Be the Flower

This has been a heartbreaking week, a gut-wrenching month: senseless violence in Buffalo and Uvalde.  Teenage gunmen destroyed lives while people shopped at a grocery store and children and teachers were busy in their classrooms teaching and learning. The rage in the minds of these individuals is unfathomable to me.  And though this blog is about literature, art, and education, I cannot let this week go by without addressing the terrible loss and helplessness I feel due to this horrific tragedy.  There must be solutions: stiffer gun control regulations, better mental health care, and stronger protection for our school and public spaces.  This saddens me deeply. What is happening to humanity?  Are we all to live locked away in our private residences with limited social contact?  What will happen to us then? As these thoughts buzzed around my mind this week, I turned to nature, as I always do, for solace – for an answer.

Connection to nature, I believe, is a source for hope, well-being and mental health.  This spring has been filled with flowers.  There are flowers blooming around our school campus,  flowering trees in my yard, and a plethora of flowers casting their spell over many local gardens.  I pass by wild irises on the roadside, their purple tongues dotted with raindrops.  I concentrate on their color and form. I wonder at such beauty, such grace, such an exquisite being, and I want to transform myself into that flower.  I want to grow where I’m planted, feel the soil beneath my feet, spread roots, shoot up tall, and blossom. 

When I began my teaching career, I worked with preschool children.  We spent much of our time outdoors in both good and inclement weather.  The children dug in the garden and were surprised when they pulled up carrots and radishes, believing there was magic in the soil.  They loved to weed, water, and harvest.  They felt control and accomplishment.  Flowers served as a respite for us, a signal to stop and take in beauty, to breathe.  The children would gather small bouquets for me of dandelions, clover, and buttercups. They would string flowers in each other’s hair and make magic potions from the bits of vegetation they collected.  Life outside was a necessary part of their growth and development.

I remember a time, when one girl brought me a lovely red tulip.  She had dissected it, separating its stem, leaves, petals and stamen.  There were tears in her eyes as she held out her hands to me, “Put it back together,” she commanded.  I looked at the flower and wondered, at first, how I could reassemble it for her.  I took the pieces from her hands and placed them on the ground making a tulip mosaic.  I knew this was not what my student had in mind.  She thought I could mend it completely and make it whole again. When I explained to her that it couldn’t be brought back to life, she cried, and I consoled her. She learned that the flower was a delicate and fragile thing, something to care for, something to admire and cherish.  And maybe flowers are part of the answer.  They have been powerfully and wonderfully made. They are a gift from God to humanity to give us strength and make us resilient.

As often happens, a book popped out a me from our school library shelf wanting to be read.  It was a new Caldecott Honor medalist, Have You Ever Seen a Flower?  by Shawn Harris.  It is brilliantly illustrated using simple tools: pencil and colored pencil. It is childlike and surprisingly powerful in its simplicity.  The girl in the story asks the reader to really think about flowers: look deeply, take in their smells, watch them with a microscopic wonder.  Watch them so closely that you can imagine what it feels like to be a flower: to grow roots, take in water, and bloom. The book reminds us to use the flower like a resource – to grow, thrive, and blossom.  Flowers help us reflect, turn inward, and respect life.

I went searching for solace this week.  I went hunting for answers.  I found them in the form of flowers and poetry. Once destroyed, lives cannot be put back together.  Some things cannot be made whole again. But I believe that the solution for violence must be in a turn towards nature, towards beauty, towards the preciousness of life.  Consider the flower.

May Posies

Early spring showers have turned the landscape green with dots of pinks, yellows, and lavenders.  My corner of the world is alive with flowers, and I am immersing myself in their glory and hopefulness.  This year more than any other I need flowers and the promise of spring.  I need something to celebrate.  I am in search for beauty.

I am ever grateful to the flowers of Moggy Bottom.  It is my secret garden in close proximity to where I live.  I saunter down its gravel paths and savor the colorful sights and fragrant smells.  Walking there reassures me that spring is surely here, and summer is on the horizon.  It will be soon time for my yearly respite from school.  And though I love teaching and learning, I am in much need for a hiatus from busy. 

When I was a child, I loved preparing impromptu spring bouquets for my mother.  I’d gather them from the wildflowers that grew on the hill at the side of our home: black-eyed Susan, sweat pea, daisies, cornflowers, and buttercups.  I’d gather them in simple arrangements in jam jars or wrapped in damp paper towels tied with string.  I can still see their colors, smell their perfume, feel the calm their beauty brought to me.

Lately, I have been reading about Emily Dickinson’s life of poetry and gardening.  I hadn’t realized that the Belle of Amherst was an ardent and accomplished gardener.  Re-reading her poems, I recognize how integral a role flowers played in Dickinson’s experience of the world around her.  The garden was a metaphor for life and its complexities. She delved in deeply as a gardener would: tending plants, encouraging growth, and intimately noticing the shift of seasons. 

I wanted to delve deeply this week, focus on the flowers of Moggy Hollow, listen to what they were saying, and find a way to express what I was feeling.  I created a posy of flowers to share: trillium, lily of the valley, magnolia – delicate and fleeting like this time in spring when the first flowers bloom and then give way to summer’s abundance.

Happy Haiku to You!

It’s spring.  The first graders are trying their hand at poetry.  They scribble and draw and make images – some silly, some that will take your breath away.  That is the beauty of first graders – the child-mind at work not afraid of making mistakes.  They are intrepid and curious.  I was so excited when their teacher invited me to “teach” haiku to them.  I put teach in quotation marks because the first graders really taught me more about how they construct language than I really taught them.  Their exuberance led the way.  It energized me and made me see things anew.  Isn’t that what poetry and haiku are all about?

At first, I asked the first graders what they knew about haiku. Lots of hands went up: it’s a little poem; it has three lines; it has a pattern with 5-7- syllables.  They had been working all week learning and writing haiku. Next, we talked about how haiku is a Japanese form of poetry usually about nature.  Then, I told them about Basho, a famous Japanese poet and shared some of his poems.

Then,  I read Basho and the River Stones by Tim Myers. The story is about how the fox tricked Basho by giving him three pieces of gold for a cherry tree, but the gold turns into three stones.  Basho out-foxes the fox, because he cares most about nature and poetry.  It’s a great read aloud.  It is a good story to use to introduce haiku. 

After reading the story,  we wrote some group haikus.  First, we listed some natural things we could write a haiku about: seashells, stones, bunnies, flowers, sunshine, rain, etc. Then we made a list of how these things makes us feel: happy, sad, lonely, friendly, curious, excited. I read some of my haiku to them and we counted syllables to make sure I was keeping the haiku form.

Finally, the students got busy writing their own haikus.  They were ready to go.  No one hesitated. They took up their pencils and began to create. It is so gratifying to see how these are able to stretch words out, count syllables and think about meaning and emotion. The haiku form helps them keep focused and since it is short, it is easy for them to write two or three poems in one workshop session.

The best part for me is that I get to witness our students grow as readers and writers. By the time students get to 5th grade, they are putting it all together and coming up with a haiku in three stanzas. This writer lacked confidence when she was a young writer, and now you can see in her composition how far she has come.  Haiku is a celebration not only of nature but of growth and possibility.

April Poem #24: My Garden of Eden

My inspiration for “My Garden of Eden” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Jessica Shernburn, a high school English teach who lives in Chicago, Illinois.  Jessica suggested that we look at text annotations for inspiration.  Could there be beauty and poetry in annotations?

I fell in love with annotation when I taught Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I poured over its book of annotations – like secrets held only for me.  I loved sharing tidbits I had learned with my students, and they began seeing annotation as a treasure hunt. Annotation is, indeed, the key to reading deeply and mindfully.

I am currently reading, French Dirt by Richard Goodman and I have been marveling at his turn of phrase, the words he chooses to describe his year as a gardener in France – how he wrangles and wrestles the earth to create something beautiful.  I have re-arranged some of his words that I had underlined, wanting to hold them in my mind and heart.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #21: April Remembers

There is something bittersweet about April. Maybe it is because it is my birthday month that I feel this way. My birthday comes at the beginning of the month, and then towards the end of the month, I feel a deep longing. I don’t want April to depart. I want to keep its spring-freshness and cleansing showers. Then I remember that May is coming and with it, the respite of summer. And May means flowers, and that makes all the difference!

My inspiration for “April Remembers” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Leilya Pitre, who teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University and coordinates the English Education Program. Leilya invited participants to go for a walk to our place of comfort and write a poem about our experiences. She used “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost as inspiration. These Frost lines stood out to me:

 By picking the faded blue

Of the last remaining aster flower

     To carry again to you.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022
April Remembers

The flower does not forget
How to blossom.
One green moment
Small and slow.

The moon remembers
To rise above the mountain.
A long, lone breath
Spinning in the silence.

April unfolds to May,
My hand opens to yours,
Your hand embraces mine.
Together we walk towards
Interminable spring.

April Poem #19: How to be a Sand Dollar

During my recent March Spring Break, I journeyed to South Carolina. On that visit, I made the acquaintance of a purse of sand dollars. I had never seen them as living creatures enjoying a day in the ocean surf. I was totally mesmerized by them, and I wrote about the experience here.

That was such a wondrous day. Their Christian symbolism captured my attention, and I found myself often returning to the moment I happened upon them at the beach. I knew they weren’t done with me, and I was not done with them. What amazing creatures!

When I turned to Verse-Love, Ethical ELA today, I found the perfect prompt for a poem about sand dollars. Sheri Vasinda, who teaches literacy education at Oklahoma State University, suggested a prompt inspired by Barry Lane. It is from his book, Reviser’s Toolbox. That book was like a Bible to me when I taught 3rd grade. I’m not sure how this prompt escaped my attention until now. Barry suggests writing a “How to be” poem. This topic caught my imagination. I had to think for quite a while. Then I remembered the sand dollars, and I was on that beach in South Carolina once again!

Books By Barry Lane

  • 51 Wacky We-Search Reports
  • After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision
  • But How Do You Teach Writing?
  • Discovering the Writer Within
  • Reviser’s Toolbox
  • The Healing Pen
  • Why We Must Run with Scissors
  • Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery

April Poem #16: Wood Songs

I live at the edge of a woods and often hike the fields, hills, and woodlands of my surrounding countryside.  One would think I live in a rural, bucolic place but I live in bustling New Jersey, not know for its pastoral qualities even though it’s called  “The Garden State.” It seems a sort of joke, but New Jersey has varied beauty from its Atlantic coastline to its western hills and farmland. Most of my inspiration comes from this terrain that I know so well.  And even though I know the woods, the hills, the coastline, the land often surprises me.  There is always a gift to uncover.  The woodland is where I find solitude, where my thoughts keep cadence with my footsteps, where I can go to unpuzzle the world and find peace.

My inspiration for “Every Bend” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Cara Fortey, who suggested to write in a modern Tanka-style as modeled by poet and UCLA professor, Harryette Mullen.

I also received inspiration  for “The Only Proof” from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Their 16th writing prompt was inspired by the curtal sonnet – “Pied Beauty” by  Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I did not write in the curtal sonnet form, but I endeavored to create the same tone in my poem as in Hopkins’.  The ever-changing nature of the woods is something that comforts, astounds, and leads me towards acceptance.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #13: Memory of Spring

Spring is for the birds! I am so grateful I live just on the edge of a large woods.  A wild assortment of fox, deer, raccoons, possum, groundhogs, even the occasional coyote, have frequented the woods and fields that are my backyard.  However, it is the birds to whom I have developed a deep and lasting bond.  The songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors all living under one glorious roof. 

Observing the small birds like the juncos, chickadees, and sparrows, I wonder at their tenacity.  Such small and fragile things, yet they weather winter snows, spring rainstorms, summer heat, and fierce fall winds.  Where do they find their strength?  Are they indeed angels with beaks and feathers? I witnessed one young sparrow, who could easily fit in the palm of my hand, sit under my azaleas waiting for a spring torrent to dissipate. She was patient and mindful.  She didn’t seem to fret and took her situation in stride.  As I watched her, I was conscious of the lesson I could learn from her: slow down, find strength from within, liberate myself from worry, and fly free.

My inspiration for “Memory of Spring” comes from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Today,  the writing prompt was to write about good fortune and possibility. And I also received inspiration from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Stacey L. Joy, a poet and National Board-Certified Teacher, suggested we write about joy and liberation.

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April Poem #12: Good News & Brighter Days

I am in the need of good news.  I am thirsty for happy possibility. So much information now is negative: COVID, a multitude of possible diseases, racial unrest, economic downturns, and violent crimes.  Oh, and did I mention war? Our beautiful world is marred by war.  Humans are committing atrocities towards each other. Unspeakable tragedies happen every day. It is enough to make one weep uncontrollably. To keep myself afloat, I have made a conscious effort to turn towards hope.

I have been listening “Brighter Days” by Blessing Offor, who is an amazing singer.  His personal story is truly inspiring.  I am in awe of how he was able to take his tragedy and transform it into a life of faith and hope. I find myself singing his song while doing the dishes, while walking, and I turn it on just before bedtime.  We all need brighter days, healing words, and good news.

My inspiration for “Good News” comes from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Today,  the writing prompt was to write about something small. And I also received inspiration from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Susie Morice, an English language literacy, gifted education, and leadership specialist, suggested we turn to the news for poetic inspiration.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #10: Love is Love

Today, my sixty-sixth birthday, I have been tasked to write about love. It is a good and solid subject. I know a thing or two about love. Or at least I think I do. I have poured out cups and cups of love to both the deserving and underserving. When love was new, I jumped in head-over-heels, mesmerized and awe-struck. My heart knew no bounds. I look back at that time in wonder. I was so completely trusting, so completely willing to take a chance. That is the beauty of young love.

It took me decades to learn self-love. I am still learning to care for myself, to cherish who I have been, who I am, and am becoming. This way of thinking is new to me and expansive. I don’t have to be one singular, solitary being. I am ever-changing, and in my metamorphoses, I am becoming beautiful. At sixty-six, this is no small feat. So I celebrate this day with a love poem. The tenth day of April – spring love is in the air; it abounds and abides.

My inspiration for “Love is Love” comes from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. NaPoWriMo. Today, they suggested writing a love poem. I also received inspiration from Sarah J. Donovan’s site, Verse-Love, Ethical ELA. Today’s prompt comes from Margaret Simon, teacher and poet from New Iberia, Louisiana, who suggested writing a definito, a definition-based poem. I was struck by Nikki Grime’s poems and structured my poem about love in a similar way.




© Joanne L. Emery, 2022
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