Poetry Friday: The Roundup is Here!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Find our more about Poetry Friday in this post by Renée LaTulippe here.)

When our world came screeching to a halt last March, my local indie bookstore, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, soon reopened for phone orders and curbside pickup. I was happy to keep them busy. But I was even happier when they reopened for in-person (with masks, plenty of hand sanitizer, and social distancing, of course) shopping. On my first trip, I found this book on the display table in the children’s section.

I have been a fan of Emily Winfield Martin’s work since I first discovered it several years ago. To have a whole book of her fanciful, dream-like images felt like a gift. The fact that there were “little scraps of larger stories” included with each image was an added bonus.

Since I brought The Imaginaries home, I have delved deep into the images and the ideas and feelings they stir in me. They have inspired quite a few poems, and I can’t wait to share Winfield-Martin’s paintings and words with my students. Here is one of my favorite images from the book and the poem it inspired.

“She never told anyone what she saw at the edge of the world.” Emily Winfield Martin

“The Edge of the World”

At the edge of the world
rocks rise from the fathomless
blue-green sea
spangled with starfish
forming countless constellations
that glimmer in the sun.

Explorers, untethered
from home, follow
limitless wonderings
to this far horizon,
braving perilous shoals
searching for secret songs
and untold stories
seeking unimaginable creatures,
discovering this truth:

Here there be mermaids.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

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Poetry Friday: The Comet

For the past week or so, I’ve appreciated being distracted by Comet Neowise. I was lucky to see our latest celestial visitor with and without binoculars one night last week, but because of the weather, I haven’t been able to spot it since then. Many friends have shared their pictures though, so I feel like I’ve gotten my fair share of sightings. How could I not be inspired to write a poem?

The Comet

A massive ball
(three miles wide!)
of ice and dust
sailing through
the solar system,
pulled by gravity,
warmed by the sun,
is suddenly a
a cosmic exclamation mark,
a reminder to look up,
to be dazzled,
to dream.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

Comet Neowise over Caliente, CA by Jason Hullinger / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia

Please be sure to visit my poetry pal, Margaret Simon, at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson

It no longer seems appropriate to say, “What a week!” It seems that every single day brings some new mind-boggling occurrence. This week, at least, the bad news has been balanced by two momentous Supreme Court decisions. Still, my heart hurts for our entire country. Recently, The New York Times acknowledged the power of poetry to bring us “solace, strength, and power” by asking many prominent poets, including Kwame Alexander, Joy Harjo, and Arthur Sze, what poets and poetry they have turned to during these tumultuous days. I read many of the poems recommended, thinking I would find some to share with the my middle school students. As I read, a link to Marilyn Nelson’s poetry came up. Marilyn Nelson, former Poet Laureate of Connecticut, is the author of many powerful books of poetry for young people and has long been a favorite of mine. This poem is from Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color (WordSong, 2007), which she co-authored with Elizabeth Alexander.

Canterbury, CT 1833-1834


for Ruben Ahoueya

Today in America people were bought and sold:
five hundred for a “likely Negro wench.”
If someone at auction is worth her weight in gold,
how much would she be worth by pound? By ounce?
If I owned an unimaginable quantity of wealth,
could I buy an iota of myself?
How would I know which part belonged to me?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Amira Abdel-Aal and Shawna Coppola led a session on The Ed Collaborative this spring about ways to maximize student engagement with their writing. One of their suggestions was to share “provocations,” rather than prompts. They suggested that provocations are intended to “provoke thoughts, discussions,and questions.” This poem will do all of that and more.

Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Finding Light with Nikki Grimes

At NCTE last November, I had the pleasure of sitting with Nikki Grimes at her table at the Children’s Book Award Luncheon. Everyone at the table received a copy of her extraordinary verse memoir, Ordinary Hazards (WordSong, 2019). I have long been a fan of Nikki’s poetry, but reading the story of her childhood and teen years left me with a deeper admiration for Nikki.

Recently, Irene Latham announced that she wanted to celebrate Nikki Grimes when she hosted Poetry Friday today. Irene said,

Nikki has won all kinds of awards lately, and due to covid, there haven’t been in-person events, so this gives us all an opportunity to say:

I knew immediately that I wanted to write a Golden Shovel to honor Nikki. This is a form Nikki made popular through her stunning book, One Last Word, using the words and “wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance” for her strike lines. Nikki’s poetry abounds with gorgeous language and words of wisdom, but I thought these lines, from the end of Ordinary Hazards, would speak to us all during our troubled times.

Thank you, Nikki Grimes, for sharing your light with us. And thank you, Irene, for hosting today’s celebration of this amazing woman.

Poetry Friday: Farewell to My Students

What to say this week? My heart hurts. The images of pain and anguish are unbearable. But we must bear them. So much has been lost. We must acknowledge this loss and take steps to repair the damage inflicted by events of the past week. Make that events of the past four centuries.

I was filled with thoughts of all this loss as I searched for a way into the challenge Heidi Mordhorst set for our Sunday Night Swaggers this month. Heidi’s original challenge was to write a poem of farewell to our students, but she then encouraged us to say goodbye to whatever we needed to. In spite of, or perhaps because of, what has unfolded in our country this week, I do want to say this to my students.

Lost & Found

By the beginning of June,
the lost and found bins
are overflowing
with coats
and sweatshirts
and lunchboxes.

But this year,
those bins aren’t as full.
This year,
we lost
of time together.

As we tiptoe cautiously
into summer,
these are my hopes
for you:

Lose your Google password.
Go outside.
Find a patch of grass.
Lie down.
Look up.
Find a cloud shaped
like a cat,
or an elephant,
or a whale.

Lose the unfinished homework.
Find a book that pulls you in.
Read for hour,
after hour,
after hour.

Lose your sorrow
over missed parties
and games.
Find joy
chasing butterflies,
blowing bubbles,
eating ice cream.

Never lose your memories
of our time together.

I will never lose
my memories of you.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Fellow Swagger Margaret Simon is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Reflections on the Teche. Read what she’s saying goodbye to there, then visit our partners in poetry to read more poems of farewell.

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe

Poetry Friday: “How to walk around the block” by Michael Salinger

When school closed in March, there were no answers to a million questions. We had no idea how long school would be closed. No idea if distance learning was possible. And if it was, who knew what it would look like. There was one thing I did know: I needed my most trusted books and resources with me at home. One of the first books I put pulled off my shelf was Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genresby Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I know most people in the Poetry Friday community are familiar with this book (and many have their own poems published in its pages), but if you don’t know this book, do yourself a favor and order it today.

Just as I suspected, I have turned to Amy’s gentle wisdom about writing many times over the past ten weeks. Recently, as the weather has turned from a cold, dreary spring into glorious summer-like days, cabin fever has started to set in. I could sense a restlessness in my students (and in myself, for that matter). They needed an adventure.

Amy’s book is full of poems to inspire and strengthen student writing. In it, I found the perfect poem to launch my would-be travelers on an exploration of their neighborhood in Michael Salinger‘s poem, “How to walk around the block.” Michael’s poem invites readers to see their neighborhood, and themselves, with fresh eyes. My student’s couldn’t wait to go for a walk around their block to find what awaited them out there.

“How to walk around the block”
by Michael Salinger

Wear shoes.
If they have laces, make sure they are tied.
Pick a direction and go.
Double foot hop
over sidewalk cracks,
then stop and pick up a rock.
No snooping in your neighbor’s mailbox
(You’ll get in trouble if you get caught.)
Woof bark woof bark woof bark woof;
ask before you pet that dog.
That stick could use a new location.
where you started is your destination.
‘Cause ’round the block
is a circle
(even if it’s really a square).
Arriving back at your front door,
you’ll be a different person
when you get home.

© 2018, shared with permission of the author

Many of you have also been writing #PoemsofPresence this month. Using Michael’s poem to encourage my students to find their own #PoemsofPresence fills me with hope as we head into a summer filled with unknowns. I hope we all can see the coming months as a time of discovery. Discoveries about our block, our neighbors, and most importantly, ourselves.

Thank you to Michael Salinger for allowing me to share his poem, and thank you to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for her wonderful book. Please be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Reading Year for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

One of my recent discoveries on my block.
a hawk feather on the path
reminds me
I’m not the only one
who calls this place home.

Poetry Friday: Poems of Presence

I’ve been writing Poems of Presence along with several other Poetry Friday pals over the past few weeks. These haven’t been quite as stressful as my April poetry project, and I’ve started to view finding a topic for each day’s poem as if it’s a scavenger hunt. I suppose that is what all idea generation is, really. As often happens with me, my ideas get ahead of my and I run out of time. Hence this late post with no new poem. Instead, two #PoemsofPresence from earlier this week.

Unaware of social distancing,
a bobcat strides past my kitchen window.
I gasp at his presence.
He gazes up, blinks,
then continues on his way.
I am still at the sink,
my heart racing in awe.

This isn’t this week’s bobcat, but this photo was taken from my kitchen window.

fallen petals
mingle with snowflakes.
It’s hard to tell where
winter ends
and spring begins.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: A Note from the Landlord

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another Sunday Night Swagger Challenge. This month, Molly Hogan challenged us to write an epistolary poem. Earlier this week, I discovered Audubon Alaska’s National Poetry Month Bird Poetry Corner, which had a different prompt for each week of the month. The final challenge was to

imagine nature coming indoors: Perhaps a thunderstorm in the attic? A flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the kitchen?

A few years ago, starlings built a nest in our bathroom vent, so I decided to combine these two challenges and write those squatters a note.

To the starlings nesting in the attic:

I kept telling my husband to fix that loose vent cover.
Of course he didn’t. Then you moved in
and it was too late.
You worked hard scavenging grass
and pine needles for your nest.
I’m sure you’re all warm and cozy up there,
right above the shower.

How many nestlings do you have?
Sometimes I can hear them cheeping,
begging for a meal. 

Did you set up housekeeping in the rafters
or in a box of old clothes? I’ve been tempted
to climb up the rickety stairs to peek,
but I don’t want to disturb you.
Please try not to make too much of a mess.
I’ll clean everything up after your babies
have fledged.
Don’t get too comfortable, though. Before
next spring, that vent will be repaired!

Your landlord

Please be sure to visit Elizabeth Steinglass for this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup! Also, find out who my fellow swaggers wrote to at their blogs:

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

Praise Song for the Natural World

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, it’s time to put the month in perspective (my OWL for 2020). Twenty-four poems in thirty days is short of my goal of posting a poem every day. BUT, it is more than I have ever managed in April. I’m not going to bore you with reasons or rationales for why I didn’t post everyday; you know them all. What I will say is that even on days I didn’t post, I was writing, reading, thinking, observing. In other words, I was being a writer. I have learned much during this month of writing that I will strive to carry forward. Thank you to everyone who followed along on my meanderings. And congratulations to everyone who completed 30 poems in 30 days. I admire your perseverance!

This poem was inspired by and is modeled after Elizabeth Alexander’s stunning “Praise Song for the Day,” which she read at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

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


Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 29: A Flamboyance of Flamingos
April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Flamboyance of Flamingos

One of the challenges posed by Audubon Alaska for its month-long Bird Poetry Corner was to write an ekphrastic poem. They provided a photograph to use as inspiration, but I recently saw this video of flamingos let loose in the Denver Zoo and knew a flamingo poem was about to take flight. Watching this video was also inspiring. Audubon did paint this stunning, if somewhat stern looking, flamingo:


John James Audubon, 1838

A flamboyance of flamingos
march in formation
like an army of wind-up tin soldiers.
As they parade, heads are bobbing
up and down
on sinuous necks,
pivoting from side to side
seeking their one true love.

Suddenly, their wings rise,
And a multitude of roses
burst into bloom.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail