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


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
their own skies

Windows doors
grow more

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: Celebrating Namoi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry has informed my teaching and writing for many years. I am thrilled about her recent selection as our Young People’s Poet Laureate. Her poetry inspires, and she generously shares her wisdom in interviews, presentations, and volumes such as Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writingand more. I created this sign early in my career and it still hangs in my classroom:

Here’s another bit of wisdom that I love:

I’ve been scouring my books and the web, searching for just the right poem to share today. I’ve shared many of my favorites previously, and I didn’t have a lot of time to write this week. As usual, though, inspiration came through at the last minute from Mary Lee Hahn, this week’s hostess for Poetry Friday and today’s Naomi Shihab Nye celebration. She directed me to Colby Sharp’s The Creativity Project, where Nye encouraged writers to “Write a list of ten things you are NOT (not an astronaut, a perfectionist, a wool spinner, a butterfly, a name-caller). Then pick your favorite lines and develop, or embellish, them, adding metaphors, more description, whatever you like.”

Here is a draft of my response:

I am not someone who speaks
the language of birds.
But at dawn, when they sing a tune
from the distant past,
their chirps and whistles ripple
into the silence
of the sleeping house,
reaching into my dreams,
recognition stirs inside me
and their melody carries
me into the day.

© Catherine Flynn, 2019

Don’t forget to visit Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Truth Serum”


Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry is filled with love, sensitivity, and compassion. Her work has been a source of solace and inspiration to me for years. So I was thrilled when she was announced as the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture on Monday during the ALA’s Youth Media Awards Announcements. The Arbuthnot Award recognizes “an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site.” I can’t think of a more appropriate choice to share her insights and wisdom in our troubled times.

“Truth Serum”
by Naomi Shihab Nye

We made it from the ground-up corn in the old back pasture.
Pinched a scent of night jasmine billowing off the fence,
popped it right in.
That frog song wanting nothing but echo?
We used that.
Stirred it widely. Noticed the clouds while stirring.
Called upon our ancient great aunts and their long slow eyes
of summer. Dropped in their names.
Added a mint leaf now and then
to hearten the broth. Added a note of cheer and worry.

Read the rest of the poem here.

by Jonathan M. Hethey via unsplash.com
by Jonathan M. Hethey via unsplash.com

Please be sure to visit Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “The Young Poets of Winnipeg”


For the past week, I’ve been at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project August Reading Institute. Every educator deserves to spend a week learning from the passionate, brilliant people here. Each day, keynote speakers share their latest thinking about reading and reading instruction.

The message this week has been loud and clear: WE ARE WHAT WE READ

Matt de la Peña told us on Tuesday that he believes the job of a young person is to “discover the different possibilities that are in front of you.” If a young person is a nonreader those possibilities are very limited.

Stephanie Harvey implored us to “table the labels.” A student is not a number or a letter. A student is a human being with hopes and dreams and desires. When we label them and allow them to read only books that match that label, we are limiting the possibilities they see for themselves. That is unconscionable.

Design by Su Blackwell
Design by Su Blackwell

With all this in mind, this poem, by Naomi Shihab Nye, seemed especially appropriate to share and keep in our minds and hearts as we head back to our classrooms.

“The Young Poets of Winnipeg”
by Naomi Shihab Nye

scurried around a classroom papered with poems.
Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase…
They introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage
to read their work, blessed their teacher who
encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents
attend the reading because parents might criticize,
believed in the third and fourth eyes, the eyes in
the underside of leaves, the polar bears a thousand miles north,
and sprouts of grass under the snow. They knew their poems
were glorious, that second-graders could write better
that third or fourth…

Read the rest of the poem here.

Wishing you all a wonderful school year! Please be sure to visit Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Where Poems Hide


As summer winds down, thoughts turn to the start of school. Each new year brings new faces new challenges, new curriculum, but poetry remains a constant. Krista Tippet’s interview with Naomi Shihab Nye on last week’s episode of On Being (a must-listen!) prompted me to revisit “Valentine for Ernest Mann” and think about where poems are hiding in my life.

Here is a draft of one I found outside my kitchen window one morning this week:

Poems hide.
They lie crouched in the tall grass
at the edge of a thicket
where each morning
a tawny rabbit emerges
to nibble his breakfast
of grass and sweet clover.
His ears stand at attention,
alert for the slightest sound,
eyes peeled
for the shadow of a hawk,
legs coiled in readiness
to flee back into
the safety of the thorns.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

By M2545 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By M2545 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m looking forward to returning to school and learning where poems are hiding in the lives of my students.

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Astray on a Summer Breeze


How to teach poetry? “This has always worked: find the material in your own life.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~

Penny Kittle tweeted this last night from the Boothbay Literacy Retreat, quoting a line from Naomi Shihab Nye, the evening’s “Distinguished Lecturer.” I had been thinking about this very idea earlier in the afternoon after I saw this on my way home:


Needless to say, I did a double take. So I drove home, parked the car, and the dog and I walked back to the field to capture the moment. The camera on my phone really doesn’t do justice to the scene, so I’ll try to paint a picture with words.

A balloon bouquet,
astray on a summer breeze,
touched down in a
sun-drenched meadow
to dance with butterflies.

I hope you all have a chance to enjoy a few sun-drenched afternoons this summer!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for 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: One Boy Told Me


“One Boy Told Me”

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Music lives inside my legs.

It’s coming out when I talk.

I’m going to send my valentines

to people you don’t even know.

Oatmeal cookies make my throat gallop.

Grown-ups keep their feet on the ground

when they swing. I hate that.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Children are full of priceless observations. My own boys made their fair share of pronouncements that brought a smile to my face. Nye’s poem made me wish I had written down some of their comments. Ah well, sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words.


Please be sure to visit Linda at Teacher Dance for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


The Turtle of Oman, by poet Naomi Shihab Nye is a beautiful, quiet book about a young Omani boy and his family as they prepare to move to the United States, where his parents will attend graduate school.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow, 2014)

Aref is bereft at the thought of leaving his home, his friends, and most of all, his grandfather, Sidi. Aref and Sidi are “a Team of Two,” who, “even when they weren’t doing anything special… pretended they were.”

As Aref’s mother is busy packing and preparing their house for cousins to live in for the three years they’ll be gone, she has little time to comfort Aref, who puts off packing and frets about life in the United States. But Sidi, who “always had time for Aref,” takes him on several adventures. These outings distract Aref from his sadness over leaving his “only, number, one, super-duper, authentic, absolutely personal place.”

Aref and his family have a tradition of playing “Discovering Something New Everyday.” They make lists, recording their discoveries: “In your notebook, you wrote down new ideas or even scraps of new information. Nothing was too small.” Each family member constructs lists in their own way, and about topics that interest them. Sidi (who doesn’t make lists; Aref writes down his lists) specializes in geographic information, Aref’s “specialized in animals, his favorite topic.”

Through these lists and Sidi’s and Aref’s adventures, readers learn much about daily life in Oman. Nye’s ability to depict Aref, an ordinary boy, in this exotic location where life is familiar yet so different, seems effortless. Her prose is lyrical throughout, and lines like “your thoughts made falcon moves, dipping and rippling, swooping back into your brain to land,” add depth to Aref’s personality.

In an interview with Roger Sutton, Nye explains that she became interested in Oman as a child after seeing a National Geographic story about the country. She also talks about her longing for a time when people had “less stuff, less clutter, less things in a day, but better relationships with those things. I wanted there to be some sense of that with Aref and Sidi.”

The slow art of The Turtle of Oman is a lovely addition to realistic middle grade fiction. It is an ideal read aloud and will introduce students to a part of the world and a culture they may know little about through the story of a boy they will instantly recognize.

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!