Poetry Friday: Winter Morning

Every month, one of my critique group partners poses a challenge to the group and we all post our responses on the first Friday of the month. This month, it was my turn to come up with a prompt. Since life has been challenging enough lately, I wanted to pose more of a supportive opportunity than a challenge. This passage from S. Kirk Walsh’s essay “How E.L. Doctorow Taught an Aspiring Writer to Hear the Sounds of Fiction” in The New York Times Book Review was exactly what I had in mind:

For the final writing assignment, Doctorow asked us to choose one of the works on the syllabus and borrow — or steal — from it in a fiction of our own... I chose “The Waves”: I copied Woolf’s sentences word for word, then replaced her language with my own.

So our challenge was simply this: Copy a mentor poem (or other text) “word for word, then replace [that poet’s] language with your own.” Finding a mentor poem was easier than I thought it would be. Looking for another book, I found Light & Shadow (Holiday House, 1992), a book of poems by Myra Cohn Livingston inspired by photographs by Barbara Rogasky. Livingston’s poem, “Late Afternoon,” caught my attention immediately.

“Light rests
in the crooked
elbows and branches of
old trees,

in the shadows
of moss-covered rocks, naps
In piles

of leaves
scattered over
forest floors, stretches out
to sleep

and dreams
itself wearing
a shining necklace of

Isn’t that stunning?

Here is the poem my “borrowing” inspired:

Winter Morning

Light seeps
through the outstretched
fingers and branches of
bare trees,

birds, roosted
in a tangle of brush, quickens
the blood

of cardinals and jays,
who flutter around
snow-covered feeders, reaches 
deep into the shadows

and dreams
itself wearing
an iridescent crown of

Draft, © 2021, Catherine Flynn

Please visit my fellow Sunday Night Swaggers to see where their borrowings led them:

Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone

Then head over to Jone Rush MacCulloch’s lovely blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Resilience

Is it still January? It hardly seems possible. My coping strategy for the tumult of the past few weeks has been knitting: 8 hats since Christmas. All that knitting equals very little time for writing. But I miss the routine of Poetry Friday. So today I’m sharing a poem I wrote back in December for a workshop with Georgia Heard. As always, Georgia inspired us to stretch ourselves by writing variations on the cinquain. This draft is a butterfly cinquain, a “nine-line syllabic verse of the pattern 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2 / 8 / 6 / 4 / 2.” It needs more work, but it’s an important reminder for me today.


A wild
verdant glade where
feathery ferns unfurl,
moss creeps into every hollow.
Air hums
alive with rustling cicadas,
while sprouts stir in ancient
spruce stumps: fragile

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2021

Please be sure to visit Jan Godown Annino at Bookseedstudio for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Poetry Friday: Nestlings from the Natural World

At the beginning of each month, my critique group partners and I take turns challenging one another to try a new poetry form. This month, Heidi Mordhorst suggested that we write nestlings: poems found within a single poem that we wrote. Heidi’s challenge was inspired by Irene Latham‘s brilliant and joyous book, This Poem is a Nest. In her introduction, Irene explains that she was inspired by watching “robins build a nest” and realized that “poems are nests–and we poets spend much of our time nest-building. We gather words, ideas, and dreams, and then we set about weaving, arranging, and structuring. “

I love everything about this book: the concept, the poems themselves, the illustrations. Irene mined four “nest” poems (one for each season) and came up with 161 nestling poems. Her creativity shines in the way she organizes her nestlings. There are poems about colors, emotions, months of the year, animals, and more. This book is a treasure and an inspiration. What a fun challenge!

Then reality sunk in and I had to actually choose a poem to work with. After several false starts, I decided to mine several poems I wrote during National Poetry Month last April. My project for the month was a series of poems I called “News from the Natural World.” All of the poems had some connection to nature, both from my yard and across the galaxy. (Links to all the poems can be found here.) I chose to look for nestlings in two of my favorites, “Praise Song for the Natural World” and “An Earth Day ABC.” Like all found poems, the words are in the same order as in the original poem. Titles can be added and don’t have to be in the original poem. Those words are bolded. I might have added an “s” to the end of a word or two. 😉

Praise Song for the Natural World

Each day, wild creatures go about the work of survival.
A vibrant bluebird flits through the undergrowth
in pursuit of an alluring female.

High in a pine, a nesting hawk surveys
the countryside, screeching in protest
at a mob of pesky crows.

All around, color is brightening the drab world.
Brilliant yellow dandelions are open for business
and hungry bees buzz joyously among them.

Violets sprinkle the hillside like confetti
And every shrub and tree is wrapped
In a fine haze of green or pink or red.

In the pond, clumps of frogspawn
are silently, mysteriously on their
journey of transformation.

Praise song for their confidence, their
optimism in the face of a fickle world,
for their honest pursuit of life.

Praise song for every blossom, every nest, every egg.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Nestlings from this poem:

Each morning

the world

Eyes of a

wild hawk:

A mob of crows
buzz trees,
rap their confidence

Yellow lions
hungry, silent.
Journey in
pursuit of life.


Vibrant growth
hill and shrub:
world blossom

An Earth Day ABC

An atlas of the world can’t
Begin to reveal the
Complexity of connections, the
Diversity of life on
For centuries, curious humans have
Grappled with questions, searching across
Hemispheres, seeking
Insights into our home, finding pieces of the
Jigsaw puzzle, gaining
Knowledge and
Learning the lessons
Mountains teach us. The earth
Nurtures and nourishes us. We are
Obligated to
Protect her, preserve her. Our reckless
Quest for riches is irresponsible. Actions
Ripple across the globe, casting
Shadows on life everywhere.
Today and everyday, seek to
Understand the
Vulnerability and vitality of our
Wondrous world.
eXchange hubris for humility. Change begins with
Zoom in and discover nature’s abundant gifts.

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Nestlings from this poem:

know lessons,
nourish us:
nature’s gift.



The River


This was a fun and thought-provoking adventure! Dozens of nestlings didn’t make it into this post, but I learned a thing or two about myself as a writer through the process and will approach revision differently in the future. Thank you, Irene, for this amazing book, and thank you, Heidi, for this great challenge! You can read how my other critique group partners approached this challenge at their blogs:

Heidi Mordhorst: My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell: A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon: Reflections on the Teche
Molly Hogan: Nix the Comfort Zone

And don’t forget to visit Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup and a sneak peek at what looks to be a bumper crop of children’s poetry arriving in 2021.



Poetry Friday: Holiday Knitting Edition

The season of love and joy is upon us. Paradoxically, the new is full of heartbreak and hope. We are staying home and will have a “Zoom” Christmas. I am thankful we have that option, and am thankful for my many blessings, including this amazing community. I’m taking a holiday hiatus, but didn’t want the year to end without sharing a final poem for 2020.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been participating in one of Georgia Heard‘s poetry workshops through her Poet’s Studio. The focus of the workshop was poetic forms. We read and wrote cinquains, villanelles, sonnets, and more. Georgia introduced and discussed many other types of poetry, including found poetry.

Knitting has long been a passion of mine, and I’ve recently been knitting up a storm for my baby granddaughter, Hazel. I wanted to write a poem about knitting, but my brain power is limited these days. (Too many distractions; see first paragraph.) So today I’m sharing a found poem, culled from “Knitting for Poets: Elizabeth Zimmermann” by A.E. Stallings. I followed the rules and kept the words in the order in which they appear in the article.


Sonnet-length baby sweaters
magically form beneath our hands:
texture and color,
the pleasure of materials.
Knit on
with confidence and hope
through all crisis.
Get lost together.
Well-worn wooden needles’
benevolent clack is soothing,
Cherish them.
Follow your secret heart.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Hazel with her new stocking.

I wish you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season. I hope to see you back here in 2021. Please be sure to visit the multi-talented Michelle Kogan at her blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: A Nonet

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to spend time learning more about poetry (there is always more to learn!) from two of my poetry idols, Georgia Heard and Irene Latham. Irene talked about her writing, where she finds inspiration, and more. She also shared her charming new collection, Nine: A Book of Nonet Poems and guided us through the process of writing a nonet. Nonets have nine lines, beginning with one syllable in the first line, two in the second, and so on until you have a nine-syllable line. Or you can reverse the order and begin with nine syllables and work back to one. Irene explained there are many benefits of writing nonets (or any form of syllablic poetry), including forcing you to cut unnecessary words such as a, and, & the, “generating powerhouse words and ideas,” and expanding your vocabulary. She also encouraged us to come to poetry “with a sense of wonder.”

I thought of Irene’s words when I left my house the next morning and saw this in our old apple tree:

Although I was a bit chagrined at the damage to one of my favorite trees, I was also filled with wonder at the precision of these holes. With a little research, I discovered that this was the work of a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Who knew?

Of course I had to write a nonet about this determined little bird.

The Promise

Yellow-bellied sapsucker’s sharp beak
bores through bark, drills into heartwood.
Soon, neat rows of round sapwells,
like honeycombs, cover
tree trunks. Sweet liquid
oozes; insects
tumble in.
Lunch is

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Thank you, Irene and Georgia, for all the inspiration!

Hop on over to Buffy Silverman’s blog for an interview with Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell about their newest anthology, Hop to It! and the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Cheating on a Challenge

“Lily wanted to be a good place to land.”
Emily Winfield Martin

The first Friday of the month means my Sunday Night Swaggers critique group monthly challenge. This month, Molly Hogan challenged us to “Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.” (Molly found this prompt here.)

I liked this prompt immediately. The problem was which book to choose? There are so many books to love! Despite knowing the challenge several months in advance, I couldn’t decide on a book. And am I the only one who feels like teaching during a pandemic seriously compromises my ability to think straight after three o’clock? Good. Then you’ll understand when I confess that, even though this poem meets this challenge, it was written months ago. Sorry, Molly.

The line I chose is from The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin.

The “scraps of larger stories” and paintings in this book are endlessly inspiring. They have a mystical and dream-like quality that makes me want to climb into them. (Read another poem inspired by this book here.)

Lily wanted to be a good place to land.

Hidden Riches

If a spotted yellow butterfly

lands in the palm of your hand
and whispers, follow me…

don’t be shy, don’t hesitate
let the breeze carry you

into a sun-splashed meadow

where caterpillars nibble,
beetles skim, and dragonflies hover

over clusters of clover,
milkweed, and thistle

Follow her through ripples of sedge
and ticklegrass

Keep your eyes and ears and heart
open to the mysteries hidden there:

a map to your true you.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

I’ve been reading Kate DiCamillo’s Louisiana’s Way Home with a student over the past few weeks, and I thought about using a line from Kate’s wise writing for this challenge. In the end, I settled on borrowing the title of my poem from this line: “I guess you can never say what riches people contain.”

Please visit my fellow swaggers to see how they responded to this challenge.

Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone

Then head over A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Be sure to wish our hostess extraordinaire, Mary Lee Hahn, a very happy birthday while you’re there!

Poetry Friday: Celebrating Janet Wong

In case you haven’t heard, Janet Wong received the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry at NCTE’s virtual gathering last weekend! Hooray! Congratulations, Janet! As Poetry Friday regulars know, Janet is a champion of poetry for children. Along with Sylvia Vardell, she created Pomelo Books, and published the acclaimed Poetry Friday Anthology series, as well as many collections specifically designed to help teachers bring poetry into the lives of students. She has published countless volumes of her own poetry, including my favorite, A Suitcase of Seaweed. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor.

I have had the good fortune to meet Janet on several occasions. She is the friendliest, most generous of humans, and I am forever grateful to her for the nurturing support she has given to me as poet.

Janet has written many incredible poems throughout her career, but I don’t think this one can be shared often enough.

Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Stay safe, everyone!

Poetry Friday: An Aubade

Every month, one member of my critique group poses a challenge for us to respond to. I love how these challenges push me, and am always astonished at where some of these poems lead. This month, Linda challenged us to write an aubade, “a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.”

As I said, these challenges always lead in unexpected directions. I struggled to come up with a way into this poem. Then, while I was walking one morning, the phrase “brittle blue sky” came into my mind and became the key to this draft.

This painting, which I found through Google Arts & Culture, also helped this draft come together:

Two Women Bathing
Carl Holty1948/1950, Georgia Museum of Art

How long has it been 
since we last went to the lake?
Twenty years? More?
It feels like yesterday
when we woke to the cry of loons,
whispers of the water kissing the rocky beach,
patches of light filtering through wispy pines

The sky brightens,
and my dream dissolves
into a patchwork of green and gold pixels.

The lake recedes into memory,
scattered among my worries 
of today.

Outside, jays squawk and squabble,
and the maple is a shock of scarlet
Against a brittle blue sky.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit my fellow Sunday Night Swaggers to read their aubades:

Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone

Then stop by and say hello to Susan Bruck at Soul Blossom Living for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Halloween Frighting

Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard are two of my poetry idols. I have shared their poetry with my students since I began teaching. More recently, I’ve been fortunate to learn from them at workshops and conferences. One silver lining to everything being moved online this year is that I was able to be part of “The Craft and Heart of Poetry,” their amazing Highlights workshop.

This draft is the result of a quickwrite Georgia and Rebecca shared during the workshop. It isn’t perfect, but I had fun writing it. Thank you, Rebecca and Georgia, for your never-ending inspiration!

Halloween Frighting

Ghosts ghouling
Zombies drooling

Vampires slurping
Mummies lurching

Ogres crunching
Trolls munching 

Witches hocusing 
Goblins pocusing

Skeletons rattling
Demons battling

Werewolves chomping            
Frankensteins stomping  

Orange moon lighting
Halloween frighting

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Linda Baie at Teachers Dance for a Halloween edition of the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “Song”

by Seamus Heaney

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup. This week’s hostess with the mostest has some warm cider and apple cider doughnuts waiting for you!