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: “I Was an Artist”

“Astonishment is the proper response to reality.”
~ Terence McKenna ~

This week, two astonishing yet unrelated news items filled me with wonder. The first was about the discovery of a series of “high-speed bursts of radio waves coming from deep space”.  The second was the story of the discovery of lapis lazuli in the teeth of a medieval nun. Somehow these amazing stories converged into this draft of a poem.

Hardly a trace
of her bustling world remains.

But there, cradled within her teeth,
flecks of brilliant ultramarine
cry out,
like a signal, bursting,
hurdling across space,
across time
until its pulse
is captured,

a forgotten voice
“I was an artist.”

© Catherine Flynn, 2019

The Annunciation, about 1240, Tempera colors, gold leaf, and iron gall ink on parchment
Leaf: 17.8 × 13.5 cm (7 × 5 5/16 in.), Ms. 4, leaf 1
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In case you missed it, last week I suggested a Poetry Friday celebration of women when I host the Roundup on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day. You can find all the details here. Please be sure to visit Kathryn Apel for the Poetry Friday Roundup!


Slice of Life: Not Procrastinating

Just do it. Put your butt in the chair and write. So here I am, sitting in a chair, writing. I have a project I’ve been working on for several years that is nearing completion. An endless list of writing ideas for poems, picture books, and more. No more procrastinating.

This weekend, before I decided to stop procrastinating, I cleaned out my email inbox. (Is there such a thing as productive procrastination?) As I scanned the subject lines, certain words began to grab my attention. Simple words, but all words are full of possibilities, aren’t they? Soon, I had a list of more than twenty words in my notebook. Before I knew it, the words were arranging themselves into a poem.

There are many variations of found poetry. Some retain the word order as it appeared in an original text; others are more flexible. Because I found these words in email subject lines, I felt free to rearrange the order and add articles and small words such as to. Besides, keeping the beginning of the list in order resulted in this:

Today, hours
Are free.
The code
Is yours,




If only!

Here is another poem I drafted with the found words from my email subject lines:

Seeds lie hidden
in books:
A collection, a code
to reveal
hidden gifts
for each soul
lucky enough
not to miss

the miracle.

Happy writing, everyone. Keep an eye out for those miracles!

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

Poetry Friday: Strong Women

Happy New Year to all my Poetry Friday friends! As I was entering important dates into my new desk calendar, I discovered that, by pure coincidence, I am hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup on International Women’s Day (March 8th). I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the day by sharing poems that honor women. These could be original poems or poems written by others. They could be poems about an important woman in your life who deserves to be celebrated, someone famous, an unsung woman of historical significance, or a poem by your favorite female poet. The choice is yours. So please feel free to participate (or not) in any way that feels right to you. I’ll post a few reminders between now and March 8th.

The theme of this year’s celebration is #BalanceforBetter. In 2017, I wrote this poem celebrating the women in my life who helped me be a better person. (You can read the original post here.)

Strong women taught me
how to knit, to bake,
to cook and sew.

Strong women taught me
how to love, to live
through strife and woe.

Strong women taught me
not to count
on others for my bread.

Strong women taught me
to rely
on my own wits instead.

Strong women taught me
to be brave when lies
and hate are spread.

Strong women taught me
how to think, to stand
for what is right.

Strong women taught me
to be kind, to fill
the world with light.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

With my sister and mother, still going strong at 81, on Christmas day.

Please be sure to visit Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: 2019 Reading Goals

Resolutions really aren’t my thing. I’m much better at setting goals and working toward them. That way, I’m always making progress.

At school, we always challenge our students to, in the words of Lucy Calkins, “outgrow themselves as readers.” January is the perfect time to check our progress and set new goals. Knowing that many of our students need help choosing titles, we’ve adapted The Strand Book Store’s “Reads-olutions” (I know; I said I don’t like resolutions, but this is too catchy to pass up.) to guide them.

I always tell kids that these categories are only suggestions, and really, as long as they keep reading, they’re achieving their goal. I do share with them my reads-olutions (aka goals), and tell them that I almost never read every book I plan to, but always read many more that I didn’t know about when I made my list.

With that in mind, here are several titles I hope to read in 2019:

  • Book by a debut author (also covering Book with a one word title):
    Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

  • A Newbery Award winner:
    Although I haven’t read every Newbery winner, I’ve read many of them. Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata is the most recent winner I haven’t read. Of course, if I haven’t read this year’s winner, I’ll add that to my list.

As always, I’ll continue to chip away at the mountains of books already scattered around my house, waiting to be read! Thanks to Betsy Bird for her fabulous blog, A Fuse 8 Production, and her incredible series, 31 Days/31 Lists. Many of these titles came from these posts. The Nerdy Book Club also has wonderful year-end lists if you need more suggestions.

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

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

Poetry Friday: #haikuforhope


Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, feasting, and love. Somehow, I managed to keep up with Mary Lee Hahn’s #haikuforhope. Here are my offerings for the week.

brief December days
bookended by darkness
long for sun’s bright shine

feathers ruffled
against a cold, steady rain
swans glide onward

snowflakes flit and float
scattering fairy dust
over the world

dawn’s golden light
filtered by gathering clouds
still holds promise

swollen stream rushes
babbling its timeless tune:
joy to the world

silent stars swirl, our
dazzling partner in an
endless cosmic dance

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

Harpagornis [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Please be sure to visit Donna Smith at Mainely Write for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year!



Slice of Life: A Christmas Miracle

The turkey had been roasting for about forty-five minutes when we heard the POP! At first we thought juices had spattered, but then the oven timer went off.

I hadn’t set the timer.

When I got to the oven, a bright green “F1” was flashing where the temperature setting should have read 325 degrees. Uh-oh.

I tried to open the oven door. It would not budge. Locked. Tight.

My twenty pound turkey was stuck in the oven. Thirty people would be arriving for a Christmas feast in just a few hours.

“Go turn off the breaker,” I said to my husband. “Maybe it will reset itself and the door will open.” Meanwhile, I was mentally scanning my neighbor’s kitchens. Who was likely to be home, not needing their oven a week and a half before Christmas?

“Did that work?” my husband called from the basement.

“Yes! The door’s open!” I hollered back as I dialed the neighbor most likely to have an empty oven. “Hi, Jean? I need a huge favor.”

Fifteen minutes later, my turkey was safely tucked into Jean’s oven. But I still had mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and broccoli to worry about.

“Well, we were going to get a new oven soon anyway,” my husband reasoned. “I’ll just go buy one today.”

Within the hour, my well-used, trusted oven was on its way to the great appliance graveyard.

Within three hours, our new oven was settled into its new home, gleaming brightly.

Four hours after that ominous pop, the turkey finished roasting in our new oven, the potatoes were mashed, and the squash was boiling. When our first guests arrived, everything was under control. They only reason anyone knew anything had gone wrong was because we told them.

At school, we help students to put their problems in perspective, categorizing them as bummers, glitches, or catastrophes. Thanks to a good neighbor and a handy husband, what at first felt like a catastrophe turned out to be only a glitch. Dinner was on the table a bit later than originally planned, but otherwise, our Christmas celebration with my husband’s family went off without a hitch. It was a miracle!

Wishing you all a glitch-free holiday! Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash