Poetry Friday: A Skinny

One day a few weeks ago, this fine specimen was hanging out on my car. He was quite content and spent most of the morning resting from his night of feasting. I felt guilty about moving him to a nearby bush when I had to go to the grocery store! I was inspired by this master of disguise, so I did a little research. I always called this a stick bug, but here in Connecticut, its proper name is northern walkingstick. What better form to use for a poem about this skinny bug than a skinny? This form was invented by Truth Thomas in 2005 at the Tony Medina Poetry Workshop at Howard University.

Walkingstick

Twig-like bug:
slender,
patient
night-
stalker.
slender,
wingless
leaf- 
muncher.
slender
twig-like bug.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2021

Please be sure to visit Denise Krebs, hosting all the way from Bahrain, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “The Web”

One of the poets highlighted in Kathryn Aalto’s Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World (which inspired my April Poetry Project) is Alison Hawthorne Deming. Described by Aalto as “an interdisciplinary cross-thinker,” Deming has said that “each poem is an experiment to see if language can convey a shapely sense of the swarm of energy buzzing through the mind.” Exactly.

It feels like the world has gotten very loud over the past few weeks. As if it hadn’t been loud enough already. During these tumultuous days, I have found the possibility present in this poem by Alison Deming, with its “…conversation so quiet/the human world can vanish into it,” very reassuring.

The Web
by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Is it possible there is a certain
kind of beauty as large as the trees
that survive the five-hundred-year fire
the fifty-year flood, trees we can’t
comprehend even standing
beside them with outstretched arms
to gauge their span,
a certain kind of beauty
so strong, so deeply concealed
In relationship — black truffle
to red-backed vole to spotted owl
to Douglas fir, bats and gnats,
beetles and moss, flying squirrel
and the high-rise of a snag,
each needing and feeding the other–
a conversation so quiet
the human world can vanish into it.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: A Ghazal Challenge

The Inklings are kicking off September with ghazals. Margaret challenged us to write a poem using this complex form about a month ago. I’ve been playing with ideas ever since, but really struggled to get something to gel. Even after settling on a topic and rhyme scheme, I still haven’t adhered strictly to the rules. I also have to confess that some of these stanzas are reworkings of poems I’ve shared previously. (School began this week and I moved classrooms. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) Here is my very rough “Ghazal of Rivers.”

Flowing at a brisk pace, Quononoquetti*, long tidal river 
moved people from place to place: ancient Pequot river. 

Sinuous canyons carved with a sculptor’s grace and precision;
grain by grain, sandstone washes away, effaced by the river.

History is hard to trace when dams are built to harness power
entire towns are erased, drowned beneath a now-tame river.

Paddlers in canoes and kayaks chase thrills and adventure,
seek glory and fame when they race on a rapid-rich river.

I embrace my fears, watch tongues of water curl,
create space and listen to tales of the river.

* now know as Connecticut

Draft, © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Connecticut Greenway State Park (which, ironically, is in Massachusetts!)
by Tom Walsh, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Please be sure to visit by fellow Inklings, including this week’s Poetry Friday hostess, Heidi Mordhorst, to read their very fine Ghazals!

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

Poetry Friday: Clint Smith

Earlier this summer, my daughter-in-law introduced me to Clint Smith‘s book, How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. I immediately bought a copy, but haven’t started it yet. Then I found the summer issue of Poets & Writers at my local book store, and there was Clint Smith on the cover. What an amazing backstory to how this book came into the world! The article made me curious about Smith’s poetry, which led me to this poem. Sadly, it’s all too appropriate for this week, this month, this year.

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”
by Clint Smith

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones
of those who did not make it, those who did not
survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who

did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.
I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms
meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to

convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no
solace in rearranging language to make a different word
tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe

does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Carol at The Apples in My Orchard for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Dorianne Laux

On August 1st, as many of you dove headfirst into The Sealey Challenge, reading a book of poetry a day, I drove to my son’s house to spend the week with my granddaughter. (And her parents, too, of course!) I planned on spending the week reading Goodnight Moon, The Pout Pout Fish, Babybug, and more. And I did. But on Monday afternoon, I realized I could download a book of poetry and read it during Hazel’s nap. It seemed worth a try. I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across What We Carry, by Dorianne Laux. But her name was familiar and the title intrigued me, so I clicked “borrow,” and began to read.

Laux’s poetry is filled with odd, precise details, astute observations, painful questions, and brilliant, shimmering metaphors. Reading a book of her poetry a day would be like chugging a glass of water on a blistering hot day: initially sating, but not enough. There is too much to savor. Too much would be missed. So I am not participating in #TheSealeyChallenge this year. Besides, whoever decided this challenge should happen in August was clearly not a teacher. (Kudos to you all who are participating while getting ready to head back to the classroom!) I have been reading more of Dorianne Laux’s poetry, studying and learning from her craft. Here is one of my favorites.

Life of Earth
by Dorianne Laux

The odds are we never should have been born.
Not one of us. Not one in 400 trillion to be
exact. Only one among the 250 million
released in a flood of semen that glides
like a glassine limousine filled with tadpoles
of possible people, one of whom may
or may not be you, a being made of water
and blood, a creature with eyeballs and limbs
that end in fists, a you with all your particular
perfumes, the chords of your sinewy legs
singing as they form, your organs humming
and buzzing with new life, moonbeams
lighting up your brain’s gray coils,

Read the rest here

Photo by Hamish Weir on Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Poetry Friday: Wordless Picture Book Art & Ekphrastic Poetry

It’s the first Friday of the month, so that means another critique group challenge. We have a new name! Heidi, Linda, Margaret, and Molly and I are now the Inklings! It was my turn to provide this month’s prompt, and I confess, I was at a bit of a loss. Then I received a postcard from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art about their new exhibit: Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books. As I read about the announcement, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to write ekphrastic poems. Here is the prompt I shared with my fellow Inklings:

Write an ekphrastic poem in response to a favorite scene in a wordless picture book (or any painting/photo/piece of art you choose).

I am a huge fan of wordless picture books. I am also a huge fan of the Carle and live close enough that a visit to Amherst, MA is the perfect day trip. Before I selected the image I wanted to write about, I packed my great-niece and nephews along with my friend Colette into the car and headed north on I-91. This show, curated by the brilliant David Wiesner, is a celebration of storytelling through images, and it did not disappoint. Along with original artwork from old and new favorites, the walls were adorned with life-sized characters from the books. My six-year old nephew was quite taken with the images from Christian Robinson’s recent book, Another, so this is the image I chose to inspire my poem for this month’s challenge:

from Another, by Christian Robinson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019)

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

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 on over to A(nother) Year of Reading, where Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Mushrooms

Earlier this week I took two of my great-nephews and my great-niece on a hike in a nearby nature preserve. We kept our eyes peeled for interesting leaves, flowers, insects, and more. We were surprised, though, by the profusion of mushrooms we found. They were everywhere! Most were creamy white or pale brown, but a few were yellow or orange-red. Many looked like a stereotypical toadstool, but others were quite exotic, with fluted edges, deep ridges, or coral-like branches. My niece exclaimed “That one looks like a potato!” She was exactly right. Because I have no expertise in mushrooms, I made it very clear that we could. not. touch. anything! That didn’t stop us from noticing them, and we soon lost count of the bounty at our feet.

This entire adventure seems like the perfect inspiration for a poem. But I’ve been distracted by other concerns (all good) this week. So I’m sharing a celebration of these mysterious, magical fungi by the inimitable Valerie Worth, the master of poems about small things. I am always in awe of her precise descriptions and her ability to find the perfect metaphor for the object of her attention.

mushroom

The mushroom pushes
Its soft skull
Up through the soil,

Spreads its frail
Ribs into full
Pale bloom,

And floats,
A dim ghost
Above the tomb

Where an oak’s
Old dust lies
Flourishing still.

by Valerie Worth

Please be sure to visit Kat Apel at her blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Gratitude and Reciprocity

Back in April, I wrote a poem a day (well, most days) inspired by one of the women featured in Kathryn Aalto’s book Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World. Inspired by the excerpts Aalto shared, I just finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Elizabeth Gilbert calls this book “a hymn of love to the world,” and I completely agree with that description.

Kimmerer laments our lost connections to the Earth, then, in an effort to heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on our precious home as well as to heal ourselves, points us toward a way forward. She states that language is “a prism through which to see the world” and that “language is our gift and our responsibility.” To me, this is a plea to choose and use our words with care and for the good of all. 

Kimmerer goes on to say that in order to “create sustainable humanity” we must rediscover our “gratitude and our capacity for reciprocity.” As I grapple with the sad facts of our current world, this encourages me. Kimmerer also sees “the very facts of the world [as] a poem.” Reading and writing poetry help me build my capacity for gratitude, for reciprocity. I am grateful to this community for the encouragement it provides. Here then, as an act of reciprocity, is a poem from Naomi Shihab Nye, one of our greatest teachers of gratitude and reciprocity. 

Every day as a wide field, every page

1

Standing outside
staring at a tree
gentles our eyes

We cheer
to see fireflies
winking again

Where have our friends been
all these long hours?
Minds stretching

beyond the field
become
their own skies

Windows doors
grow more
important

Look through a word
swing that sentence
wide open

Kneeling outside
to find
sturdy green

glistening blossoms
under the breeze
that carries us silently

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit my lovely and talented critique group partner, Molly Hogan, at Nix the Comfort Zone for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: What Confidence Knows About Me

It’s the first Friday of July, which means my critique group is responding to our monthly challenge. This month, Heidi suggested that we use “What Grief Doesn’t Know About Me” by Gail Martin as a mentor poem. Grief was not an emotion that I was interested in spending time with this week, so I chose to write about something else.

What Confidence Knows About Me

That my belief in myself is brief.
The slightest upset can 
shatter it,
scatter it,
like a sheaf of papers in the wind.

That my assurance has no endurance.
That doubt is always waiting
to unsettle me,
like a thief,
ready to rob me of my mettle.

That an approving nod, a job well done,
Can renew my fortitude,
adjust my attitude
and, like sunlight on a leaf,

give me strength to grow on.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2021

Photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash

Please be sure to visit my brilliant critique group partners to read their responses to Heidi’s challenge.

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

Also don’t forget to stop by Laura Shovan’s blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: What the World Needs Now

Back in March, Irene Latham and Charles Waters visited our school virtually to share their passion for poetry and to create “wordzines” with our students. Before their visit, teachers shared Dictionary for a Better World, Irene and Charles’s amazing collection of “poems, quotes, and anecdotes from A to Z.” We were all inspired by the wisdom and love that fills this book. Our fourth graders were so excited about their wordzines and the poems in Dictionary for a Better World that they decided to create their own book of “poems, quotes, and anecdotes.” And so What the World Needs Now was born. My friend and colleague Bernadette Linero, teacher extraordinaire, found a way to publish the book and all students have a copy to keep and treasure always. Here’s a peek into the creative work of our fourth graders:

Thank you to Irene and Charles for helping our students to think deeply about empathy, kindness, compassion and more. Thank you for inspiring them to create their own art and poetry that will, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “create a better world for all who live in it.”

Please be sure to visit Buffy Silverman for the Poetry Friday Roundup!