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: 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: 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 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!

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 30

“Poetry gives us a place to make beautiful sense of life.”
~ Joy Harjo ~

Welcome to the final Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month! Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme for the Poetry Friday Roundup. I can’t quite believe that April is over. One of the reasons I began this project was to find a way back into a daily writing habit. Although I didn’t post every day (“Because,” as my friend Heidi would say, “you know, life.“), I did write a poem in response to the work of all twenty-five writers profiled by Kathryn Aalto in Writing Wild. But somewhere along the way, this project morphed into something so much more. All of the women I met in this book are truly remarkable. Some have conquered overwhelming obstacles, including ne’er-do-well husbands, physical abuse and alcoholism. After spending a day or so with each of them, I found myself  thinking, “She is my favorite.” Of course, I could never choose one over another. I am truly in awe of each and every one. Somewhere along the way, I read that Diane Ackerman calls herself a “poetic science storyteller.” I immediately thought, “that’s what I want to be when I grow up!” This work has changed me and inspired me in countless ways. I know it will be influencing my writing and my life for years to come.

For this final day, I decided to create a cento, drawing on all the poems I drafted this month. Italicized lines are directly from the work of other writers. Their names are listed in order at the bottom of the poem.

A Complicated Beauty”

Things are at a tipping point.
Earth, mother to all,
weaves a web of memories.
Know and say their names.
Flood the world with empathy.

A bee buzzes hopefully
around eager bursts of green,
evidence of the wild wonder of the world.

In the day’s waning light, the world can shimmer.
Winged creatures of the night
with their own ways of being,
chime a silent celebration.

Star gazers look up in wonder,
notice the ghost moon in the wide, pale sky.

Borders evaporate.

As daily life accepts the night’s arrest,
a small spider,
pearly and round
with delicate legwork,
plays the music of Nature.

Winding skyward along an ancient path
heat, radiating, heart to heart
resilience can emerge.

Alchemy powers earth’s enduring nature,
promises for tomorrow.
In twilight’s glimmer-glow,
forge a new kinship with Earth.
The most important magic lies within you.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Writers whose lines are included in this poem, including the title:
Camille T. Dungy
Leslie Marmon Silko
Camille T. Dungy
Gene Stratton-Porter
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Carolyn Finney

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie
Day 18: Carolyn Finney
Day 19: Helen Macdonald
Day 20: Saci Lloyd
Day 21: Andrea Wulf
Day 22: Padma Venkatraman
Day 23: Camille T. Dungy
Day 24: Elena Passarello
Day 25: Amy Liptrot
Day 27: Elizabeth Rush

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 27

Elizabeth Rush is the final author profiled in Writing Wild. Rush’s book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, has been called “a democratization of climate change discourse.” According to Kathryn Aalto, “Rising combines the best of lyrical nature writing and science journalism to turn an oft-politicized issue into an accessible human story.” (p. 241)

I didn’t have time to read all of the books written by the women who have inspired me to write 26 poems in 27 days. But I did spend many hours listening to radio interviews, podcasts, and taped events. Not only did this allow me to become familiar with their work, it gave me a sense of their voice. I could listen to Elizabeth Rush’s voice all day. She brings a level of intelligence and compassion to her writing that is breathtaking. During an interview, she told Aalto that “writing and reporting about people–especially vulnerable ones–is an act of empathy.” (p. 244) I adapted this line to come up with the strike line for today’s poem, another Golden Shovel.

A tupelo tree in Rhode Island. Photo by Elizabeth Rush

What story is this rampike writing?
Is it warning us that it is
too late to save our planet from an
apocalyptic sea change? Or an omen to act
quickly, boldly? It whispers, “Listen to the earth with all of
your senses, then flood the world with empathy.

Draft, © 2021, Catherine Flynn

A rampike is a dead tree that is still standing. Rush writes about the proliferation of rampikes in areas where the salinity of the ground water due to rising seas is killing forests all along the east coast of the United States. You can learn more about this devastation here.

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie
Day 18: Carolyn Finney
Day 19: Helen Macdonald
Day 20: Saci Lloyd
Day 21: Andrea Wulf
Day 22: Padma Venkatraman
Day 23: Camille T. Dungy
Day 24: Elena Passarello
Day 25: Amy Liptrot

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 26

Amy Liptrot is one of the youngest writers profiled in Writing Wild, but the story of her descent into alcoholism and eventual recovery is riveting. Kathryn Aalto calls Liptrot’s memoir, The Outrun (2015), “both a modern recovery story and classic nature writing–a celebration of a particular place and the search for how best to live in the world.”

Photo Credit: Lisa Swarna Khanna

As I listened to Liptrot discuss her book on 5 x 15, I was captivated by her description of the grimlins, a word derived from Norwegian that means “twilight, the first or last gleams of daylight.” We have lovely twilights here in Connecticut, but apparently, the grimlins or “da simmer dims,” as they’re also called, are spectacular in the Orkney Islands. I couldn’t resist using this word to inspire today’s haiku.

at the edge of day
twilight’s glimmer-glow enfolds
the world in magic

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie
Day 18: Carolyn Finney
Day 19: Helen Macdonald
Day 20: Saci Lloyd
Day 21: Andrea Wulf
Day 22: Padma Venkatraman
Day 23: Camille T. Dungy
Day 24: Elena Passarello

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 25

Kathryn Aalto says that Elena Passarello‘s book, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017) “is the best book on animals I’ve read.” (p. 228) She goes on to say that “Passarello’s writing is playful” with “a tender poignancy” underlying each essay. Her writing is also infused with empathy, which is on full display in her first book of essays, Let Me Clear My Throat (2012). In this collection, Passarello writes “about the relationship of voice to identity.

Photo credit Wendy Madar

Exploring this relationship between voice and identity has emerged as a common thread between the writers profiled in Writing Wild. As I pondered how to write a poem in response to Passarello’s work, I watched a video my son posted on Instagram of him running a rapid on a river in North Carolina. I thought about the years of kayaking he’s done and how that experience allows him to “read” the river, to listen to the river’s voice, so he can safely navigate his way through the rocks. Every river has a distinctive voice, and unfortunately, we don’t always listen to what they are telling us. I decided to write a “scavenger hunt” poem, explained by Amanda Gorman in this video. I didn’t follow Gorman’s directions exactly, but I gathered a nice assortment of words (highlighted in bold) to include in my poem, which is still very “drafty.”

Slip into your boat. 
Borders evaporate.
You and the river converge.
Be still.
Listen. 

The murmuring river 
has a tale to tell.
Tongues of water curl, 
vees form, marking a path
through the wild tumult
of froth and foam.

Be still.
Listen.
The river points 
the way.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Michael (in red boat) and friends

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie
Day 18: Carolyn Finney
Day 19: Helen Macdonald
Day 20: Saci Lloyd
Day 21: Andrea Wulf
Day 22: Padma Venkatraman
Day 23: Camille T. Dungy