Slice of Life: Caution Thrown to the Wind

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“Imagination is the beginning of the cognitive process through which we create meaning.”

Betty K. Garner

One morning last week, I found myself following a builder’s pickup truck on my way to work. A long length of yellow tape was trailing out of the bed of the truck. At first, I was slightly annoyed that this tape was slowing me down, but I became so fascinated watching its gyrations that I was sorry when the driver realized what was happening and pulled over to capture the escaped tape.

Coincidentally, I had just finished reading an article by Betty K. Garner called “The Power of Noticing” in Educational Leadership‘s February 2013 issue on creativity. Garner explains that taking the time to really notice something “supplies the raw material for creative thinking” and that “this kind of cognitive engagement stimulates curiosity and creativity.”  So when I arrived at school, I rushed to my desk and wrote everything I remembered about what the wayward tape had conjured in my mind. Several days and several drafts later, here is a poem I created out of those images.

Charmed by the warmth of the morning sun

and the fresh air filled with bird songs,

a length of yellow construction tape

rises up out of its cardboard home

in the back of a pickup truck

and catches a ride on the breeze.

Dancing down the road,

it undulates like a cobra,

lured out of its basket by the call of a pungi,

waving back and forth,

creating serpentine shapes,

its message of caution

thrown to the wind.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Since this is the last Tuesday of National Poetry Month, I hope Mary Lee won’t find this poem’s link to imagination too tenuous and mind if I share it with the readers of her “Our Wonderful World” poetry project.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Our Wonderful World: The Grand Canyon

Mary Lee Hahn is celebrating National Poetry Month by celebrating “Our Wonderful World.” Each day, Mary Lee is writing an original poem in honor of either a man-made or natural wonder. Today’s wonder is the Grand Canyon. I have rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon twice, so I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to write a poem about my experience.

We have hundreds of photos from both of these trips, and I kept a journal during each trip. I have shared memories of our adventures in the past, Lava Falls and The Legend of the Sanpodohavatulli Expedition. Before attempting to write this poem, I reread my journals, skimmed through many of the pictures, and jotted many notes. But this poem did not come easily. I didn’t know where to start. Then, after listening to Christopher Leheman’s Teacher Poets online workshop this morning, it became clear that I needed to focus on a small sliver of the entire trip. Our hike to Deer Creek was one of the most memorable, so I focused on this beautiful side canyon.

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The Grand Canyon

From Yaki Point on the South Rim,

the majestic sun-soaked sandstone

is on full display,

the river a ribbon of green a mile below.

But travel deeper,

into the heart of the canyon

to Deer Creek.

Climb the steep trail,

into the slot canyon behind the falls.

For eons, 

this stream

has carved the soft rock

with a sculptor’s precision; 

finding each chink and crack,

washing the sediment away,

grain by grain,

shaping each sensuous curve,

creating this hidden oasis

where today I soak in a clear, cold pool,

immersed in the wonder of it all.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

deer creek falls
Deer Creek Falls

            deer creek falls 001   slot canyon

Thank you, Mary Lee, for inspiring this poem!

Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”

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I’ve been captivated by Louise Erdrich’s writing for many years, since I first read her middle grade novel, The Birchbark House. This book was a favorite read aloud when I taught third grade.  Since then, I’ve read all of her children’s novels and most of her adult novels. For the past several days, I’ve been reading Erdrich’s National Book Award winning adult novel, The Round House (Harper, 2012).

Often called a “Native American Faulkner”, Erdrich has created in her fiction what Maria Russo calls an “indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations” (New York Times Book Review, Oct. 14, 2012)

Erdrich uses the tools of a poet to tell these finely spun tales. Metaphor, imagery, repetition, and more are skillfully woven together to create passages like this one from The Round House:

“I lay down on the warm wood and the sun went right into my bones. I saw no herons at first. Then I realized the piece of reedy shore I was staring at had a heron hidden in its pattern. I watched that bird stand. Motionless. Then, quick as genius, it had a small fish, which it carefully snapped down its gullet.”

Such craftsmanship isn’t surprising, considering the fact that Erdrich began her writing career as a poet. Many of her poems can be read online, but “Advice to Myself” resonated with me in way the others didn’t after a week of attempting to clear away the clutter of winter.

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.

Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.

Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.

Don’t even sew on a button.

read the rest here

Be sure to stop by Life on the Deckle Edge, where Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday Round Up.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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How to Babysit a Grandpa (Alfred Knopf, 2012), by Jean Reagan, with illustrations by Lee Wildish, is a charming story. The book opens with these words of wisdom from a little boy who is about to spend the day with his grandpa.

“Babysitting a grandpa is fun–if you know how.”

Our nameless hero goes on to explain all the highlights of a five-year old’s day: snacks, going outside, playing games, and more. He even suggests “bouncy music” to make clean up easier. Every other page or so provides additional tips for would-be grandpa-sitters, such as snack suggestions and ideas for lots of creative play. (I love that there is a T.V in one illustration, but it is never mentioned, let alone turned on.)

Adding to the appeal of Reagan’s text are Lee Wildish’s digital illustrations. His characters remind me of Melissa Sweet’s non-collage work–imbued with love and a sense of humor about the realities of life as a child. There are crumbs all over the table, and the boy’s tongue is set firmly in the corner of his mouth as he draws a picture for grandpa.

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Reagan and Wildish have teamed up again for How to Babysit a Grandma (Alfred Knopf, 2014), and it is every bit as engaging as How to Babysit a Grandpa. The style and tone are the same (the boy and his grandpa even make a cameo appearance at the park), but our heroine has her own ideas for activities to “keep a grandma busy.”

Both of these books are perfect mentor texts for Kindergarteners and first graders learning to write how-to books. Children could also come up with their own versions of the lists Reagan has included, or add their ideas to hers. These books could just as easily be enjoyed as read-alouds, or shared in September in honor of Grandparents Day. The possibilities are endless. One thing is certain, though. If you have a 4-6 year old, know one, or teach them, these books should be on your list of How to Entertain a Child.

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!

Why Poetry?

Chris Lehman recently invited teachers to join him in an online poetry workshop, TeacherPoets. He also invited people to respond to the question “Why poetry?” Many smart, insightful responses have been shared here. How to answer this question without restating what so many have already contributed? I decided to read through a few of my favorite poetry resources and create a found poem (some lines are slightly altered to work in the sequence).

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons
By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Why Poetry?

Feel in touch with that universal rhythm.

Lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the world;

Find the mystery in everyday things and objects.

Rekindle a latent sense of wonder.

Have a good eye and a sharp ear.

Find your own voice.

Discover the perfect word for your purpose.

Use fresh imagery that rattles the senses and

Some wordplay that makes it sparkle.

Group them together in a shape or rhythmical structure.

Poems hum,

The breathings of your heart.

And words are nets to capture

The secrets you didn’t know you were keeping.

Here are the authors and sources of these lines, in order:

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Joyce Sidman, “Touching the World: The Importance of Teaching PoetryRiverbank Review, Spring 2002

Karla Kuskin, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Michael Dugan, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Mary Ann Hoberman, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Nikki Grimes, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Jane Yolen, Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft; Writer’s Digest Books, 2006

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Julie Larios “Playing with Poetry

William Wordsworth

Muhammed al-Ghuzzi, “The Pen

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud”

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Signs of spring are finally showing up here in my corner of Connecticut, and spring break begins TODAY! In honor of the season, I’m sharing “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. This is one of the first “adult” poems I remember reading in high school that I really liked. Who wouldn’t want to be dancing with daffodils?

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

 

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
By Myrabella (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Parc de Bagatelle, Paris By Myrabella, via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Blog Birthday to Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty! Be sure to visit and help her celebrate and to read the Poetry Friday round up.

Slice of Life: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing a slice of poetry today. I was inspired by Mary Lee Hahn‘s “Our Wonderful Word” poetry project. Each day during the month of April, Mary Lee is writing an original poem in honor of either a man-made or natural wonder. Today’s wonder is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I briefly considered becoming an architect when I was in high school, and although I chose a different path, my fascination with architecture remains. Not long after reading Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, I found Tilt: A Skewed History of The Tower of Pisa, by Nicholas Shrady. When I pulled the book off my shelf last weekend, I was struck by how much the tower looked like a wedding cake. And although I’m sure I’m not the first person to make that comparison, it was the spark I needed for this poem.

Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Were I to bake

a wedding cake, 

festooned with frill and flower

it would list and tilt

like Pisa’s famous tower.

Each tier more precarious

than the one below,

how to keep it upright,

Heaven only knows.

Although it’s not perfection,

once topped with groom and bride,

my flour and sugar confection

will stand askew with pride.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.