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.

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 Progressive Poem

Welcome to day 28 of the 2021 Progressive Poem! Irene Latham created this amazing community poem project several years ago, then passed coordinating duties to Margaret Simon. This year, Kat Appel started us off on an adventure filled with fun and friendship. Our explorers have played at the playground, hiked through a forest, looked for shapes in the sky, and more. But, alas, all adventures come to an end. With just three more days until April 30th, our poem is wrapping up. Fortunately, Rebecca Newman set up the final stanza with two terrific lines to choose from:

With windows to see other lives, other places

OR

Now add in your story and I’ll share mine, tooI

Here is the entire poem so far with my choice of Rebecca’s lines added at the end.

I’m a case of kindness – come and catch me if you can!
Easily contagious – sharing smiles is my plan.
I’ll spread my joy both far and wide
As a force of nature, I’ll be undenied.

Words like, “how can I help?” will bloom in the street.
A new girl alone on the playground – let’s meet, let’s meet!
We can jump-skip together in a double-dutch round.
Over, under, jump and wonder, touch the ground.

Friends can be found when you open a door.
Side by side, let’s walk through, there’s a world to explore.
We’ll hike through a forest of towering trees.
Find a stream we can follow while we bask in the breeze.

Pull off our shoes and socks, dip our toes in the icy spring water
When you’re with friends, there’s no have to or oughter.
What could we make with leaves and litter
Let’s find pine needles, turn into vine knitters.

We’ll lie on our backs and find shapes in the sky.
We giggle together: See the bird! Now we fly!
Inspired by nature, our imaginations soar.
Follow that humpback! Here, take an oar.

Ahh! Here comes a wave – let’s hold on tight,
splashing and laughing, let’s play until night!
When the Milky Way sparkles, and the moon’s overhead,
we make a pretend campfire and tell stories we’ve read.

Some stories are true and some myths of our time.
I love all of them, but my favorite ones rhyme!
With windows to see other lives, other places

For a line so near the end of this sparkling poem, I wanted to echo the idea of “spreading joy far and wide.” I hope either of the lines I’m offering to Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering will help her continue to spread the cheer.

We’ll find and treasure a rainbow of faces

OR

We’ll listen to voices each culture embraces

Be sure to visit Christie tomorrow to see which line she picks and where she takes us from there.

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