Poetry Friday: Challenges

T.S. Eliot claimed that “April is the cruelest month” but I think teachers might argue that August is a close second. Unfinished summer projects taunt us; unorganized classrooms beckon. Add to all that the Inklings’ monthly challenge. Something had to give. You guessed it. It was the challenge.

For our September challenge, Margaret Simon asked us to “Choose a photo from the month of This Photo Wants to be a Poem and share your poem and your process.” Every week, Margaret shares a photo on Facebook as a poetry prompt, a tradition that began with Laura Purdie Salas.

I knew immediately which photo I wanted to write to:

The fields around my house are full of this grass right now and I’m always awed by its beauty. But what to write? I pondered and wrote notes. After several false starts, I began looking at the other photos. Then, while Heidi Mordhorst, Mary Lee Hahn, Michelle Kogan, and I were discussing Ada Limón‘s enchanting new book, The Hurting Kind, someone said that many of Limon’s lines would be good strike lines for a Golden Shovel. All at once, everything clicked. I knew which line would work perfectly with this photo.

“…amidst the perpetual
scattering that unspools the world.”

Ada Limón
(from “It’s the Season I Often Mistake”)

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Thank you to Margaret for posing this challenge. Thank you to Heidi, Mary Lee, and Michelle for the insightful and stimulating conversation about The Hurting Kind. If you haven’t already read how my fellow Inklings responded to this challenge, please visit them at their blogs:

Mary Lee Hahn @ A(nother) Year of Reading
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Also be sure to visit Kat Apel for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Something Shiny

On a recent episode of The Slowdown, Ada Limón asked “What is the job of a poet?” Part of the poet’s work, she mused, is to “look around for something shiny, and when we see it, we grab it.” I love this. It reminded me of Natalie Babbitt‘s assertion in The Search for Delicious that the world is full of “commonplace marvels” spread “carelessly before us every day.” This was a reminder that I desperately needed.

Something shiny, a commonplace marvel, offered itself up to me not long after. A tiny green spider, no bigger than the eraser on a pencil wandered across the arm of my lawn chair. She was moving pretty quickly, so I didn’t get a chance to study her or take a picture. But I was astounded to see that she was completely green–legs and all! I knew at once that she needed her own poem and that it should be an octet.

Summer’s Bounty

one
neon
green spider
scrambles amidst
spikes of sun-fed grass
seeking a hiding spot 
where she can hunt for her lunch:
an insect smorgasbord awaits!

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Please be sure to visit Tanita Davis at {fiction, instead of lies} for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Summer Sports

It’s the first Friday of August and many of us are thinking about the start of school. (Or have already started!) I’m still thinking about summer and all the sports I loved playing as a kid. So for this month’s Inkling challenge, I asked my fellow Inklings to write a poem about sports. Any sport was fair game. I suggested Soccerverse, by Liz Steinglass as a model, but everyone was free to write in any form they wanted.

Originally, I imagined writing about swimming, which is still my favorite sport, but I couldn’t get it to come together. Instead, I have a homage to many summer sports and used Douglas Florian’sWhat I Love About Summer” poem as a model. (He also has wonderful celebrations of fall, winter, and spring that are not to be missed.)

Summer Sports

Staying cool
splashing in pools.

Adventuring hikes,
rides on my bike.

Frisbie flinging,
sky-high swinging.

Rafting down rivers,
rapid-soaked shivers.

Running the bases,
three-legged races.

Cartwheel turning,
superstar yearning.

Summer days of endless fun,
playing games under the sun.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Please be sure to visit my partners in ink to see how they fielded this challenge! Molly Hogan is also hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche
Mary Lee Hahn @ A(nother) Year of Reading
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone

Poetry Friday: Persistence

The first Friday of the month already? Wasn’t it just the first of June? The calendar is persistent, isn’t it? This month, Heidi noted that “there are so many ways in which we’ve all (but especially as women, as educators) had to be persistent, despite our weariness.” Her challenge was to “write a poem (for kids or adults) about PERSISTENCE.”

The political and cultural landscape of our country has changed dramatically since Heidi first posted her challenge. I had several ideas for how this poem might go, but after a week of what feels like one assault after another on our democracy, it’s hard not to write this poem as though persistence has a whole new meaning. This poem began as an acrostic. Some of those bones are still visible. I tried to keep politics out of this very drafty poem, but it wasn’t easy.

A young praying mantis, 
Not even two inches 

long, scrambles away
from my rake.

Possibilities evaporate 
when we retreat,

Fail to stand up 
for ourselves, for what’s right.

High above me, the mantis
clings to the house

Stretching, reaching
Toward light, toward love.

Expand your heart
Toward your true North.

I marvel at this tiny insect’s
courage; try to summon my own.

Everything hangs in the balance.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Please be sure to visit my fellow Inklings to read their responses to Heidi’s challenge:

Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Mary Lee Hahn @ A(nother) Year of Reading
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Then head over to Salt City Verse, where Janice Scully has the Roundup.

Poetry Friday: The Roundup is Here!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Find our more about Poetry Friday in this post by Renée LaTulippe here.)

Tuesday was the last day of school in my district, and I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted! The good news is that I’ve had two days to rest and relax and get ready to welcome you here today!

For the past two years, our school did not chose a single individual as teacher of the year. Rather, we were all celebrated for our efforts to keep school as normal as possible for our students. This year, one teacher was recognized each week and we were asked to share a reflection about teaching with our colleagues. Two weeks ago, it was my turn to share my thoughts. Of course I had to write a poem.

I love writing abecedarians and decided that The ABCs of Teaching would be the best form to organize my reflections about all I’ve learned about teaching children over the past 27 years.

The ABCs of Teaching

Ask questions and
Build knowledge.
Cultivate curiosity.
Develop relationships.
Encourage children to explore and
Find their
Gifts. Grow their
Hearts.
Infuse this
Journey with joy,
Kindness,
Love and laughter.
Make learning meaningful.
Nurture strengths.
Open hearts to
Possibilities.
Quiet doubts and fears.
Read, read, read!
Sing praises, build
Trust, treasure each moment.
Unlock mysteries,
Validate and celebrate success.
Wonder what’s next.
eXpect miracles. Stay
Young and never lose your
Zeal for children!

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

I hope you all have a relaxing, safe, and healthy summer!

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Poetry Friday: “Looking for the Gulf Motel”

I love podcasts. I love that they come in neat little packages that I can listen to while I’m doing the dishes or folding laundry. I love that I can press a few buttons on my phone and Ada Limón or Pádraig Ó Tuama will read a poem to me as I drive to work. This is the best way to begin the day.

Not long ago, on Poetry Unbound, Pádraig Ó Tuama shared “Looking for the Gulf Motel” by Richard Blanco. Although I have never been to the Gulf Motel, or Marco Island, Florida, I instantly recognized everything in Blanco’s poem. Substitute my father and friends clamming at Head’s Beach, or the Cafe 2000 in Newport, and this poem is the poem of my childhood summers.

Although many of you may have already read this poem or heard this episode, I’m sharing it today in honor of Father’s Day, the start of summer, and all the Gulf Motels of our childhoods.

“Looking for the Gulf Motel”
by Richard Blanco

Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts
and ship’s wheel in the lobby should still be
rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.
My brother and I should still be pretending
we don’t know our parents, embarrassing us
as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk
loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen
loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging
with enough mangos to last the entire week,
our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and
a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.
All because we can’t afford to eat out, not even
on vacation, only two hours from our home
in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled
by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,
where I should still be for the first time watching
the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Michelle Kogan for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Household Dreams

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another Inkling challenge. This month, Molly “thought it might be fun to write a poem about some sort of domestic task. (Writing a poem = way more fun than cleaning!)” She shared “Spring Cleaning,” by Ellen M. Taylor to inspire us.

I actually don’t mind cleaning, but I mind the time it takes. There are so many more interesting ways to spend my time. Still, I manage to keep the downstairs of our house under control. The spare bedroom upstairs in another story!

For some unknown reason, I decided that this poem should be a sonnet. My relationship to sonnets is the same as my relationship to cleaning: I like the idea, but the execution is always flawed. (Iambs are not my friends!)

There are three main forms of sonnets: Petrarchan, Italian, and English, or Shakespearean, along with many variations. I chose one of these alternatives, the Spenserian form.. Spenserian sonnets vary “the English form by interlocking the three quatrains (ABAB BCBC CDCD EE).

Household Dreams: A Sonnet

Someday soon I’ll sweep away the clutter.
Tables and shelves won’t be covered in dust.
Clean sheets, unfurled flags of hope, will flutter
On fresh breezes. My conscience will be shushed.

No longer will I betray the trust
Of window panes longing to shine.
And the kitchen floor will be nonplussed
When it’s mopped to reveal its design.

These lofty goals all sound just fine,
But this hectic pace could not be sustained.
Unless the planets and stars all align,
Domestic perfection won’t be attained.

I’ll ignore the mess, let it go to seed
I’ll sit here all day, just knit, write and read.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Please see how my fellow Inklings responded to Molly’s challenge, then head over to Karen Edmisten’s blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Margaret @ Reflections on the Teche
Linda @ A Word Edgewise
Heidi @ My Juicy Little Universe
Molly @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Mary Lee @ Another Year of Reading

Poetry Friday: Unfinished Tasks

Where to begin?
I can’t believe we’re here again? That’s not true, because nothing has changed since December 14, 2012 when 20 children and six adults were murdered 10 miles from my house.
That I’m enraged? Of course I am. We all are.
That I feel helpless? Yes. Chris Murphy, the staunchest, loudest, most tireless Senator calling for gun reform is my Senator. I know he’s doing all he can.
But do I feel hopeless? Not quite. How could I carry on if I thought it was inevitable that I, or someone I love will be shot at school? I couldn’t.

So, what to do? We carry on. We do small acts that, cumulatively, add up to big acts. We go to work each day and let the children we work with know that we love them, care about them, and want the best for them. We honor the memory of Irma Garcia, Eva Mireles, Dawn Hochsprung, Victoria Leigh Soto, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Anne Marie Murphy, Rachel D’Avino, and countless other educators who have been killed when we go into school each day to take up “those dear unfinished tasks” of theirs.

Turn Again to Life

by Mary Lee Hall

If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.

Coincidentally, this week Krista Tippet is sharing memories from of her most profound interviews. Rachel Naomi Remen is a Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine who has much to teach us all. I leave you with this quote:

We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people; to lift it up and make it visible once again and, thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is a very important story for our times — that we heal the world one heart at a time.

Please be sure to visit Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Then go out and look for the light.

Poetry Friday: So Much Depends…

Last week, inspired by Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s National Poetry Month project, I wrote a gogyohka in response to a photo of my mother and her twin sister. Like Tricia, I have found family archives to be rich source material for poems. One of the treasures I have is a diary of my grandmother’s from 1936. Times were tough for my grandparents throughout the Depression and many of her entries detail the small ways they scraped by. January of that year was bitterly cold, and Grandma was knitting a scarf for my uncle, but she ran out of yarn. She sounds so relieved when she finally “got to town” to get more yarn that the first line of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem popped into my head instantly.

So much depends
upon

a skein of red
wool

soft as a
petal

spun into a
scarf

by two nimble
hands.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

Please be sure to visit Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: National Poetry Month Isn’t Over

It’s time for the monthly Inkling challenge. This month, Linda challenged the Inklings to “Honor someone’s April Poetry project in some way with a poem in the spirit of their project, a response poem or any way that suits you.” 

I knew immediately that I wanted to base my response on Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s (aka Miss Rumphius) project of “sharing original poems written in a variety of Japanese poetic forms (haiku, tanka, dodoitsu, etc.) to primary sources. I’m using photos, letters, newspaper articles, and more to inspire my writing.” Tricia shared many treasures from her family archives and her poems always captured funny or poignant insights into her source materials.

Like Tricia’s family, my family (specifically my maternal grandmother) saved everything and I have many photos and letters. I also have my grandmother’s diary from 1936, which is the only one we know of. Mostly, she recorded the weather, her daily household chores, and what she baked. There are also a few headlines from the wider world: The last line for Monday, January 20th reads “King George V of England died. Edward VIII becomes king.” She stopped writing on Saturday, August 22th with this short entry: “Rained on Sat. Went to town in A.M. Did shopping. Bought a pot roast. Not much new. They will finish the forty acre lot in one more day.” (I’m sure this refers to haying on my great-grandfather’s farm.)

I suspect she stopped writing because of this entry a few days earlier: “Feel certain that we will have a baby by spring.”

That baby turned out to be my mother and her twin sister.

Here they are, about 3 or 4, ready to attend a cousin’s wedding.

My mother is on the left
Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2022

There are troves of poems waiting in that diary, but how could I resist writing about this photo? I chose a most forgiving form, the Gogyohka. This is a five line verse without a specific syllable count. As Tricia explained in her post, it was “invented in the 1960s, the idea was to ‘take the traditional form of Tanka poetry (which is written in five lines) and liberate its structure, creating a freer form of verse.’ You can learn more about this form at Writer’s Digest Gogyohka: Poetic Form.”

Please be sure to visit my fellow Inklings to see which NPM project they honored:

Mary Lee Hahn @ A(nother) Year of Reading
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Then head over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup, where Jama is serving up the Roundup.