Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 17, 2013

Poems in the Greenhouse

Yesterday was the perfect day to smell lilacs and pass under the white blooms of dogwoods on my way to the Smith College Greenhouse. The museum area is currently devoted to a show called From Petals to Paper: Poetic Inspiration from Flowers.

Poems printed on placards and arranged according to flower types were selected by Liliana Farrel and Janna Scott, class of ’13, who were inspired by Annie Boutelle’s poetry workshop. Walls featured irises, tulips, and other spring flowers. The section on daffodils offered Wordsworth wandering lonely as a cloud, along with Robert Herrick, Amy Lowell, and Alicia Ostriker giving the flowers a political context. Poets including Li-Young, Mary Oliver, and Louise Gluck show flowers as solace, taunting, sensuous, exuberant, or demure.


A small room was devoted to Smith alum, Sylvia Plath. We see a draft of Among the Narcissi filled with cross-outs and new words, with still more lines and notes from an editor at The New Yorker, then we see it published in the magazine.


David Trinidad had given us a brief introduction to both Sylvia Plath and tulips in his amusing and profound poem The Red Parade. Here we find Sylvia Plath’s Tulips on the wall and can also listen to a recording on a television. The poem tells of a red gift in a stark hospital room at a time when the narrator felt as if nurses were claiming her clothes, the anesthetist her history, and the surgeons her body, so that I believed the line near the end: “Tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals.” I like the poem, but hope I just sound grateful and not smug when I say I’m glad I’m a person who can receive tulips and simply say “Thank you, what a gorgeous color!” The recording was made in 1961, two years before Plath would die by her own hand at age thirty, leaving two children.


This heart-tugging show is open until the first weekend of September.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit: Think Kid, Think.



  1. If I don’t fill my house with vases of pink tulips at least once in the early spring, I’m not fit to live with. I love tulips. There are at least two books on Sylvia Plath this year–one a novel, I believe. That exhibit sounds wonderful. I love the museum meanderings you share with us.

    • I really liked the novel, Wintering, about Sylvia Plath that came out a few years ago, and Sylvia Hemphill’s verse novel inspired by her. She was beautiful, incredibly talented, wronged, gifted, died young — the stuff of obsession. But I guess tulips can be the wrong thing in the wrong place — I’m with you, nothing like watching them slowly open in vases when winter is lingering too long.

  2. Hi, Jeannine. What a lovely idea for an exhibit. Our flowers and blooms are a few weeks ahead of yours — the dogwoods are finished and my lovely creeping phlox (a carpet of purple!) are down to their last blossoms. Thanks for making spring last a little bit longer with this post.

    • Smith College has a great tradition of linking botany and poetry. Student poems, often inspired by Asian forms, are often part of the chrysanthemum show, and students are sent to write in the gardens.

      I, too, enjoy watching seasons in flux over the internet!

  3. What a beautiful idea for poetry to celebrate along with spring! Thank you Jeannine. We are so behind this year, still waiting for trees to leaf out & the lilacs have not begun. Someday!

    • Someday will come. It was long awaited here, too, and so all the more treasured.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful description of this thought-provoking and beautiful exhibit. Plath’s draft looks so fascinating! As we can’t have any flowers in our yard, it’s so nice to hear about these.

  5. I think I might have to go back and peer at that draft more closely. Really, it’s a thing of beauty like a pot of flowers.

  6. I can just picture it all, Jeannine – in that beautiful greenhouse. My Elizabeth roomed at Chapin Hall, looking at that lovely place. And what an amazing collection of poets! It’s worth a trip up just to experience this, I think!

    • It was the perfect size — I could read every poem without feeling overwhelmed, and nice variety of outlooks and language. If you do find time to visit I hope you’ll let me know! My daughter thinks it’s worth a long drive just to eat at the India House. As you know, lots of lovely things in the area.

  7. I would love to go to this! Thanks for sharing it.

  8. You notice the smallest details, describe their contributions to the whole. You read between the lines, muse about the words left unsaid & the scrawled messages in the margins. And so on…which is why I love being able to accompany you on these museum visits, Jeannine, if only in the retelling.

  9. Looking a famous drafts always gives me hope, like tulips. I hope you are saving all your rough drafts for posterity, too!

    • I love your connection between changed drafts, tulips, and hope. I’m afraid most of my drafts get recycled or whisked away by delete. Otherwise there might be no room in the cupboards or computer.

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