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: 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: 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: 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!

Poetry Friday: Fireflies

“Without awe life becomes routine…try to be surprised by something every day”
~ Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi ~

Today is the last day of school. It’s been a long week at the end of a long year. Earlier this week, as I sat on my deck for a breath of cool evening air, I was surprised to see a firefly. We usually don’t see them until later in June. This unexpected harbinger of summer made me very happy and helped get me to today’s finish line.

fireflies’ neon flashes
and flickers
bring the stars

within reach.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Photo by toan phan on Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Carol Wilcox at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Today’s Hymn

It’s time for our monthly Sunday Swagger Challenge. Each month one member of my critique group provides a challenge for the rest of us to share on the first Friday of the month. This month, Molly Hogan challenged us to use Cheryl Dumesnil‘s poem, “Today’s Sermon,” as a mentor text.

Sometimes such a wide open prompt is more challenging than “write a (insert form) about (insert subject).” I played around with different ways into this challenge, but ultimately found it easier to write about one central object. Changing “sermon” to “hymn” also felt important to me. This draft still needs work (an ending, for example) but I think it’s getting there.

Today’s Hymn

is the sudden shimmer 
of a lone angel wing shell

found in wet sand at low tide.

Today’s hymn is the belly button scar
where the other half of this bivalve

was once connected, 
cleaved by some unknowable force

and now lost.

Today’s hymn is a memory preserved 
in this alabaster surface,

scored with ridges and ripples,
like a recording of the ebb and flow

of endless waves.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Be sure to visit my fellow Swaggers to see how they approached this 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, who also happens to be hosting Poetry Friday today.

Poetry Friday: #MarvelousMaryLee

I don’t remember exactly when I first found A Year of Reading, the blog where Mary Lee and Franki Sibberson have been writing about reading, poetry, and literacy for 15 years. It was one of the first blogs I started reading regularly in those early years. Mary Lee’s passion for teaching, her talent as a poet, and her all-around amazingness have inspired me ever since. Her generous invitations to have others join in during her annual April Poetry Projects were the nudge I needed to begin writing my own poetry. Her kind and encouraging words kept me going. How lucky are children who have had the privilege of spending a year in her classroom? How lucky are we that we can help celebrate Mary Lee’s retirement? Congratulations, Mary Lee, and thank you for everything! Like everyone gathered here today, I can’t wait to see where your next adventure takes you!

Afterimage

Your gift of observation is polished
to a high sheen;
nothing escapes your notice. 

After thirty-seven years,
you’ve scrutinized
and studied
almost one thousand students.

You invited their light
every wavelength–
into the cauldron of your mind,
where an alchemy of attention
and imagination helped you
find the essence of them.

For your students, 
thanks to you,
everything comes next.

For you, always open to surprises,
everything comes next.

(Italicized lines borrowed from Mary Lee’s “Words from the Poet” in Poems Are Teachers. “Everything comes next” is borrowed from the title of Naomi Shihab Nye’s latest collection of poems.)

Draft © 2021 by Catherine Flynn

Please visit the hostess of this online extravaganza, Christie Wyman, at Wondering and Wandering for more #PoemsforMaryLee! Be sure to wish Christie happy birthday while you’re there!

Poetry Friday: #poemsofpresence

Last weekend, my friend and critique group partner, Margaret Simon, asked on Twitter: “Who’s interested in writing #poemsofpresence? … We can create a calm May 2021 to end the weirdest school year ever.”

It definitely has been the weirdest school year ever. And calm is always welcome. So I have been reminding myself to be present this week to what Kathryn Aalto calls “nature’s palliative powers.” (Writing Wild, p. 237) Here are two poems of presence, inspired by the busy-ness of the apple tree in my front yard.

Fib for the Bees

quick
bees
darting
from blossom
to blossom, sipping
nectar, pollen dusting bellies
making honey for bees, apples for you and me.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Rest Stop

Warblers on the wing
heading north to nest
pause to refuel
in the welcoming arms
of an old apple tree.

Draft © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Please be sure to visit Bridget Magee at Wee Words for Wee Ones for the Poetry Friday Roundup.