Rhyming poems are fun for children and can help them delve into important matters like cooling the earth and treating people with kindness.
So journalist Michael Garry of Danbury, who has made a career of writing about complex environmental topics, recently published his rhyming poem about trees as a children’s book, Trees Are Kind: With Sherman the Squirrel and Friends, illustrated by Deborah Luken.
Luken’s watercolors bring the forest to life while Garry’s simple words introduce the idea that “trees are entities, very much like people, that deserve our utmost love and respect,” according to an overview for the book on barnesandnoble.com.
Trees are Kind showcases the simple concept of why trees are important without delving into heady concepts like how they remove harmful carbon dioxide from the air. Garry said he initially wrote the poem to read aloud at the Bethel CT Chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society. Garry recently became the group’s president.
The Queens, N.Y., native grew up near Shea Stadium, former home of his beloved New York Mets. He went to the Bronx High School of Science and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and his wife Maureen moved to Connecticut where they raised their son Ethan.
He currently works at ATMOsphere, a Brussels, Belgium-based company that advocates for the use of natural refrigerants, for which he writes about natural refrigerants and sustainable cooling and heating technologies.
Garry and Luken, his cousin, self-published Trees Are Kind via BookBaby. Much of the project was done during the pandemic.
“Michael has a deep interest in the natural world, and he hopes, through this book, to interest young readers too, especially in the value of trees,” published poet and memoirist Cortney Davis said in an email. Davis is poet laureate emerita of Bethel and a member of the Bethel Chapter of the CT Poetry Society.
“Michael’s poems are simply spoken without pretense or an attempt to be ‘poetic,’ added Davis. “He seems to delight in the way words / poems are gifts that can both teach and entertain. I think the whimsical illustrations in Michael’s book are perfect, reflecting Michael’s playful approach to poems that provide information about our friends, the trees.”
The book aims to impart an “appreciation for trees, nature and the environment,” Garry said in a conversation.
“When I first wrote it, it was a poem for the [Bethel poetry] group. I like to write about nature,” said Garry who grew up in Forest Hills, a tree-lined part of Queens with large parks.
A second poetry book for children about birds possibly is his next effort.
His earlier book, Game of My Life New York Mets: Memorable Stories of Mets Baseball, published by Skyhorse Publishing in 2015, allowed the lifelong baseball fan to meet many of the 27 profiled Mets for interviews to recount their most unforgettable games.
Not a sports writer by trade, he threw himself into this project, researching and inventing opportunities to gain the trust and cooperation of these professional players to whom he was an unknown. He attended Spring Training and Fantasy Camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and conducted live interviews at those sites, among others, and by phone. There are interviews with Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, Ed Charles, Wally Backman, Edgardo Alfonzo, Bobby Jones, Benny Agbayani, Daniel Murphy and others.
The stories range from the beginning of the team in 1962 to 2015 when the Mets played and lost to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. (Garry attended Game 4 at Citi Field.) It includes Al Jackson telling about his 15-inning game in the Mets first season and Johan Santana pitching the first (and only solo) no-hitter in Mets history.
“It was very cool because I got to interview the players about their memories of their favorite game,” he said.
A highlight of this experience was the connection he made with one former Met in particular. “I became friendly with Ed Charles, who played for the ‘69 Miracle Mets. I wrote a poem for him titled ‘Ed Charles, the Glider. When he passed away sadly in 2018 his son asked me to read that poem at his funeral.”
Garry referenced his book as the “project of my life” in the book’s acknowledgements. The book was updated in 2018.
The forward, written by famed Mets radio announcer Howie Rose recalling the baseball memories of his youth, is another highlight of the experience for Garry. “Getting Howie, a favorite of mine for decades, to do the forward was one of the many joys of the book,” Garry said in an interview.Both of Garry’s books are decided to his Aunt May — Garry’s and Luken’s aunt — who died almost two years ago. “She was a very special person, a selfless, loving human being. For a few years – when I was a child and also a teenager – I lived with her and her family. I wrote a poem about her that she cherished and asked that I read at her funeral.”
Describing his approach to poetry, Garry said, “I write about a lot ot different things. I write about my childhood, spiritual poems, different experiences. It’s an emotional outlet, a creative outlet.”
“Poems capture so much in such a small form yet they do a lot and they’re very powerful and I try to honor that as much as I can,” Garry continued.
He’s excited about leading the Bethel poetry group. Garry is taking over for former president Liz Massey, who led the group for many years.
Becoming president of the local poetry chapter is a new role for him.
“It was a surprise…Liz chose me for this position. I’m a regular dedicated attendee of the group. I’ve grown as a poet in the group. It was an honor to be asked. I’m trying to work hard to attract people to the group,” he said.
“You want to read poetry to see how it’s done. There are some poems that are challenging but there’s many great poets that are very easy.”
He admires many and said his “biggest muse” is Emily Dickinson. “A lot of her stuff is pretty straightforward Some of it is challenging. She has an amazing way of expressing deep concepts about life, death, love, hate. She’s just extraordinary.”
Mary Oliver who writes poems about nature is also one he likes. “The love and passion for nature she expresses in most all of her poems. She’s a best-seller, easy to read.”
Garry thinks Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman and W.H. Auden write “straightforward” poems and T.S. Elliot “can be a challenge” though he characterizes “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as “pretty straightforward.”
“There’s a beautiful poem about kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, one of my favorites,” he added. “It’s magnificent.”
He encourages anyone interested in writing poetry to join the Bethel group. “Unfortunately some people are intimidated by poetry but it’s meant to be something for everyone. Most poetry is pretty accessible.”
The Bethel chapter of the CT Poetry Society meets the second Saturday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. at Bethel Public Library.
“Poetry is kind of a sideline hobby of mine. I’ve been developing since joining this group five years ago. I always enjoyed reading and writing it, and wanted to take it seriously in a more dedicated way. I encourage anyone interested in poetry to come to the meetings, which are free.”
The poets give each other feedback that is constructive and supportive, Garry said.
“People don’t shoot you down. They give constructive criticism. We have outstanding poets in the room. We’ve gotten some new people recently. The age range is wide.”