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

News From the Natural World: Save the Birds!

When I taught third grade, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, was one of my favorite pictures books to share with my students. They were shocked at the cruelty of birds being killed so women could have fancy hats. The book tells the story of Harriet Hemenway who, with her cousin Minna Hall, helped launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society. They were part of a larger movement that began in the late 19th century to protect birds and stop their wholesale slaughter in the name of fashion. Florence Merriam Bailey was another fierce advocate for the birds, and wrote one of the first field guides to American birds, Birds Through an Opera-Glass. This poem, which is still very much a draft, is a tribute to these determined women.

In the 1890s, feathered hats
Were all the rage.
Ladies wore them everywhere:
To parties, parks, the stage.

Some women were revolted,
They knew that it was wrong
To kill quails and loons for fashion.
Let them sing their song!

Harriet, Minna, Florence, too,
Spread word throughout the land.
Stop this ghastly craze, they cried.
Save snowy egrets! their demand.

They rallied all their friends,
They sounded the alarm.
Taking feathers to festoon your head
Does hummingbirds great harm.

Soon laws were passed and habits changed.
Flamingos and pheasants protected.
People still think birds are beautiful,
But not to be collected.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

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: Poetry Friday Edition

Welcome to the Poetry Friday edition of News From the Natural World, my National Poetry Month project. Be sure to visit my friend and critique group partner, Molly Hogan, at Nix the Comfort Zone for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Today’s poem was inspired by the photo below, taken on March 20th, just after our quarantine began. I was quite surprised to see this at the end of a driveway I pass by when I go out for a walk. I still have no idea why it was there, but I knew immediately that I had to write about it. However, finding the right form wasn’t easy.

Yesterday, poet, teacher, and mentor extraordinaire, Georgia Heard, posted this video on Facebook. The poem she shares, “Where Do I Find Poetry,” is one of my favorites. As soon as she started reading it, my mind went back to this red chair and I knew I’d found a way in. A greeting card by British artist Rachel Grant provided me with the first line. Thank you to the owner of the red chair, Georgia, and Rachel, for helping me with this poem.

The Red Chair

It begins here,
in a red chair
at the edge of a field
still wearing its stubbly
brown winter coat.

Sit. Be patient…
Watch the last bits of snow
dissolve into the quickening earth.
See grass slowly turn green
and vermilion tips of peonies
poke their heads up through
the softening ground.

Stay a while.
Soon robins will be cruising the field
searching for fat pink worms
and tufts of dried grass to line their nests. 

Feel March winds ease
into warm April breezes
that coax daffodils and dandelions
to shine like a thousand suns
under spring’s clear blue sky,
and seep into
your winter-weary soul.

It begins here.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

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: Clusters of Clover


Today’s poem was inspired by this article about clover.

across the meadow
red and white clover explodes
like supernovas
orbited by honeybees
pulled in by their sweet nectar

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Photo via Pixabay

Other “News From the Natural World” poems:

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

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Poem Farm today. Be sure to stop by for more poetry goodness.

Also, don’t forget to check in on the Progressive Poem. Matt Forrest Esenwine has today’s new line.

1 Donna Smith at Mainely Write
2 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem
3 Jone MacCulloch, deowriter
Liz Steinglass
Buffy Silverman
Kay McGriff
7 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
8 Tara Smith at Going to Walden
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme
11 Janet Fagel, hosted at Reflections on the Teche
12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
13 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
14 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
15 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
16 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
17 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
18 Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
19 Tabatha at Opposite of Indifference
20 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
21 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
22 Julieanne Harmatz at To Read, To Write, To Be
23 Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
24 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering
25 Amy at The Poem Farm
26 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work That Matters
27 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
29 Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces
30 Michelle Kogan

News From the Natural World: Apple Cake


Heidi Mordhorst is hosting the first roundup of National Poetry Month at My Juicy Little Universe. Be sure to visit her there. It’s also time for another Sunday Night Swagger challenge. Here is Heidi’s description:

Linda Mitchell of A Word Edgewise has challenged the Sunday Swaggers to participate in the poets.org #ShelterInPoems project, which asks us to “share a poem that helps to find courage, solace and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so.”

After spending time browsing through poets.org, I chose “The Wings of Daylight,” by W.S. Merwin. In lines like “what we see that one time departs untouched,” Merwin reminds us of the ephemeral nature of our days. He’s urging us to recognize these fleeting splendors, and appreciate the abundant gifts of our lives, a message made even more important during these tumultuous times. Most importantly, although this poem is filled with shadows, it begins and ends with light, which gives me hope.

The Wings of Daylight
By W.S. Merwin

Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows

Read the rest of the poem here.

Linda’s original challenge was to write a poem inspired by a hand-written recipe. To keep my News From the Natural World project going, I adapted the first two lines of Merwin’s poem as a jumping off point for a poem responding to Linda’s original challenge.

Apple Cake

Brightness reveals the splendor of everything:

Ripe apples in a bowl, washed and ready to peel
Eggs, oil, vanilla, fine, silky flour
Cinnamon, baking powder, salt

Simple ingredients,
Mixed together since the dawn of time,
Transformed by heat
into treasure.

Alchemy or chemistry?
Who’s to say?
Either way, for a moment
the shadows
are gone.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Other “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail