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.

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
astonished.”

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.

Poetry Friday: Spring Tanka

“…seek the resonance that enters a poem only when it is touched by the stillness of nature.”
~ Margarita Engle ~

Spring has finally arrived in my corner of Connecticut! The forsythia have been ablaze for the last two weeks, and greening lawns are dotted with dandelions. Everywhere you look, the world is abloom. For this final week of National Poetry Month, I decided to revisit Margarita Engle’s tanka challenge for Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s Today’s Little Ditty Challenge. Even though there is nothing still about spring, the beauty of the season resonates deep within me.

Lithe limbs arch and bend
trimmed with a thousand blossoms,
ballerinas,
graced in frilly pink tutus,
chasséing on a spring breeze.

                                   

On a southern slope,
columns of bright daffodils
raise their trumpets high
and play a rousing fanfare
heralding winter’s retreat.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Thank you, Michelle, for inviting us to your DMC Potluck this month! Be sure to visit Michelle’s to read more poetic offerings. And don’t forget to visit JoAnn Early Macken at Teaching Authors for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Song of the Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I came around the corner in my hallway and this greeted me:

“These butterflies are so beautiful!”I said to the teacher. “They deserve to have poems written about them.” She agreed and invited me into her class to help her students write butterfly poems.

Laura Shovan’s fabulous onomatopoeia lesson was a great inspiration, but I wanted to focus the kids on the movement of butterflies. I found this poem, from Nibble, Nibble by Margaret Wise Brown, to get them thinking.

“Song of the Bunnies”

Bunnies zip
And bunnies zoom
Bunnies sometimes sleep tip noon

Zoom

    Zoom

        Zoom

            Zoom

All through the afternoon

Zoom   Zoom   Zoom

This is the song of the bunnies.

After reading the poem several times, I asked the kids to close their eyes and imagine being a butterfly and think about how they would move. After a minute or two, they shared words with a partner, then we made a list. Several words from the bunny poem were shared, but they came up with great movement words, too. We brainstormed color words, adjectives, and they even came up with some similes.

Working together, we created this poem:

Butterflies float.
Butterflies glide.
Light as a feather,
blue as the sky.
Perched on a daffodil,
sipping sweet nectar.
Me, oh my!

After we were happy with the class poem, they set out to write their own butterfly poems. Some were having trouble getting started, so I suggested “Things to do if you are a butterfly…” as a prompt. (Thank you, Elaine Magliaro!)

Here are a few student poems:

If You Were a Butterfly…

If you were a butterfly, what would you do?
Would you glide like a bird,
or sail like a fly?
Or would you sip nectar,
just like a bee?

by C.B.

Butterflies

Butterflies flap,
butterflies flip,
light as a leaf,
nice and sweet,
red, blue, pink, and orange.
I love butterflies.
Do you?

by I.V.

Colorful butterflies
zip and zoom
they float and flutter
diving for food,
sipping nectar.
Mmmmmm!

by E.O.

I am a chrysalis.
I look like I’m sleeping,
but I am changing,
waiting for my wings.

by Z.J.

If you are a butterfly
you can fly high
in the sky.
You can have
colorful wings, too.
You can find a daffodil
to get nectar.
Mmmmmm.

by K.H.

Little butterflies.
Colorful butterflies,
flutter butterflies,
spying for daffodils,
feeling the wind
on its wings.
Using its proboscis.
Mmmmm.

by L.O.

Here is the door now, with all the butterflies and their poem:

 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.

Poetry Friday: Responding to Rilke

In February, I took part in Laura Shovan’s Found Poetry Project on Facebook. (Read more about this here.) Everyone agreed we wanted to continue the project with a new set of ten words each month. For April, Heather Meloche found ten words in “Early Spring” by Rainer Maria Rilke to inspire new poems.  From these words, (vanished, softness, meadows, rivulets, tendernesses, earth, subtle, risings, expression, and trees) I zeroed in on “rivulets.” Our family has been kayaking forever, and spring is a paddler’s favorite season, especially here in the Northeast. As I worked through my ideas, I realized I wanted a tighter form and that my lines were arranging themselves into tanka-like rhythms on their own. So I created a series of tanka for early spring.

Vanishing snow digs
furrows in softening earth.
Trickling toward the sea,
icy rivulets quench the
thirst of stirring roots and buds.

Joining together
in rising streams and rivers,
subtlety is lost.
A cauldron of froth and foam
bubbles up into being.

Growing impatient,
cascading over boulders,
water expresses
its overwhelming power,
sweeping away winter’s dregs.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

My son Michael, facing spring’s froth and foam.

Please be sure to visit Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads for the Poetry Friday Roundup.