SOL 17 & Poetry Friday: “Feather, Celebrating Valerie Worth”

                                          

“The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.”
~ Natalie Goldberg ~

Last week, I shared Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderly, and Marjory Wentworth’s inspirational new poetry collection, Out of Wonder. Each poem is a celebration of another poet, either written in their style or about a topic dear to them.

Of course I wanted to try my hand at this. I found a lone turkey feather in the snow after the blizzard a few weeks ago that had been calling to me. I decided Valerie Worth’s “small poems” were the perfect model to use for a poem about this little gift.

After reading and rereading All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, I watched Renée LaTulippe’s interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins about Valerie Worth. Lee described Worth’s poems as “sharp, solid, eloquent evocations of ordinary objects” that “causes us to see the everyday world in fresh, insightful, larger-than-life ways.” Easy, right?

Of course not. Lee also said that Worth was “truly a craftsperson, who wrote, revised, wrote, and revised.” Knowing that no poem is ever finished, I have written and revised, written and revised my attempt at a “small poem” about a feather.

Feather
celebrating Valerie Worth

On turkey’s back,
a feather is
filaments of color
weaving a cloak
of shadow and light
that hides and
protects.

Fallen on the snow,
this downy tuft
transforms into
treasure,
whispering secrets
of the woods.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

It seems appropriate that this final day of the 2017 Slice of Life Challenge is on a Friday. I’m certain I wouldn’t ever have had the confidence to write and share poetry if it hadn’t been for this supportive community. My heartfelt thanks to you all, especially StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Advertisements

SOL 17: Thank You to Strong Women

As we come to the end of this intense month of writing, I’ve been thinking about my sources of strength. I was blessed to grow up near both of my grandmothers. And while I spent much more time with my maternal grandmother, my father’s mother was also a strong role model. Then there is my mother. She was a registered nurse who worked in the operating room of the local hospital her entire adult life until she retired. She always (and still does) put the needs of her family above her own, from staying at the hospital during blizzards to taking extra call when my sister and I were in college. This poem is in honor of these special women, and millions more unsung heroes around the world.

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

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Month of Innovation

At the end of February, I wrote the following in my notebook:

“I’m not sure how I think I’m going to manage writing for 31 days straight if I can’t even get a single post up in a week.”

Well, here we are, twenty-nine days later. Miraculously, I have managed it. I haven’t written about all the topics I had in mind, and some posts are about subjects that came out of the blue unexpectedly. Other posts are best left in the “Draft” folder on my desktop.

So what are my big take-aways from this month of writing? A few weeks ago, Margaret Simon asked teachers to consider “innovation” for her DigiLit Sunday Linkup. I worked on a post, but wasn’t happy with the result, so I didn’t share it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve considered going back to the ideas I was toying with, but I didn’t get that far.

Then, two things happened this week that brought me back to the word “innovation.” Two candidates for an administrative position at my school mentioned The Innovator’s Mindset during their interviews. And this morning, this blog post by George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, showed up in my Twitter feed.

As I read through Couros’s “Ten Commandments of Innovative Teaching,” my mind kept circling back to this month of blogging.

  • “Innovative teachers must offer choice” The slice of life challenge is nothing but choice. Helpful suggestions and sources of inspiration are offered, but each Slicer makes his or her own decision each day about what to write about. On some days this can be daunting, but ultimately, the choices each writer makes them stronger writers and teachers.
  • “Innovative teaching allows for failure” I already mentioned my “Drafts” folder, but there are also pages in my notebook with a sentence or two of an abandoned idea or words for a poem that won’t come together. I’ve learned to chalk it up to experience and keep moving.
  • “Mentorship come in all forms” Learning from all of you is one of the best parts of this challenge. Whether it’s a unique idea about structure, or a beautiful piece of writing, you are all my mentors in this challenge. Thank you for your generosity.
  • “Technology with a purpose” Depending on your skill level, this may be as simple as creating a blog and getting a post up and published. That’s how I felt when I began blogging. Gradually, you learn to enhance your writing with photos or videos, link to other sites and so on. Which technology you use isn’t as important as your purpose: to communicate your thoughts and feelings with the outside world.
  • “Build something together” While we all toil in our own workspaces to create our own posts, each day’s collection of posts is a treasure trove of writing we have built together.
  • “From local to global” In writing about our individual experiences in our own communities, we bring into focus the fact that our concerns and our passions are shared by people from all around the world.
  • “Standards are guidelines, you are the architect” This refers to curriculum standards, of course, but the Two Writing Teachers team delineated guidelines at the beginning of the month. However, within those guidelines, we have flexibility and choice to create our posts however we see fit to achieve our purpose.
  • “Be a learner first and model it” It is impossible to write every day and not learn something. Each person will learn something different, then carry that learning into their classroom. Either directly or indirectly, that new learning will weave itself into our lessons and conferences, benefiting whole classes of students.
  • “Flexible with high expectations” Yes. Most days this involves being flexible enough to post something that doesn’t quite match my initial idea and hope that readers find something of value in my ramblings.
  • “A challenge that is fun” Although some people may not believe it, spending this month writing with all of you is fun. I look forward to laughing and crying with you, and being amazed by you and your incredible students every year. For all the anguish about choosing a topic or finding the right words, we’re here because we love to write, love to learn, and want to do everything we can to help our students feel the same way. What better way to spend our days?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: After the Rain

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh ~

At the beginning of the month, I quoted this line from The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill:

“Every day I find something shiny in the rubble.”

It has been a real challenge for me to find something shiny today. But I kept looking and finally found this.

Stubborn snow drifts,
pitted and dirty,
hug the edge of the woods.
Rain pours from gray skies,
unable to shake
the last curling leaves
clinging to oak trees.
Everything is brown.

But.

Something is stirring.
The forsythia wears
a faint golden crown.
Lilac buds grow fat
as a line of pink clouds peeks
out of the gloom at dusk.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17 & It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: See You in the Cosmos

                                   

Over two hundred years ago, William Wordsworth advised writers and artists to “fill your page with the breathings of your heart.” And while I doubt Wordsworth imagined that rockets would one day send those breathings into the cosmos, there’s no question that Jack Cheng’s new middle grade novel, See You in The Cosmos (Dial Books, 2017), is full of heart.

Written as a series of iPod recordings, See You in The Cosmos is an epistolary novel for our digital age. Alex Petroski is a “rocket enthusiast” from Colorado who is planning on launching a rocket at the SHARF festival in nearby New Mexico. With his faithful dog, Carl Sagan, at his side, Alex sets out for the festival. This trip marks the beginning of an odyssey that takes him from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Along the way, Alex learns valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, and the truth about his family.

Alex’s vivid narration through the iPod recordings immediately draws readers into the mysteries at the core of his life. With a mother who has “quite days,” a father who died when Alex was three, and a 24-year old brother who lives in Los Angeles, eleven year old Alex has learned to be remarkably self-sufficient. And while getting to the rocket festival is the original purpose of Alex’s journey, it soon becomes a quest to find out the truth about his father. Throughout his trip, Alex meets an eclectic assortment of characters who help him reach his goal.

Cheng richly layered novel reminded me of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Like Sal, Alex’s search leads him to undiscovered truths about his family and himself. Readers will be cheering Alex on every step of the way. They may even discover a truth or two about themselves.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

SOL 17: Book Spine Poetry

I’ve been thinking about poetry today. I’ve been noticing images and words, playing with different combinations, following ideas, sometimes to dead ends. Creating book spine poems sometimes helps me get “unstuck” with my own ideas. Here are a few that emerged today.

Small wonder
Spirals in time
Gift from the sea

Look! Look! Look!
Flutter & hum.
Words with Wings
Soar

The comet seekers,
knocking on heaven’s door:
finding wonders.

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: In the Canyon

American Rivers is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by petitioning Congress to protect 5,000 new miles of wild rivers. They’re asking people to “share your stories, share your love of wild rivers” as part of this campaign.

For over 30 years, my family and I have spent vacations and weekends kayaking on rivers throughout the northeast. When my boys were teenagers, it felt like our lives revolved around paddling. We all have favorite memories of these trips. Even, or especially, the near-disasters become epic stories that are told again and again. (You can read one here.)

But not every minute on the river is filled with roller-coaster whitewater. In fact, rivers are mostly flat water. Thrill-seeking paddlers like my boys tolerate these stretches. But I enjoy the peace of these sections of the river more than the danger-filled rapids. One such moment took place on quiet section of the Colorado River during a trip through the Grand Canyon. Ten years later, it’s still vivid in my mind.

Deep in the canyon there is a beach where, at five am, long before the sun reaches over the eastern rim, long before the cook yells, “Hot coffee,” you can sit on a rock and watch a secret chapter of life at the bottom of the world.

Before dawn, the river is a ribbon of dark ink, a constant, rippling presence. Oblivious to you, it pours downstream from distant mountains, is churned up from the depths of Lake Powell before being let loose from the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam.

Above, dense clusters of stars in the Milky Way begin to fade to pinpricks of light. Bats flit and dive around the feathery branches of a tamarisk, feasting on midges and flies. At first they are just shapes in the moonlight. As the sky brightens, they continue filling up before returning to their roosts in crevices in the soaring cliffs. Even when the sky turns blue and clouds become streaked with pink, they linger.

Yellow flowers that look like four-o’clocks cling to the rocky shore, still folded in sleep. The river begins to lighten, shimmering silver, not waking exactly, but turning to a new day in its timeless journey. Just as it has for millions of years.

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.