Poetry Friday: The Laws of Motion

Summer is a time to kick back and relax, but for teachers it is also time to work on projects we don’t have time for during the school year. This summer, I’m excited that my critique group and I are reading The Practice of Poetry and completing the writing exercises as a way to build our poetry muscles. Our first “assignment” was “Experience Falls Through Language Like Water Through a Sieve” by Susan Mitchell. (You can read Margaret’s thoughts about this exercise here.)

The gist of this exercise is to “use similes and/or metaphors to convey a feeling, an idea, a mood, or an experience you have never been able to communicate to anyone because each time you tried it seemed that you were being untrue to the experience.” My response, as usually happens when we write, took me to an unexpected place. I haven’t ever shared this memory from high school and still feel guilty that I stood by while a guy I was trying to impress was so mean to a stranger. In her directions, Smith writes that “we often write ahead of our own understanding.” Sadly, we often live our lives ahead of them, too. And, as with writing, our “conscious thinking [has] to catch up.” Writing and reflecting hastens this process, but some lessons take longer than others. Thankfully, this was a lesson I only had to endure once. Figuring out that “simile and metaphor are functional, rather than decorative” and using them effectively may take me a little longer. 

The Laws of Motion

The first time I saw you,
your face reminded me of the scarred,
pock-marked surface of Io,
Jupiter’s volcanic moon.

How brave you were to walk
into that unknown space,
carrying a plastic tray filled
with tater tots,
as if that would shield you
from the shining stars
of our little galaxy.

A comet sailed among us that year,
pulled me into his orbit,
blinded me to right and wrong,
caused me to wobble on my axis
until I was so off-kilter that
I didn’t say a word
when he turned to you,
pelted you with cruelty and insults.

To this day, I’m ashamed
I wasn’t strong enough
to pull free of his hold on me.
Ashamed that I didn’t have your strength,
that I looked away,
as you strode by
with your head held high.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Please be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe (how appropriate!) for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: The Wonders Around Us

My summer writing goal:

Sing of the Earth and sky,
sing of our lovely planet,
sing of the low and high,
of fossils locked in granite.

Sing of the strange, the known,
the secrets that surround us,
sing of the wonders shown,
and the wonders still around us.

by Aileen Fisher

Thank you, Miss Fisher, for reminding me.

“A Night in Malibu” by Jeremy Bishop, via Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

DigiLit Sunday: Poetic Problem Solving

This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Problem Solving. Please be sure to visit her there to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“Every problem is a gift—without problems we would not grow”
Anthony Robbins

One afternoon a few weeks ago, one of our Kindergarten teachers stopped me in the hall as she was taking her students to the buses. She explained that her class was writing a poem about seashells. “But we’re stuck on the ending, and since you’re a poet, we we’re hoping you could help us.” Then one of the students chimed in, “Yeah, you’re a perfect poem maker.”

Blushing, I thanked them for their confidence and told them I’d love to help them with their poem. Then I immediately panicked and thought, “What if I have no idea how to help them?”

When I arrived in their classroom the next day, they were eager to read their poem to me. I was impressed with the description and similes they had already come up with. But there wasn’t much emotion in the poem. I explained that adding feelings is one way poets improve their work. To help them come up with their own ideas and words, we discussed what shells are for. We talked about how different the inside of a shell is from the outside. Through this conversation, they came up with a final stanza that followed the pattern of the previous stanzas, but changed it just enough. They were very happy with the result.


This exchange with these Kindergarten poets certainly would have played out differently if I didn’t write regularly. Having my own writing practice let me know exactly how these writers felt, knowing their poem was missing something but not knowing what that something was. Because I have worked through problems with my own writing, I was able to help them work through their problem.

By tackling my own knowledge gaps, whether about reading or writing, I’ve acquired (and continue to acquire!) the the tools I need to help students when their stuck. Learning from MY mentors*, whether through their brilliant books or at conferences and workshops, has equipped me with ideas and understandings I can use as a starting place when approaching a problem.

Reading, writing, listening, and learning has not only made me a better problem-solver and teacher. They have made me a better person.

*Thank you to ALL my mentors. You are too numerous to name and I’m afraid I’ll forget someone.

Poetry Friday: “This Most Perfect Hill”

I’ve been neglecting this blog lately, but as school winds down and I can (fingers crossed) devote more time to writing, I decided to dust things off a bit and offer you this most perfect poem by Lisa Jarnot.

“This Most Perfect Hill”
by Lisa Jarnot

On this most perfect hill
with these most perfect dogs
are these most perfect people
and this most perfect fog

In this most perfect fog
that is the middle of the sea
inside the perfect middle of
the things inside that swing

In this most perfect rhyme
that takes up what it sees,
with perfect shelter from the
rain as perfect as can be,

In this most perfect day
at the apex of the sun
runs this most perfect
frog song that is roiling
from the mud

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please visit poetess extraordinaire Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading 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.

Poetry Friday: A Found Poem

Teachers often wonder about their true impact on students. We have work samples, observations and assessments that help us gauge a student’s progress. But these can’t really let us know the degree of influence we’ve had on a student. And in many cases we may never know. We’re like mother turtles burying our eggs in the sand, only to swim away and hope for the best.

But then there are moments when the stars align and magic happens. This morning I was working with a 5th grade student whom I’ve worked with to varying degrees since first grade. He’s quiet and shy, but very sweet. He’d rather play soccer than anything else, especially read. He read the first few lines in The Amazing Amazon, by David Meissner, (Reading A-Z) then stopped. Looking up at me, he said, “It’s like a poem.”

I. was. speechless. Recovering quickly, I said, “I agree.” I asked why he thought so. Again, his response blew me away.

“Well, it rhymes and it’s describing. It’s like I can see it.”

As I said, magic. Here is the poem E found.

“There Is a Place”

There is a place where monkeys swing and howl.
There is a place where jaguars leap from tree to tree.
Bananas and pineapples grow for free.
Tiny frogs live in flowers.
Pink-colored dolphins swim in the river.
Storms come often,
and the air is sweet.

By spacebirdy (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet indeed. 

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life 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.