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.
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.
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 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
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.”
“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
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!
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.)
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.
“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.
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.
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 PoetryMagazine. 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.
Carolyn Merchant‘s 1980 book, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution is, according to Kathryn Aalto, “one of the most important feminist books ever written.” (Writing Wild, p. 102) I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of it. In her groundbreaking book, Merchant “analyzes environmental history to frame the relationship between the natural world and humanity, particularly gender and the environment.” (Writing Wild, p. 103) She also helps give rise to the idea of ecofeminism, or “a feminist approach to understanding ecology.”
Merchant’s ideas are new to me, so I needed a poetic form that could help me distill them and gain some deeper understanding. I find that acrostics sometimes give me a vocabulary for a topic and get the words flowing, especially if its a topic I don’t know a lot about. This seemed like a good place to start. And because it’s the end of a long week, it also seemed like a good place to stop for now.
Earth, mother to all, Cradles and nurtures the Organic cosmos, Fuels the vital forces of Ensouled beings. Magical traditions are Inextricably linked, a vast symbiotic Network, millenia in the making. Its equilibrium has been disrupted, no longer Sustainable, thanks to Mechanization and greed.
Rural Hours, Susan Fenimore Cooper’s best know work, captures the daily rhythms of the natural world in early-nineteenth century Cooperstown, NY. Her entry for March 22nd describes “the return of the robins.” Since returning robins are still a sure sign of spring, I took this line for the title of a week’s worth of observations of this beloved bird.
“The Return of the Robins”
Flash of red against blue sky: the robins have returned!
A riot of robins patrol dormant hay fields: the borderland between winter and spring.