Loon Lore

In Poetry and Prose

Illustrated by LESLIE TRYON

Grove Street Books (48 pages, $16.00)
September, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-941934-02-9


Praise for Loon Lore

“In one of Bill Sullivan’s poems, embraced as are all the verses in Loon Lore by the author’s complementary essays and by Leslie Tryon’s inspired illustrations, the speaker recalls Henry David Thoreau’s attempt to look into “the fiery red eyes” of a loon to discover what birds and humans have in common. The loon, recognizing the transcendentalist’s pathetic fallacy for what it was, outsmarted Thoreau. In contrast, Sullivan is sly enough to reveal the loon’s correspondences with the rest of us and with the earth we share, not by holding the animal in the palm of his hand, but by liberating it to fly across the pages of this singularly beautiful book.”

—James Penha, poet and editor of The New Verse News

“The old music of the loon is the story of the world inside the world, a story of muskeag tamarack, spruce taiga, dandle of moonlight, something haunting beyond our understanding. Bill Sullivan captures the loon’s essential mystery in this brilliant mix of poems, stories, essays, legends, and sometimes unsettling facts – all enriched by great drawings, all awakening the memory of something fading to a silence made clear with the telling.

—Tom Chandler, Rhode Island poet laureate emeritus

“In eloquent essays and exquisite verse, Bill Sullivan paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of the loon, a bird of vivid colors, a haunting call, and primeval mystery. Beautifully illustrated by Leslie Tryon, Loon Lore is a rousing call to action to protect this familiar winter visitor to the South County shoreline.”
––Betty J. Cotter, author of The Winters and Roberta’s Woods


The Elusive Loon

The elusive loon—here one moment, gone the next—shows the limits of what we can grasp, and the temporary nature of what is.

“Think back––leap forward.” In stirring poetry and thought-provoking essays, William Sullivan interweaves the long, mythical history of the loon with our own troubling present and precarious future, linking us, our history, and our fate to that of the fabled and elusive seabird. Loon Lore: In Poetry and Prose combines fact with legend and art. The writing is enhanced by illustrator Leslie Tryon’s equally poetic drawings. Her soft pencil renderings capture the sense of a fading environment, while also bringing clarity to the issue through maps and haunting reminders of the beauty we have put in jeopardy. Loon Lore’s strong conservation effort can be likened to Rachel Carson’s work in Silent Spring.

Loon Lore, however, leans away from the apocalyptic, large-scale call to arms against environmental pollution and instead centers the issue on this one elusive species. Sullivan is similarly urging us to act, and provides avenues for change within the prose, but he also uses the loon’s long, mythical history to first bring us back to nature and our common origin: the sea. He reminds us how we are tied together, and how by endangering these birds we endanger ourselves. At the same time, Sullivan is mindful that solutions to our environmental woes can be elusive too, like the loon always diving down at our approach and reappearing farther away.

As the first poem in the book relates, the loon is a worthy messenger for change: in Wabanaki lore the loon was the creature that summoned the hero Glooskap when humans needed his aid. Loons have been symbolic for centuries; their steadfast nature—carrying on as normal during the worst winter storms—inspire those of us who live in New England to be strong and hold out for spring. Their ability to adapt to the changing seasons likewise reminds us of our own struggle to adapt to global climate change.

In the current culture of time crunches and crammed schedules we have forgotten what it means to run on what Sullivan calls “animal time,” something our ancestors honored. “If we wish, we can ask ourselves what has been lost, what has been gained by adopting our current conception of time. Could we reenter that older realm of time? What would be gained if we did?” Loon Lore brings us back to that forgotten sense of time that revered nature and its cycles, rather than seeking to overcome them by linearly filling them up.

The loon may still be reaching out to us through its summoning cry. Instead of bringing Glooskap to our aid as in the old stories, it is now the loons that require our aid. The decline in loon populations is a direct result of human activity. Climate change, hunting, and careless fishing and motorboat practices are all attributed to pushing them towards endangerment. It is our turn to step up and repair this damage, and in doing so help our own future as well. Loon Lore: In Poetry and Prose is the first step in seeking to answer their call.


About the author

William Sullivan before retiring to Westerly, Rhode Island, taught English and American studies at Keene State College. He has co-authored two volumes in the Twayne series on American poetry: Modern American Poetry 1865 – 1950, and Containing Multitudes, Poetry in the United States Since 1950; and has co-produced two documentary films: Here I am, Send Me: The Journey of Jonathan Daniels and The Farmer is the Man. Sullivan’s poetry has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including Origami Poems, Providence Journal, Westerly Sun, Wickford Art Association: Poetry and Art, and Babel Fruit.

About the illustrator

Leslie Tryon is the author and illustrator of the Albert series of books for children, including the ALA Notable book, Albert’s Alphabet. She also illustrated a series written by Alma Flor Ada, and created drawings for the Los Angeles Times as well as numerous children’s magazines.

Loon Lore: In Poetry and Prose
Grove Street Books
Trade Paper, $16.00
Publication Date: September 8, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-941934-02-9
Grove Street Books is an imprint of Bauhan Publishing
Twitter: @bauhanpub Facebook: bauhanpub
Grove Street Books and Bauhan Publishing are distributed through:
University Press of New England (UPNE)

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