Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Feather Variations is the First Collection From McHenry County’s Jane Richards—National Poetry Month 2024


Poet Jane Richards in the natural environment from which she draws inspiration.

Time was that I was kind of a semi-official poet  at both the Woodstock and McHenry homes of my church community now known as Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation (TOLUUC).  My work was regularly used in worship and some of it was written for specific services, and I hosted occasional poetry programs that focused on anti-war efforts and on income inequality.  But that era has passed.

For years the TOLUUC has hosted and nurtured its Poetry Group which meets monthly to share members’ work, exchange feedback, and sometimes prompts and other exercises.  They now collectively do the poetic heavy lifting around the congregation.  They recently did a poetry service.  A core group has sustained the group from its inception.  Some—Sue Rekenthaler and Carol Alfus for example regularly participate in Atrocious Poets events in Woodstock, open-mic and spoken word programs at the Stage Left Café, Joe Cavilloss Paladins of Poetry nights in Crystal Lake, and at various other occasions.  Members of the group have published in various print or on-line Media. 

But Jane Richards became the first of the group to publish an honest-to-God book, The Feather Variations which is now available on Amazon at for $11.99.  

The Feather Variations “intertwines the natural world with the rhythms of relationship, loss, and recovery. The poems bear witness to nature as comforter and companion, teacher and healer. Even in the darkest hours, these lyrical and approachable poems beckon the reader toward transformation,” says the back cover blurb.

Richards’s work has appeared in numerous journals and has received awards including a nomination for the prestigious Pushcart Prize.  A former piano teacher and social worker, she now pursues her life-long passions for writing, nature, and travel.  She holds Masters Degrees in social work and creative writing.  Richards lives in Spring Grove, Illinois.

A pair of Illinois bluebirds building their nest in a bluebird box.  Boxes attract the birds who are active and voracious insectivores who help to control mosquitos, gnats, and other pests.

The Bluebird Trail

One spring I monitored bluebird boxes.

Every week I would open the panels and peer inside,

scan the darkness, count and record,

while from a nearby branch

an azure-feathered parent watched,



The nests, well-crafted as an Amish bed,

cradled blue eggs one week,

hatchlings the next—

the open yellow beaks a bouquet in full bloom,

each attached to a small sack of ashen skin,

lumpy with bones.


Limp bodies grew down the color of first light,

then wild quills poked out all akimbo.

The nestlings took on heft and form.

Now my intrusions prompted them to hunker down,

wing to wing in the cramped quarters,

still as stones.


When the feathers gleamed like a rocky creek in sunshine,

I knew the day of  fledging approached:

I was not prepared for the swiftness of their departure.

I shut the abandoned home                                        

rejoicing—yes!—but not before a moment,


Jane  Richards

First  published in The Weekly Avocet #282

Wolf Moon.

Wolf Moon     

She has been with us three nights—

under clear skies she emerges unblemished,

unrolls her luminous  carpet across January snow,

her fingers tracing precise outlines—

tangled branches,

tree trunks in dark columns.               


In these woods—

bones exposed,


our refuge from the bruises of loss—

we wait for the greening,

the hum of trees breathing.


The hour before dawn

the moon arrives at our window,

spreads strong hands across our bed.

Prodding us from old darkness

we awaken inside her canescent embrace,

trace the features on each other’s face.

Jane  Richards

Published in after hours: a journal of Chicago writing and art, Winter, 2022




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