Poetry Friday: A Zeno Challenge

It’s the first Friday of the month, so it time for another Sunday Night Swaggers Challenge. This month, Margaret Simon challenged us to write zenos. Invented by J. Patrick Lewis, a zeno is a ten line form with a 8-4-2-1-4-2-1-4-2-1 syllable sequence an abcdefdghd rhyme scheme. Learn more about Pat and this form here. After a few false starts, I went for a walk to clear my head. As often happens, this poem was waiting for me.

Swirling, twirling like autumn leaves,
summer songbirds
flock, take
toward steamy,

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2019

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

Read more zenos by my Swagger friends on their blogs:

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

Please be sure to visit Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “Small Kindnesses”

To say that I feel bombarded and overwhelmed by the news of the past week is an understatement. But then I read poems like this, selected and shared by our brilliant Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye, in the New York Times Magazine, and I feel a little more hopeful. Because I believe this is true:

“…they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together…”

“Small Kindnesses”
by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

Read the rest here.

Photo by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: My Cabinet of Curiosities

Inspired by the Poetry Sisters, my critique group decided to set monthly challenges for one another. After much debate, we christened ourselves the Sunday Night Swaggers and premiered in August with a challenge from Heidi to write definitos, a form she invented. 

This month it was my turn to come up with the challenge. I remembered an old post from Lee Ann Spillane about a Highlights Workshop she attended with Suzanne Bloom  a few years ago. Lee Ann wrote:

“Suzanne had an assortment of mystery packed into tiny boxes: metal boxes, cardboard boxes, long boxes, jewelry boxes, cloth boxes, wooden boxes, soap boxes and small boxes. We had two questions to guide our group talk:

Who was the owner of the box?
How did what is inside the box transform him or her?”

I tried this activity with teachers at my school and it sparked many interesting conversations and inspired some amazing writing. My challenge this month was more open-ended: write a poem inspired by a box.

Since I first read Lee Ann’s post, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of boxes, with lots of help from my friend Colette, who is always on the lookout for cool stuff. I shared a photo of my boxes with my writing partners, but also encouraged everyone to pick their own box if they wanted. 

So which box did I choose? Not the one I thought I would. As you may know, we’ve been renovating our house (for way too long) and I’ve been sorting through closets and cabinets.  One day after I posed this challenge, I found an assortment of tea similar to this:

My mind immediately started racing, and my box has now been transformed into a mini cabinet of curiosities. (Read more about them here.)

Now that I had an idea, all I had to do was write the poem, right? Yeah, not so much. The start of school and an ongoing medical issue with my husband (nothing too serious, but stressful and frustrating) kept distracting me from writing this poem. 

My Cabinet of Curiosities 

This box is full of treasure
I found scattered on the ground:

A fallen feather
Fragment of forgotten flight
Now grounded.

An empty marvel
Seashell or angel wing
Who’s to say?

A butterfly
Orange, brown, and blue
Resting her wings

A baby hawk’s
Snow-blue mottled egg
Expertly unzipped.

Gum tree seed pod,
barbed, brown orb
An earth-bound star

Coins from the sea
Not silver or gold

Baubles, relics, rarities,
Each one holds a memory
carried in my heart.

Draft, © 2019, Catherine Flynn

What did my fellow swaggers come up with? Visit them to find out!

Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda at A Word Edgewise

Then don’t forget to stop by and say hello to Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Poetry Friday: Our Yard

This month’s Ditty Challenge made me smile. Jesse Anna Bornemann challenged readers of Michelle Heidenrich Barnes‘s lovely blog to

Write a poem inspired by song lyrics…Pick a Beatles song (or, if you’re not a Beatles fan, a song by your favorite band), write down as many words from the song as you can, then compose a poem that uses at least three words from your list. Don’t tell us the song that inspired your poem—see if we can guess!”

I am a huge Beatles fan, so lyrics started flowing through my mind immediately. So many tunes were tumbling around in my head, I quickly realized it would be really hard to pick a song! Another challenge that was soon apparent is that many Beatles songs are long on repetition, meaning that word choice could be limited. Then, one afternoon in the grocery store, a Beatles song began. Bingo! This was the song to use.

Repetition isn’t a technique I use often enough, so I took my inspiration a step further and used a repeating line throughout this draft.

“Our Yard”

Our yard is teeming with life.
Each evening, deer wander through,
Happy to forage on grass
And golden apples that have fallen,
A ring of sweets under the tree.

Our yard is teeming with life.
Each evening, a band of crickets
And other insects
Sing their summer song.

Each evening, a hawk
perches high in the pine tree,
waiting to spot a mouse
Running home to his burrow.

Our yard is teeming with life.

Catherine Flynn, Draft © 2019

I count eight words from the song I chose. Can you guess what it is?

The hawk on the lookout for supper.

An update: The Beatles song that inspired this poem is Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. The words from the song are: band, life, ring, sing, home, yard, happy, and golden. Thank you to Jesse and Michelle for this fun challenge!

Please be sure to visit Kathryn Apel at her blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Poetry Friday: In Memoriam

“Poetry and I fit together.
I can’t imagine being without it…
It is food and drink, it is all seasons,
it is the stuff of all existence.”
~ Lee Bennett Hopkins ~

The death of Lee Bennett Hopkins yesterday leaves a gaping hole at the heart of the children’s poetry community. Lee was a visionary. His books, both his own and the countless anthologies he edited, are treasures. Although I never met him in person, Lee has had an enormous influence on both my teaching and my writing and his work will continue to inspire students and poets for years to come.

Coincidentally, Been to Yesterdays, Lee’s 1995 autobiographical poetry collection, was on my desk this morning. After reading the sad news, I reread many of my favorites from this book, including this one. Lee did indeed make this world a whole lot brighter.


this world
a whole lot

grow up
a writer.
write about
some things
I know–

how to bunt
how to throw…

a Christmas wish
a butter dish…

a teddy bear
an empty chair…

the love I have inside


this world
a whole lot

grow up
I’ll be

by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Please be sure to visit my friend and critique group partner, Molly Hogan, at Nix the Comfort Zone for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Definitos

What is a definito, you ask? Created by our brilliant Poetry Friday host, Heidi Mordhorst, a definito is

“…a free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem.”

Heidi is a member of my fabulous critique group, The Sunday Poetry Swaggers, and she challenged us to join her this week in writing definitos. This was definitely a challenge for me! I had no trouble coming up with word possibilities, but once I’d settled on haste, well, let’s just say this poem was NOT written in haste!


Scurry, hurry
Rush, rush, rush
All the world’s a blur.

Hustle, bustle,
Race, race, race
Leave them in the dust.

Dash, dash, dash
At tip-top pace,
Not a minute to waste:

© Catherine Flynn, 2019

I wanted to play with the word placement to emphasize a sense of haste, but I was having trouble formatting in WordPress, so I created this on Canva:

Thank you to my fellow swaggers for all your help in getting this draft to where it is. Be sure to visit them for more definitos.

Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone 
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise 
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Other Poetry Friday friends have written definitos today, too. Visit Mary Lee Hahn @ A Year of Reading and Laura Purdie Salas @ Writing the World for Children to read more. After reading all these definitos, you’ll want to write a few yourself!