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Finding Poetry in the Parts of a Shell

Updated on November 15, 2011
Scouring beaches for perfect shells
Scouring beaches for perfect shells

My regular readers know that I was recently inspired to create a poetry series based on information I was learning about different types of shells. Most of the poems in the series are about a single type of shell, often used as a metaphor for something bigger. However, there are two poems in the series that are purely about the amazing language of shells, a language I didn’t even know existed until I started learning more and more about shells.

The first poem in that series was all about the beautiful names of shells. It is called Shell Names Read Like Poetry on a Salty Tongue and explores the lovely mellifluous qualities of shell names. Honestly just reading the names of shells aloud feels like speaking poetry. I created list after list of the names of different types of shells to read to myself for inspiration. I reorganized the lists to create poems. I languished happily in this newly found language.

This poem that I am sharing here is also about that terrific poetic quality of shell language but in this case it is about the names of different parts of the shell. Before I knew about shells, I had no idea that their different parts were so interesting! Each part has a name and the name is new and fresh and poetic. Each shell part name conjures up amazing imagery and yet in itself is a beautiful word. And then there are the words that are commonly used to describe the different parts of shells to people who collect and look closely at them and that, too, is a poetic language.

This poem is also about how difficult it can be to choose the right words for a poem when there are so many amazing things in nature that are so difficult to describe. And yet, as writers, we must try! Here it is:

Finding Poetry in the Parts of a Shell

If I could grab the names off of the body of a shell

And roll them on my tongue in every day conversation

Every communication would be a poem

Every relationship would be laced with magic

Turban shells, for example are characterized by

Thick calcareous operculum

Ornamentation of curved ridges

Lowermost keel skirts and pearly aperture

Corrugations correspond to rib placement

Continuous columnella

Spaced tubercles

Red peroistracum and nacreous inner layer

If I could turn the parts of a turban shell

Inside out

I would make them into poems

Interject them with everyday existence

Strengthening my own spine with self-confidence

I want to see the world in contrasts

Of spire and whorl

To speak my stories in detailed

Ornamented spines and flutings

To swim daily in the warm waters of coral reefs

I want the capacity to articulate the exact point

Where the body becomes concave below the suture

To aptly describe the pinprick spot where

Well-rounded aperture meets outer lip in a sharp edge

I would scour beaches of inspiration

To possess this language in daily life

There are people who collect shells

Words are my treasure

If only they didn’t often escape me


Submit a Comment

  • StephanieBCrosby profile image

    Stephanie Bradberry 

    6 years ago from New Jersey

    Your inspiration from shells reminds of when I used to teach "The Chambered Nautilus."

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Kathryn, your poem was a blessing to read. I love searching for shells on the coast after a storm, especially. Your poetry reaches into the heart. I got chills when I read this, because I understand what you're saying to a T:

    "Interject them with everyday existence

    Strengthening my own spine with self-confidence."

    Looking forward to reading more from you!

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 

    6 years ago from California

    Lovely--I don't know your work yet, but I suspect that your poetry is all wonderful---


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