{pf: poetry peeps ponder… the hippo}

Oh, September.

So much has weighed so heavily this month that the word ‘ponderous,’ which was intended as a sort of light-hearted take on feeling dragged low by the end of summertime has a much, much greater weight to it now.

There’s much, as always, for which to be grateful – for today, the air is clear, the fires are closer to reaching containment, there’s been minimal damage from any earthquakes, and while we’ve lost our Justice, a new one hasn’t been forced upon us just yet. Just for a moment, let’s take a hard turn away from the ponderous news cycle and our very literal feelings of heaviness, and concentrate on something happier… like hippos.

Of the Poetry Peeps, Laura’s usually the animal poem person, but I have had a soft heart toward hippos since seeing Disney’s Fantasia as a kid. I always cheer on the underdog, and Hyacinth Hippo was …meant to be comedic, in her ungainly grace, with her less than sylph-like size – but just like the ostriches who began the dance, she was also earnestly, beautifully dancing her best.

When Fiona, the hippo born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, became a YouTube star, I think everyone’s love of hippos skyrocketed. Fiona is adorably full of personality, and her fans find hippos just the sweetest, hugest, splooshiest… water cows, ever. (The Afrikaans word for hippo is seekoei, which literally means sea cow… which makes sense, if their closest relative is the whale.) And, finally, I have to love hippos because I was leaping around, pretend ballet-dancing after school when I was about ten, and got called a hippo, because …Middle School.

Y’know, not everyone is a graceful seahorse. We sea cows may as well own it.

Für Fiona

Never cutting through the river
like an arrow, swift and clean –
Never poised and leaping lightly,
Not a sylph-like figurine.
Comical with weighty wallow,
In a pod they’re called a …BLOAT!
River horse, cow of the water
Amphibious anecdote.

Always barrel-shaped and ponderous
but their bite can snap canoes.
Always outclassed as a runner –
(Those jaws need no running shoes.)
Munching eighty pounds of grasses,
They cause crocs to think again
Confidence their superpower,
Hail the whale’s more deadly kin.

(I couldn’t decide if the last lines should be, They make crocodiles think twice/Though they’re graceful in the water/Mess with them, and pay the price, but I like both conclusions equally: the hippo is the deadliest land-animal in Africa, and we should be so lucky to be called a hippo.)

Want to see what our other Poetry Peeps have done this week? Liz was relieved to write about hippos instead of, say, the presidency. Tricia’s pondering hippos, while Laura’s are stepping high. Ponder Sara’s wordplay here. Check out Carol’s seaside poem here, and Cousin Mary Lee is exploring ponderous thoughts here. Stay tuned as other poets check in with their hippo-ponderous poetry throughout the day.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone McCulloch’s blog, where we’re invited to be both brave and mathematical. Thanks, Jone!

The finalists for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature are:

・Laurie Halse Anderson
・Eric Gansworth
・Meg Medina
・Linda Sue Park
・Mitali Perkins
・Jason Reynolds
・Cynthia Leitich Smith
・Laurel Snyder
・Alex Wheatle

The 2021 prizewinner will be announced on Oct. 20, the second night of the 2020 Neustadt Festival, which runs Oct. 19–21. Though traditionally, this Festival is held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, this year, you’re invited to join us online! Hope to see you there!

17 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps ponder… the hippo}”

  1. A “bloat”? Please, Powers-That-Be-of-Collective-Nouns, a little respect for the mighty hippo!

    I love everything about this, including the reclamation of the hippo and its charging glory. 🙂

    Middle school sucks. I had to move to a new state in the middle of my 5th grade year, so not only did I show up at a new school mid-year, but I wore a dress my first day, which happened to be a P.E. day, and of course, the teacher cut me no slack and made me play basketball (in that dress/tights/no appropriate shoes, so I slipped and slid around the court) anyway. The cherry on the top of that mortifying sundae was having a boy call me Moose because of my big nose. Maybe I should write an ode to moose. Or a reflection on sadistic teachers. 🙂

    At any rate, I adore this poem. 🙂

  2. The word play and the science is so well done in this. Who knew a group of hippos was called a bloat. And indeed hippos is a much better for the end of September amid the weight of our world now.

  3. Middle school is hell :>( Although I hated Fantasia (it was the movie for a rare birthday party when I was a kid–I didn’t get to pick the movie, and I was so bored), I love your poem. Those last three lines made me cheer. I love hippos, and I admit I was surprised a few years ago to learn that they are the most dangerous land animal in Africa. But I love that combo of power and unassuming looks.

    1. @laurasalas: (Mainly what I remember about Fantasia was that it was looong. I did like the hippos, but I don’t remember it having a whole lot else!) It IS funny to think something that’s mostly vegetarian and mild-looking kills so many people, crocodiles and other hippos per year!

  4. I love that even though you spend most of the poem telling what hippos are NOT, you end with that amazing superpower and the fact that they have such a deadly bite! Plus, you managed to get “bloat” into your poem! Thanks for linking me in, even though I broke all the rules!

  5. Fantastic Tanita, I love ❤️ your poem, as it “leaps lightly” throughout, alliterating us with Fiona’s behavior and powerful prowess! I like both closing lines too, though I really like the sound of “Hale the whale’s.” Still smiling too, thanks!

  6. Tanita, I think the rhythm of your poem is charged with lively statements such as
    Comical with weighty wallow,
    Amphibious anecdote.
    and the poem is full of facts that showcase your word play. I also like how you wove in both a story about a hippo and used the word ponderous (two for one bonus) –
    Always barrel-shaped and ponderous
    Thank yo for the shoutout about my poem. i did not expect that but do appreciate be included.

  7. I really love the rhythm & rhyme, Tanita. It’s such a shout-out for the hippo, meant to be read aloud with power and celebration, of perhaps more than just hippos? Thanks!

  8. I adore the fact that we used some of the same words. And you found a way to fit all the science in such a fun way. I love this poem! Thank you for suggesting we celebrate the hippo.

  9. OK, y’know what kills me here? THE RHYMES. These are no lowly, earthbound rhymes but rather ones that leap and soar like a …. well …. ballerina. Damn, you’re good, my friend.

    1. @Liz Garton Scanlon: (I have no idea why this decided to hold your comment in a spam filter. WordPress, man…) Thank you! I had written the first stanza and then realized I didn’t want to end it there – hippos are no joke! Their leaps may be low, but in the water, they definitely soar.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.