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

National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 24

Here is a happy surprise from this project. Not only have I been introduced to many amazing, thought-provoking writers, I’ve also delved more deeply into the work of writers I had read before but had only skimmed the surface of their work. This is true of Camille T. Dungy. I am in awe of the scope of her writing, of her precise imagery and powerful metaphors.

Kathryn Aalto describes Dungy as a “master of poetic synthesis” who “fuses fact, observation and revelation to offer poetry’s inevitable surprise.” (p. 218) Dungy is a poet, essayist, and professor of writing. She is a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient whose writing has won the American Book Award. She states that she is  “never not thinking about nature. Because I don’t understand a way we can be honest about who we are without understanding that we are nature.” (Aalto, p. 218) 

When asked by Aalto what she wants “people to get out of her poems” Dungy explained to that she wants them to find “beauty and the heightened craft that comes from looking at everyday objects with respect.” (p. 223)

I had several false starts finding a way to respond to Dungy’s stunning poetry and essays. In the end, I let Dungy’s words speak for themselves in this cento.

Silence is one part of speech
the impossible hope of the firefly
imperceptible as air.

You are not required to understand.

This is the world we have
arranged,
a complicated beauty.

The snow 
builds a mountain
unto itself.

What happens today is fed by what I did yesterday.
I will plant my seeds 
plant them for abundance tomorrow
a demonstration of care
evidence of the wild wonder of the world

and into the world: music. 
The song is drink, is color. Come. Now. Taste. 

After which, nothing was ever the same.

Cento line sources in order:

Language
Characteristics of Life
There are these moments of permission
Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another
Daisy Cutter
FROM DIRT
In her mostly white town, an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, a black poet considers centuries of protests against racialized violence
FROM DIRT
Letter to America: Diversity, a Garden Allegory with Suggestions for Direct Action
FROM DIRT
FROM DIRT
FROM DIRT
Letter to America: Diversity, a Garden Allegory with Suggestions for Direct Action
“What To Eat, And What To Drink, And What To Leave For Poison”
“Trophic Cascade”

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

The Poetry Friday Roundup is Here!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! Wasn’t it thoughtful of April to begin on a Thursday this year, so we have five Fridays to celebrate National Poetry Month? There are number of amazing poetry projects happening at blogs around the Kidlitosphere. You can find a roundup of them at Susan Bruck’s lovely blog, Soul Blossom Living.

I’m taking a bit of a detour from my Writing Wild project, inspired by Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shaped How We See the Natural World, by Kathryn Aalto. Each day in April, I have written a poem inspired by one of the 25 trailblazing women profiled in Aalto’s book. Because there are 30 days in April, I chose another four authors recommended by Aalto. For today’s post, my inspiration comes from Padma Venkatraman, an author not included in Aalto’s book, but one who I think embodies the spirit of the other writers. I also wanted to diversify the list to include more writers of Asian descent.

Padma Venkatraman trained as an oceanographer and now writes middle-grade and YA fiction as well as poetry for young people. Her beautiful, inspiring 2019 middle-grade novel, The Bridge Home, won the Walter Dean Myers Award and two of her poems appeared in this month’s issue of Poetry Magazine. In addition, she just launched “Diverse Verse… a website and a resource for educators and diverse poets and verse novelists.”

Today’s poem is my response to Venkatraman’s poetry prompt recently posted on Ethical ELA. In her introduction to the prompt, she stated that “as a writer who cares about young people, I feel compelled to preserve hope in the face of [hate crimes against Asians]. She challenged poets to write “a short poem dedicated to hope in defiance of hate.” Here is a draft of my response.

Finding Our Way

Can we agree we’ve gone astray?
Lost sight of treasures untold.
Our map’s completely upside down
from chasing too much gold.

Some creatures are gone; they won’t return.
But we can change this course.
Protect each species; keep them safe
And learn from our remorse.

Recognize your neighbors.
Know and say their names.
They’re living beings, just like you,
treat everyone the same.

The world keeps changing bit by bit.
We all can do our part
to make the world a better place.
The change starts in your heart.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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

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National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 21

Today’s featured author, Andrea Wulf, wrote one of my favorite books of all time. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt’s New World (2015) is a breathtaking introduction to a man Wulf calls the inventor of “the web of life, the concept of nature as we know it today.” (Wulf, p. 6) In 2015, Wulf explained to Science Friday host Ira Flatow that “we have to use our imagination and emotion to understand nature,” and that we owe this understanding to Alexander von Humbolt.

I’ve written another Golden Shovel today from a statement Andrea Wulf made during her 2015 interview on Science Friday. She said, “you can only protect nature if you really love nature.” That statement has been the driving force behind this project, and I feel certain it was the driving force behind Kathryn Aalto‘s creation of Writing Wild. I searched my memory for a time when my love of nature was palpable, and recalled the morning I spotted this stunning spider’s web. It was only as I was working on the poem that I remembered Wulf’s words and decided I had chosen the right topic for today’s poem.

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