“Our revels now are ended…”

“Our revels now are ended…”
William Shakespeare
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Mixing plays, I know, but I love the joy of these revelers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

And what revels there have been! Bravo to all of you who had daily poetry projects this month. I may not have visited or commented every day, but I truly admire your hard work and dedication. You are an inspiration!

Although National Poetry Month comes to an end today, true believers know no day is complete without poetry. We’ll always dream; we’ll always write…

Words click
into place like
tumblers inside a lock,
revealing truths hidden within
my heart.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Poetry Friday: Finding Beauty, Even in a Snake


When I was a kid, I loved hanging out on my swing set. One day when I went out to play, there was a huge snake, so black he was blue, sunning himself under the swings. I ran screaming back into the house, and have been terrified of snakes ever since.

Then one of my boys turned into a lover of all reptiles, especially snakes. On our first trip to the Bronx Zoo, he made a bee-line to the Reptile House. So I had to learn, if not to like snakes, at least not be petrified when I saw one.

So I wasn’t at all surprised to see this on Michael’s Instagram feed last week:

Photo by Michael Flynn
Photo by Michael Flynn

And even though I still really don’t like snakes, it was hard to ignore the beauty of this one.

His scales polished
to a glossy shine,
green glimmers,
blue-black shimmers
as rat snake slithers
over sun-warmed slate
like lightning flashing
across the sky.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Please be sure to visit Buffy Silverman at Buffy’s Blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Poetry Friday: Desertbells


“The beauty of the natural world lies in the details.”
~ Natalie Angier ~

Today is Earth Day. I wanted to write a poem specifically to commemorate that, but trying to write a poem about the whole Earth overwhelmed me. Then I remembered this photo from an Arizona Highways desk calendar. The beauty is in the details.

Photo by Tim Fitzharris in 2016 Arizona Highways Calendar
Photo by Tim Fitzharris in 2016 Arizona Highways Calendar

Cradled like newly hatched
desertbell vines
run rampant
through the jaws of an agave,
weaving their blossoms
between its toothy thorns.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Please be sure to visit Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


Two Poems for Your Pocket


It’s National Poem in Your Pocket Day! My school is closed for spring break this week, so we’ll celebrate next week. When we do, I’ll be carrying Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody, Who are you?” especially for a fifth grade student who asked almost the same question in a poem she wrote last week.

“I’m Nobody, Who are you?”
by Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

I was thinking of this poem while I walked this morning. When I heard an unfamiliar bird calling from the top of a tree, I automatically asked, “Who are you?”

Who are you,
flooding my dreams
with your rosy chee-chee-heeee?

Who are you,
bouncing through the apple tree’s
golden finery?

Who are you,
sipping the last beads of dew
from tender new leaves,
like it was nectar for the gods?

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

“Japanese Tree Frogs”

Large-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoAt the Highlights Foundation Spring Poetry Retreat last April, Rebecca Kai Dotlich recommended A Celebration of Bees: Helping Children to Write Poetry, by Barbara Juster Esbensen. Esbensen, who passed away in 1996, was an NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children winner. (You can learn more about Barbara here, part of Rene LaTullipe’s “Spotlight on NCTE Poets” series.)

“Words are the beginning,” Esbensen tells us, of “the writer’s never ending but highly interesting task of discovering exactly the right word for this feeling, that sound, a movement, a color.” She goes on to describe beginning her work with children by asking them to “find some words” to,  in the words of Sherwood Anderson, “throw into a box and shake.”

Having done this with students countless times, I couldn’t remember when I had last just played with words this way. So I got a marker and let loose. I had a photograph I’d found online in mind when I created my word splash, but when I went to find the photo, I found this instead:

Japanese tree frogs (© Shinji Kusano/Minden Pictures)(Bing Canada)
Japanese tree frogs (© Shinji Kusano/Minden Pictures)(Bing Canada)

I gasped when I saw it and knew this was the photo I had to write a poem about.

“Japanese Tree Frogs”

Under a bower
of glistening green lanterns,
tree frogs trill
their exuberant refrain,
welcoming the soaking spring.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Slice of Life: Alive Below Crystal


It is National Park Week, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. (Thank you to Tricia Stohr-Hunt, aka Miss Rumphius, for the heads up on this.)

My family and I are fortunate enough to have rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon twice. This is an incredible experience, one that leaves you with a deep appreciation for the grandeur of the canyon and the power of nature.

The course of the river is punctuated by powerful rapids, but there are two that stick out in my mind. One is Lava Falls, which I’ve written about here. The other is Crystal, which was formed, literally, overnight.

“In December 1966 a storm unlike any witnessed before, dropped over 14 inches of rain in some places along the north rim. All this water sent debris flows crashing down side canyons [including Crystal Canyon]. When the storm had passed, the debris fan constricted the Colorado to less than a quarter of its original width, and a large boulder at the top created one of the largest holes on the river”

From “Nature, History, and Culture of the Grand Canyon: Crystal Rapid

Brian in Crystal Rapid, August, 2007
Brian in what I think is Crystal Rapid, August, 2007

Alive Below Crystal

Skirt the wave
at the edge of the hole,
kiss its lip with your paddle,
close enough to feel its power,
distant enough to avoid being sucked in,
overwhelmed by her might.

In the course of one life,
how often do these upheavals
The path is altered,
a chasm opens.
Never fully healed,
full of fissures that can crack
without warning,
bringing us to our knees.

Alive below Crystal,
our view forever transformed.
We’ve gazed into the face
of the cataclysm
and survived.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016


 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

A Fibonacci Poem


National Poetry Month is rushing by, and although I’ve been sharing poems with students and created some book spine poems, I haven’t been able to keep up with writing a poem a day. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been collecting ideas and inspiration from all the amazing poetry projects going on in the Kitlitosphere. (Jama Rattigan has collected information and links to this poetry-palooza here.

Earlier this month, I found this lovely image on Twitter:

“Gillyflower, Mayfly, Fly, and Snail” Artist/Maker: Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600) and Georg Bocskay (Hungarian, died 1575), Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

I knew right away I wanted to write a poem about that snail and flower. and started drafting a few ideas. I put it aside for some other ideas, but thought of it again when I read my friend Margaret Simon’s post this morning about Fibonacci poems. Fib poems are “based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence which begins with 1,1,2,3,5,8.” What form could more fitting for a poem about a snail?

a garden
path, hunting for grub,
swirls of cream and plum guard her back.
Drowsy gillyflower leans down to whisper good night.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Revision: Finding the Best Words

By Herkulaneischer Meister via Wikimedia Commons
By Herkulaneischer Meister via Wikimedia Commons

“Poetry: The best words in the best order”
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~

Many writers rank revision right up there with root canals and colonoscopies, especially beginning writers. They’ve struggled to get their words down and now you’re asking them to change them?!? Or maybe they’ve hit upon a rhyme they think is perfect. Until you ask them what it means. Then they have to admit they really don’t know, but they like the way it sounds.

The magic of word processing has made the labor of revision much less overwhelming, but still it’s often hard for writers to let go of their words. (“Kill your darlings,” William Faulkner advised.)

This week I was working with a fifth grade student on a poem that had promise. His opening line had a nice rhythm and the second line had an effective repetition. Then came two lines he was really proud of. They rhymed, but he achieved that rhyme through weak, almost meaningless word choice that would stop readers in their tracks.

I began our conversation by reminding him that poems don’t have to rhyme. We had read many poems over the past week, immersing ourselves in persona poems and poems of address. A few rhymed, but most didn’t. Then I asked him to explain the lines to me, hoping he’d use some more effective vocabulary in his explanation. We spent a few minutes talking about what people often say when they lose things. (His poem was about an explorer searching for, but never finding, gold.) I asked him how he thought the explorer felt after expending all that time and energy for nothing.

Feeling like the explorer, I was getting frustrated trying to uncover a nugget of anything that made sense, but still coming up empty-handed. I tried hard not to put words in his mouth, but it was clear he didn’t have the vocabulary to say what he wanted to say. In the end, with the help of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary, he found the words he was looking for, even though I still had to explain some of the meanings to him. Was that cheating? I hope not. Because I think he learned some valuable lessons in the process. Now he has a better understanding of the words “sorrow” and “woe.” More importantly, he recognized how much better his poem sounded after making changes. His hard work of revision paid off.

What lessons were there for me in this whole process? I considered flat out banning rhymes in our next round of poems, but that limits student choice, doesn’t it? Maybe a better approach would be to study poems with rhyme more closely to discover what makes them work. And as always, it comes down to more writing. Because the more we write, the better the chance we’ll find the best word, and have the skills to put them in the best order.

Every Sunday, Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche invites teachers and writers to reflect on digital literacy, teaching, and writing. Please visit her there to read more about revision.

DigiLit Sunday

Poetry Friday: Laughter Across the Years


Hats off to all of you who’ve been writing a poem each day in celebration of National Poetry Month. I have been working on a couple of long-term projects that have made it impossible to keep up with all the inspiring projects people have going. I admire your fortitude and creativity.

Today’s poem was initially inspired by Mary Lee Hahn‘s project, Bygones. When I started writing, though, I soon saw how this could work for Marilyn Singer’s April ditty challenge at Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog to write a “poem inspired by the word ‘echo.'”

My father, Tom Wallian, circa 1941
My father, Tom Wallian, circa 1941

Laughter from two little boys
echoes across the years:

On your first set of wheels
you pedal down the garden path,
feet pumping
hands gripping
heart soaring

A glint of mischief in your eyes
An impish grin across your face

your heart soaring
hands gripping
feet pumping
as you pedal down the garden path
on your first set of wheels

your laughter echoing across the years.

My son, Brian, circa 1985
My son, Brian, circa 1985

Please be sure to visit Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


Slice of Life: PD in My PJs


“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious”
~ Albert Einstein ~

Last Saturday, I took advantage of a great day of professional development available FREE and ONLINE. The Educator’s Collaborative, founded by Chris Lehman, sponsored a day full of inspiration for educators. More than forty educators and writers were on hand to share their ideas and insights. During her presentation, Linda Hoyt talked about ways to help kids see how ideas go together, to see the relationships between seemingly diverse topics. Over the course of the day, it was hard to miss the relationship between all the sessions. The ideas delivered by so many wise presenters went together like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the finished puzzle spelled out: STUDENT ENGAGEMENT = STUDENT LEARNING

In one way or another, each session I watched stressed the importance of inspiring our students, sparking their curiosity, and encouraging them to ask questions. These steps will lead them to make new discoveries, discoveries about the world around them, but more importantly, discoveries about themselves. These discoveries, in turn, will help them dream and discover their passions.

It would be impossible to choose the best session, or the most inspiring idea, for they were all fantastic and full of inspiring ideas. I did love that all the presenters shared the research base and philosophy behind their ideas, then provided practical strategies that we could infuse into our lessons on Monday.

You really should just stop reading and go to The Educator’s Collaborative website and start watching. But in case you’re not convinced yet, here are a few examples of all the wisdom you’ll find there.

Harvey Daniels explained that Curiosity is a better motivator than grit. Working from the positive is always so much better.”

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater reminded us that “Each of has something only we can say” and we should “say it through poetry!”

Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti gave us ideas for including “notebook time” in our classrooms and explained that this time “is an invitation and a place to play.”

Dr. Mary Howard urged us to build our classroom libraries to ensure that “students have books that will make their hearts sing!”

Linda Hoyt pointed out that we can “ignite a sense of wonder with kids through visuals in nonfiction read-alouds.”

“It’s about generating and creating pathways for thinking. It’s about giving kids new opportunities,” Kristin Ziemke explained.

Maggie Beattie Roberts told us that “tools help us do more, become more, reach dreams we have for ourselves, & make things easier.”

I could keep going, but seriously, just go watch the sessions for yourself. You’ll be so glad you did.

You’ll also find a session I wasn’t able to see because of satellite interference by four of Two Writing Teachers fearless leaders, Stacey Schubitz, Dana Murphy, Betsey Hubbard, and Deb Frazier on “Maximizing Independent Writing Time by Creating Conferring Tool Kits.” I’m looking forward to watching their session later this evening. 

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.