Updated: Oct 18
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets of all ages from around the globe. This week, we highlight the life and poetry of Lynn Snyder!
Since her first short story, “Mrs. Goose and the Backwards Compass,” in second grade, Lynn L. Snyder has loved writing, among her other aspirations: cowgirl, nurse, nuclear physicist, back-to-the-lander, folklorist, shaman, futurist, baker. Then she bought a house, a fixer-upper, and life had to get real. Software engineering supported her house habit, but she kept striving for her dreams: singer/songwriter, wife, gardener, environmental educator, poet, protester, and a person related to the universe like a cell is related to the human body. She does her part. In the end, she expects to be compost.
We reached out to Lynn to talk to her about her work and inspirations.
Please meet Lynn L. Snyder!
Annie Newcomer: Lynn, we are actually sitting in a popular café in Kansas called Homer's. I am guessing that it won't take us long to transport ourselves to the Flapper Press Poetry Café. How I love the ability to imagine. I have been looking forward to chatting with you because your walk with poetry includes your love of ecology. This passion cracks open an interesting and meaningful way to engage with writing. Might you share with our audience how you incorporate the two?
Lynn L. Snyder: As a kid, I went to camp where I heard loons, pinched off wild wintergreen leaves, and learned to paddle canoes silently. Magic! In college, I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and learned my first lesson on how fragile this web of life is. Since then, I’ve backpacked, river rafted, and bicycled through our United States. I’ve paid attention to the beauty and the damage. One day, I was dissing myself for collecting coffee grounds at the workplace for my compost bin at home, keeping them out of the landfill. What difference can that make? My friend said. . .
“Would it be valuable if everyone did it? If so, it’s valuable for you to do it.”
Most people understand the dangers of letting human technology destroy everything that makes life on Earth work but can’t see their role in the solution; and even if they did, habits are still hard to change, even for me.
So, this I can do: I write poems that create a moment and a place, and I aim to infuse the poems with all the love—or fear, or fascination, or determination—that I feel.
AN: We actually met at the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Library when you offered a class through the library in collaboration with the University of Missouri-Kansas City as a part of your MFA program in poetry. Tell us about this experience and how this opportunity connected you with the university and the community. What did you enjoy most about teaching at this level, and what did you discover that you hadn't been aware of before? And how did this connection benefit you as a poet?
LS: You are talking about UMKC’s and the Kansas City Public Library’s collaboration on the Writers for Readers program, including the Maya Angelou Book Award and classes where UMKC students teach a wide range of writing classes. I was involved during the height of the COVID issue, so all my classes were online. Our faculty advisors told us to expect that our classes would be made of people who were beginning to write, and they encouraged us to give our students “the MFA experience.” My students included a few beginners, but more were experienced, published poets, and all levels in between were represented. The MFA experience included the basic writers’ workshop, where the poet gets thoughtful feedback in a form designed to give the poet insight into how readers reacted to their work in a way that empowered them to choose whether to revise or not. I think we all yearn for kind-yet-helpful feedback. When I started, I was so nervous that my mind would go blank in class sometimes. Annie, I am grateful for you and the other poets retrieving the lost thought so that we could continue. By the end of my two-year fellowship, I felt relaxed and loved the creativity of the students.
AN: What might you suggest to others who are entertaining the hope of following a similar path and entering an MFA program in poetry?
LS: All education is intrinsically valuable. In the real world, however, most students are interested in whether they can make a living and whether they can improve their art. Yes, the MFA forwards those objectives. Mostly, I’ve seen graduate MFAs get jobs in magazines or teaching, but also businesses look for talent in clear communication when hiring our graduates. Our professors periodically mention the impressive statistics of graduates publishing and winning awards.
The strongest reason to join an MFA program is connecting with your fellow students, who may become trusted readers; you get lifelong access to potent feedback when you need it, and you get to give the same when asked.
AN: How does academia advance poetry? What are its limits?
LS: Obviously, the professors share the tradition of poetry as well as look for exciting new work. They teach you the “rules” like “the most important word should be at the end of the line,” and then they show you how to artfully break all the rules. They set deadlines so that you expect to graduate with a body of work.
As for limits, I think “the people’s” spontaneous variations on the art of poetry are slow to be picked up. Even professors who performed at poetry slams don’t seem to teach it. In a class at UMKC before I joined the MFA program, I mentioned that I was a songwriter, and the professor responded, “That’s not poetry.” I was offended, but sure, not every song has poetry. Yet, I’m all about the lyrics, and I insist that some great poetry is embodied in songs.
AN: What is the most important thing that you have learned in graduate school?
LS: Here’s a few:
Find your writing community. Read more than you write, and write constantly. Keep revising. Share your work.
AN: What do you love most about being a poet? Are you shy about sharing this status, or do you announce this proudly to others?
LS: Writing poetry makes my brain happy, left and right hemispheres shaking hands. My husband doesn’t believe me when I say that it often takes me longer to find a topic than to draft the poem. I like catching some hidden associations.
I am shy, but my husband isn’t. He would pull out a poem and make me read it to friends and neighbors. Now, when I have fellow writers to dinner, I warn them to be prepared to respond in kind.
AN: What question do you wish I had asked but didn't? Please ask and answer.
Lynn's Question: What are your writing goals?
I’ve mentioned my concern for the environment. It is an existential crisis. I believe there are solutions, but these are largely being blocked by the democracy crisis in the USA. I want my writing to discover solutions and bring factions together. I know this goal is bigger than I am, but if everyone shared it, it would make a difference.
AN: Thank you for sharing with us in the Flapper Press Poetry Café today, Lynn. I would like to end our conversation by asking you to share three poems and their backstories with our readers.
I learned about atmospheric rivers in the 2017 Climate Reality Leadership Training in Denver. The concept was unknown to the general population. As I offer this poem on January 17, storms fed by atmospheric rivers are flooding California from San Francisco to San Diego. Now we all know.
The storm attacks, the farmers defend
Tree lined streams slice fields planted to their windbreaks
with corn and soybeans, wheat, and oats. Shocked air,
the static friction comes to lightening quakes,
the ozone smell spooks Boy and beast – the blare
blustering gust-front tingles, singes thigh,
a wake of flames to shave the stems – seeds flare.
The atmospheric rivers cross the sky
but cayenne drafts conscript the clouds and dust
to spit and swizzle grey hail on the fly.
As steely metal roofs resist the gust
Father’s tractor revs soil to fire break
while Mom and dog drive calves in as they must.
Weather bombs, pressure surge, ice bullets make
of cussing balls of ice and winds – embraced
explosive cyclones, torque till tall trees ache.
Lost woodlots burn to never be replaced,
yet the unbridled fury has been faced.
This poem is about climate change in that the lake no longer freezes most years, let alone 8 inches deep. The joy of that outing is pretty much obsolete. I love the playfulness of this poem, but it’s not what I set out to write. A body of water freezes in the cold of night, so perfectly smooth it starts out looking black. As the sun warms the surface of the ice, the whole sheet domes, and when the ice can stretch no more, it cracks. The sound is explosive and frightening for a newbie. You can walk out and your weight will start a new crack; you watch white lines extending out into the lake. It’s usually safe; usually the crack doesn’t let water through. Later in the day, the ice is prone to moaning like whale songs. The topic of this poem was meant to be the way the lake ice talks, but that will have to be another poem.
Ice Surfing on Lake Lottawana, 1990
Pristine ice still formed on a night when even the stars were cold.
Black obsidian lakebed dreams.
In January when Missouri ice still set strong,
say eight inches, slick and snow-free,
we sent out the call
to the hale hard-ass crazies, all
fit and fitted out to play on a near zero day
with ski togs. Carhartts, snowsuits or anoraks,
Day-Glo moonboots or insulated hikers,
with layers of Christmas mittens,
balaclavas or Russian fur hats.
We stowed in our pockets church-keys,
screwdrivers, or ice picks to claw
our way out should we fall through the ice.
From up top, the lake looked black and still
like a calm summer day.
Al rushed ahead with the beer as I followed
with blankets slapping like windsocks.
He slip-walked out, way past the dock.
As a holy man walks on water,
he took his staff in both hands and raised
a salute, then crashed it into ice at his feet.
The steel breaker bar rang like noon bells.
The ice held.
Al rigged the windsurfer sail
to old ice-boat blades,
tacked upwind and turned, flying
beyond limits of liquid water,
and spraying ice shavings.
My skates cut a trace of my tentative loop
that I reviewed from a place on the strand,
till Dave’s kids arrived and their skates
powdered the ice
playing crack-the-whip bare hand to bare hand,
while their gloves swayed from clips on their sleeves.
Tim dipped his wing as he flew overhead,
circled round and his plane touched down
on the ice. Al clapped Tim’s back,
handed him a drink and the wind’s sail rope.
Then they both scanned the skies.
Tim had to fly while the sun was still high,
guessing the hours before dark.
Then he takes the sail, just one hand on the boom,
And rides off wild as a rodeo bull.
We built a fire on the shore ice.
The kids and I gathered the wood.
We thawed beer cans on the coals,
put flame to hot dogs and toasted s’mores.
Tim taxied into the wind, and was off.
Dave’s kids bundled out.
Al and I stowed boat and sail.
As fire reduced to charred sticks on the ice,
we stood in the blankets cocooning.
The wind was quiet, the stars were loud.
We sang “Sleep my child, peace attend thee.”
Next year, I said. Next year, he echoed.
My friend Jerry and his family moved from Kansas City to just north of Minneapolis. They bought some semi-suburban, semi-rural land, I’m guessing about five acres, and amazed me by starting to plant hundreds of trees. A couple decades go by, and he amazes me with the tale told in this poem. The poem illustrates one aspect of climate change: that as the land warms, it can no longer support the life system that liked it colder. Environmentalists noticed that plants and animals actually migrate north. That’s great, but not everything moves at the same rate, so problems like pine beetle kills arise. Jerry is using his time to give plant and animal climate refugees a soft landing.
On craft: I love lists, and not everyone does. I know that most people won’t be able to put a picture to the species I list in this poem, but I hope the sounds and lively language of the names at least convey the complexity of the task. Jerry has confirmed that these are the right species for the job.
Success in Ecological Succession
For Jerry and his grandchildren.
He doesn’t deny how heat strains
his heart. Minnesota blew dry breath
across his acreage – a plain of fescue
when the mortgage was made.
He plans a haven for local plant natives:
wild lupine, bee balm, ox eye,
prairie smoke, round here known
as old man’s whiskers, so he strokes
his white chin fringe.
He over-sows with seed from warmer zones
to serve bumble bees leading,
songbirds and flying squirrels following,
from the south on the storm
fronts of savage heat rising.
So, add whorled milkweed,
false indigo, partridge pea
and Indian tea.
He dreams a climax forest,
nature’s 150-year woodland plan,
packed into his life span, if he is lucky,
if his cancer stays at bay, he’ll live
to see the buckeye thrive.
With fifteen more years at best
to stabilize his last-hope forest,
to nurse saplings into strong
mother trees that tend
their self-sown progeny
via sugary sap signals
through roots and soil fungi’s hyphae.
He could abdicate to forest mothers.
He would lie down at their feet.
Impatient with the pace of plant immigration,
he sets shrubs with berries, white, red
and black, wild plums in fencerows
and at the woodlot’s edge,
and pignut hickory for wildwood bulk,
pawpaw and persimmon,
hazelnuts and blackjack oaks,
juniper and balsam fir,
red cedar and paper birch.
His wife fears he works himself to certain
death, but he prays he’ll be enough.
His last assets are his ashes bequeathed
to the hardwoods and mast-like white pines,
the fertilizer of his body’s bits blowing north
on the inevitable hot southerly wind.
I was not in San Francisco during the Creek Fire, two hundred miles southeast of the city, but I had lived there, and every eerie picture of the smoke and the red light refracted from the fire itself sent chills up my spine. I felt that I could put myself there, and I hoped I could bring readers with me. Less than three years later, wildfires are not a novelty.
Creek Fire Reflections—San Francisco, September 9, 2020
“The Creek Fire northeast of Fresno, California, . . . burned 379,895 acres to become the largest single fire in recorded history of the state.” —Wildfire Today
like Santa Clara apricots,
like California poppies along Highway 280
going north to San Francisco,
like the Golden Gate itself in International Orange
splendid when against the clear blue sky.
But no bridge in sight, this day so like night.
Smoke[ 1] swathed the Golden City[ 2],
refracted firelight, and tie-dyed the city saffron
until the apocalyptic glow smelled of hell
and the bridge sank back into the rusty sky.
A car rolled by, gawking like the Mars rover.
A stray dog skirted the aubergine grass.
Ochre air sucked the green from stop and go
lights blinking over empty streets.
And the ash fell.
 “A day after it was first ignited, its smoke plume soared to 55,000 feet.”
 The Creek Fire and others were at least 200 miles inland from San Francisco.
"The Bay Area in California awoke Wednesday to a scene straight out of Mars."
I have been an environmental educator off and on for decades. People seem interested in learning about the environment, but not so much interest is manifested in changing behaviors that could really make a difference. In this poem, on the left side I’m yearning to be deeply heard and understood, and on the right side, the words of a real person who gets it. This poem is about scale. I am interested in exploring more poems written as dialogs.
Clear to the Earth—A Poem in Two Voices
I sing so the Earth can hear me.
I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide
pound my wind-chest breath into the organ pipes of Mammoth Cave,
our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels
forge my throat into a didgeridoo,
and to restore nature to the equilibrium
contrive my vocal cords to resonate separately like Tuvan throat singers',
we need for our survival.
sustain the two notes knocking together in my neck,
I truly believe that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned
a low frequency beat that shakes my cells, crown to calloused sole,
to join forces
and rings at the center of the Earth.
and lead the world by example.
( The Prince – Charles, Prince of Wales , 11 July 2019)
Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit, that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community.
Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!
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