Pheasants, wrens, kestrels, cockatoos inspire Millville poet who shares their lives
"Everything from wrens to kestrels, I've got out here nesting," said Balph, poet and former professor of fisheries and wildlife at Utah State University.
It feels like a meeting of the members of the Audubon Society and in fact, Balph said, they often visit, as do Head Start and other groups in the valley.
So it comes as no surprise that Balph's poetry, which has been published in New Hampshire, New Mexico and various anthologies nationwide, is feathered with images of flight and nature.
The atmosphere inside the house is just as lively. There's Twinkie, a starling rescued by neighborhood children and given to Balph for safekeeping; Timmy and Katie, cockatoos brought wild from the island of Tanimbar after its forests were cut down; and Pepper, who jabbers from the kitchen while we talk. Along with asking for crackers, saying hello, and whistling for dogs, Pepper also "mimics everything," Balph said. Once, when friends were over, the phone was apparently ringing off the hook.
As Balph recalled, "Somebody said, 'Martha, don't you ever answer your phone?' and I said, 'Oh, that's Pepper.'"
Pepper's not the only one with personality. Balph showed off her kitchen linoleum, held down with cellophane tape. Timmy's handiwork, she said.
"He's a neat guy. He's done a lot of remodeling on the kitchen floor and the carpet."
Balph said that Timmy and Katie used to share a cage. But, though she thinks they would be the best of friends in a bigger area, Timmy's domineering personality overpowered the timid Katie.
"He would really freak her out," she said.
The cockatoo's were wild when she purchased them and she said there were times when her ravaged fingers made her wonder if it was worth it. But though her husband told her she could return them, she never did.
"No, I can't," she would say. "I love them."
Since her husband, Dave, died in 1988, Balph said she has been grateful for the company of her birds. And her poetry. Though writing was an early interest for her, she had moved on to other pursuits.
"After Dave died," Balph said. "I felt the need to write."
She found a local group of poets headed by Veneta Nielsen and started attending the meetings.
"She (Nielsen) was an enormous help, a big influence on me," Balph said.
Though Nielsen died last year at 89, the group still meets every third Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Logan Library.
Laurie Hornsby leads the meetings, which are informal and always open to newcomers. Balph said the group is traveling to Salt Lake City for the Utah State Poetry Society's annual conference Friday and Saturday.
Balph hasn't always lived in Millville. Growing up Boston, she said she spent her early days looking forward to the one summer month her family would spend, each year, on a farm in the small town of Lancaster, N.H.
"My dad used to take me hiking and birdwatching there," Balph said. "To me that place was heaven."
She moved to Logan in 1970 to work on her doctorate and "it was so pretty, I never left."
"I've spent a lot of time in the city and I've spent a lot of time in the country," Balph said. "I'm definitely a country person."
When she moved from the Island in 1986, she thought she would miss the Logan River in her backyard. But now she said Logan seems "really busy" and she doesn't miss it at all.
"I liked little old Logan with pretty Main Street," Balph said.
She said she hopes that there will always be nice, quiet places to live. And on Earth.
"I don't think Mars is the answer [to urbanization]," she said. "I'd rather spend 10 years in Sing-Sing."
POEMS BY MARTHA H. BALPH (reprinted with permission)
Your fields are green now.
*This herb of the mustard family, now considered a weed, was for centuries grown in Europe for a blue dye yielded by its leaves
My cockatoo once flew white
he surveys a world of lawn
afternoon. Is anything safe
as a bone-white bird
leaving this lone refugee
a lost flock to roost.
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
Mist breaking . . .
Mourning doves in May