National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 8

If you have been following these Writing Wild posts, you may have noticed the profiled authors are in roughly chronological order. As we approach the present, there are more writers I am familiar with, even a fan of. That is true today. Award-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died in 2019, is well known and widely loved. Ruth Franklin, writing in The New Yorker, states that Oliver “tends to use nature as a springboard to the sacred.” Kathryn Aalto explains that “a fusion of mystery,prayer, and presence is at the heart of all Oliver’s poetry and prose.” (Writing Wild, p. 92)

Attempting to write a poem after Mary Oliver seems like a fool’s errand. And yet I am compelled to follow her “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I have been following these directions for over sixty years, long before I’d heard of Mary Oliver. But the poetry of those steps has always been in my bones.

I decided the best approach to today’s challenge would be to use one of Oliver’s poems as a mentor text, copy it “word for word, then replace [that poet’s] language with your own.” (I posed this challenge for my critique group back in February.

Deciding on a subject wasn’t difficult. Also on my blog today is a celebration of Leslie Bulion & Robert Meganck’s wonderful new book, Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs. I have always loved the beauty and grace of spiders. A spider I observed in my garden one morning became the topic of this poem. I couldn’t find and poems by Mary Oliver about spiders (I looked quickly; there must be one or two). The mentor poem I chose is “The Instant” (found on p. 51 of Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver). Oliver’s words from the original poem are italicized.

The Instant
after Mary Oliver

a small spider,
pearly and round
scrambled through
the high grass, it

seemed desperate to
get away from
my invading hands
but couldn’t move 

fast enough. Was she
swollen with eggs,
impelled by instinct
to protect them?

My heart ached for her,
remembered a feverish boy,
clutched by a silent enemy
one long ago night, and with no sound at all
I was gone.

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

Poetry Friday: “Instructions For A Life”

Today I’m joining millions of people in mourning the passing of poet Mary Oliver. Oliver’s poems, essays, and interviews comprise a master class not only in being a poet, but in being a better human. She taught us to live with our eyes, ears, and hearts always open to the multitudes of wonders and possibilities present in the world.  It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite poem or even passage. So instead, I’ve taken the seven magically simple words that make up “Instructions For A Life” and created a Golden Shovel:

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Mary Oliver


Someone’s not-so-hidden entrance in this ancient rock wall in the woods behind my house.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for so generously sharing your poetry, wisdom and love of our magnificent world. You will be missed. Please be sure to visit Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver’s “Mockingbirds”

by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.

Read the rest of the poem here.

By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography), via Wikimedia Commons

Please be sure to visit Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: “Be Astonished”

I didn’t make it to all the Poetry Friday posts over the weekend. I rarely do, despite my best intentions. But the posts I did read were, as usual, full of beauty and inspiration. Jama Rattigan shared Mary Oliver’s breath-taking poem, “Messenger.” (Read it here.) These lines have been in my head all weekend:

“… Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

We owe it to the world to “be astonished” and “give shouts of joy” about the beauty that surrounds us. As I was walking to my classroom this morning, I looked out the window and was astonished by the beauty of fallen cherry blossoms.

Scattered by the wind,
cherry blossoms dart and dance
across the playground

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

I also appreciated Brenda Harsham’s interview with Irene Latham. Both of these smart women inspire me, but I really appreciated Irene’s advice to “just WRITE. Even if all you have is fifteen minutes, just do it.” Why do I need to be reminded of this constantly? At this time of year, though, it seems especially important to find those quiet moments amid all the hubbub, both for our students and ourselves. Recent research “suggest[s] that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.” So amidst all the busyness of the day, find a minute to just be. Then (to remind myself) write about it!

Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver’s “Song for Autumn”


“Attention is the beginning of devotion”
Mary Oliver

For the past week, I have been reading and savoring Upstream, Mary Oliver’s luminous new collection of essays. I am in awe of Oliver’s power of observation, her keen ear, her deft turn of phrase. In an essay on Emerson, she describes his writing as “a pleasure to the ear, and thus a tonic to the heart, at the same time that it strikes the mind.” For me, this is a description of Oliver’s own writing as well.

We had our first snow yesterday, and the everlastings and late roses were “crowned with the first tuffets of snow,” so I thought this was a particularly appropriate poem to share today.

“Song for Autumn”
Mary Oliver

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come–six, a dozen–to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Linda at Teacher Dance for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

The Poetry Friday Round Up


The Poetry Friday Round Up is here today, but I hope you’ll all forgive me and let the comments serve as the round-up. We had a sudden death in our family yesterday, and I am distraught. I promise next time I host I will be in a more festive spirit.

by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday: “From Blossoms”


A friend recently asked me, “But what makes it a poem?” I confess I was stumped for a minute, then resorted to a fairly dry, textbook definition. This bothered me, so I went in search of a better answer. I’m not at all surprised that I found one in Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry. Oliver ends her analysis of “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams with this brilliant description:

“It is, above all, a poem that celebrates not only a momentary enchantment plucked out of the vast world but the deftness and power of the imagination and its dazzling material: language.”

Isn’t that a wonderful explanation of a poem? I have been enchanted by fresh peaches this week, and found this dazzling celebration of them to share with you today:

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

Read the rest of the poem here.

"Harrow Beauty Peaches at Lyman Orchards" By Sage Ross (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
“Harrow Beauty Peaches at Lyman Orchards” By Sage Ross (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons
Please be sure to visit Margaret at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver’s “White Eyes”


“White Eyes”

by Mary Oliver

In winter

all the singing is in

the tops of the trees,

where the wind-bird

With its white eyes

shoves and pushes

among the branches.

Like any of us

He wants to go to sleep,

but he’s restless–

he has an idea,

and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings

as long as he stays awake.

But his big, round music, after all,

is too breathy to last.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Don’t miss Krista Tippet’s recent interview with Mary Oliver at On Being.

Be sure to visit Liz Steinglass for the Poetry Friday Round Up!


Image       Image

Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” advises that we should “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

I thought of this when I read today’s quick-write on Kate Messner’s Teacher’s Write blog post. I’m often astonished by the beauty of the fields around my house, especially in summer. I’ve written about this in my journals over the years, and Kate’s post inspired me to turn these observations into a poem.

Sometimes, on a summer morning

Grandpa Stuart’s fields are touched

by the rays of the rising sun

so just the top of the grasses

glow in the yellow light.

Goldfinches perch on purple thistles,

breakfasting on seeds.

Sometimes, a deer wanders into the field,

interrupting their feast.

Startled, they rise as one

into the air, darting and diving,

chittering as they fly

before settling down

to the business at hand:

harvesting the glorious sunshine

captured in those thistles.

One of Grandpa Stuart’s fields at sunset. It was hayed this week, so there are no thistles.

What astonished you today?

This post is doing double duty for today’s Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, as always, to Stacey and Ruth for hosting!