poems of Haskins, like those of Wendell Berry, use direct, crisp narrative phrases that convey so much more with each reading. The poems are rich, quite lovely, and very loving of the landscapes and lives described. They also are gracious and wise in the ways the delicate language weaves connections between humans and the rest of nature. With Haskins’ permission, here is one such gracious poem from how small, confronting morning.

This is How We Go Forward

–on the

between limestone bluffs

studded with small eaten grottoes their walls trembling with river shine

between the live oaks that cling to land-slid banks

up an aisle lined with cicadas that sing every moment they spend above ground

because they were so long below it and will be again

between cypresses whose knees know what is holy

dipping our paddles into the dark red water

resting them spread like wings


past sand curves with their litters of mussel shell and

their raccoon tracks and their marks of otter tail and

their squiggly lines just below the surface as of boys dragging sticks

past spinning clusters of whirligig beetles that taste like metal

forward though the beavers shun us as hard as they can

forward though the turtles do not desire us either

past the side-surge of a tiny bubbling spring


despite the empty bottles and the stinking cans of fish bait and

the shiny bits of discarded line we lean

our paddles out to gather

despite the fact that the day will end no matter what we want


to a kind of joy as we drag our kayaks up the mud amid clouds

of yellow


Lola Haskins’ poems have been broadcast over the BBC and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The New York Quarterly, Georgia Review, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and others. Her body of work also includes fourteen collections of poetry, a beginner’s guide to the poetry life, and a non-fiction book about Florida cemeteries. Twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she has been honored with three book prizes, two NEA fellowships, four Florida Cultural Affairs fellowships, the Emily Dickinson/Writer Magazine award from Poetry Society of America, and many others.

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