Silent Poetry

Still Looking, Always Looking

Last fall, I blogged quite a bit about how I was looking for hope. And then the new year arrived, and I just sort of . . . stopped. Not the looking. Just the blogging about it. It wasn't because I'd FOUND hope, really. (Although things were beginning to feel a little more hopeful back then, with a new president and vaccines on the horizon, y'know?) It was more that blogging about my search was hard, and I was ready to stop talking about it.

But I'm actually always . . . 

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And I'm feeling like talking about it again. So I'll probably blog about it now and then, going forward. Not on any kind of regular schedule. But every once in a while, I'll share my thoughts.

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History says
Don’t hope on this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
    ---- Seamus Heaney

Lately, I've been feeling a bit . . . off. Not terrible. But also not great. Feeling stuck in an endless loop, and wondering how any of THIS (defined any way you'd like) will End Up. And I know I'm not the only one. Some of you have blogged about feeling this way. My in-real-life friends are talking about it, too. And so is my family.

I think . . . it's These Times.

I mean, we're 18 months into this Covid mess. And the country seems to be . . . well, let's just say . . .  stretched. And it feels like kindness and care and concern have disappeared. And then there's the climate. And . . . ohmygod how can this even BE? 

It's a lot.
Y'know?

Lately, I've been thinking about History.
And my Grandmother.

Even though there has been a lot of History (with a capital H) that has happened since I was born in 1959, it's all seemed kind of distant to me somehow. None of the history-making things of my lifetime have felt all that . . . personal for me. They didn't impact my day-to-day life, for example. They didn't direct what I could or couldn't do or where I could go. Everything kept rolling along . . .  same as it ever was, and I never felt threatened (for lack of a better word) or worried about the future. Even though History was happening all the time, I could still pretty much depend that the future structure of my life would hold.

But now? Well, somehow the future doesn't feel so dependable or seem guaranteed in that same kind of way. And that really does suck the hope right out of the room, doesn't it?

On that cheery note, let's step back and talk about my grandmother for a minute.

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My grandmother was born in 1909, and she died just over 100 years later in 2009. Which means she saw a lot of History in her long life, and she lived through a LOT of crises. I mean, think about it . . .  

  • She was a child during World War I.
  • And during the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  • As a young wife and mother, she experienced the Great Depression. On a dairy farm.
  • And in her 30s, she went through World War II separated from her husband for years -- while raising 2 young children. (On a dairy farm).

My grandmother lived through some SERIOUS history.

And somehow, until recently, it never occurred to me to consider what it might have been like for her to live through SO MANY major crises of history -- ALL of them pretty darn personal. During those crises, she woke up every day not knowing how [fill-in-the-blank: WWI, Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, WWII . . . ] would end. She didn't know how any of these stories would turn out while she was living them -- and they really did impact her on daily basis. Restrictions. Rations. Loss. Personal risk. What kept her moving forward? What gave her hope . . . when all of these things were happening during her early life. It must have felt pretty bleak. 

I never really thought about how significant these events would have been for her. First of all, because she never spoke of them. But I think the big thing was that, of course . . . I already KNEW the outcomes! I knew what happened: that the Spanish Flu ended and the Great Depression ended and World War II ended . . . with Victory. So it was easy for me to minimize the reality of how it must have been for her, living through the uncertainty. But my grandmother didn't know. And she got through all it anyway! She must have felt pretty crappy while any of these things were going on all around her. And yet . . . she managed through it. She must have had some hope, and a lot of resilience.

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Hope and History.

I think it's hard for us to have hope right now . . . because we don't know the ending of this history we're living through. We don't know what will happen or how things will turn out. And we aren't terribly patient about it either. So it's all this . . . unnerving uncertainty. . .  that's sucking the hope from our lives.

But maybe we can look to the past . . . to see how resilient - as a people - we have been. And how we can be now.

Yes. Things ARE bleak at the moment.
It doesn't feel good.
We don't know any of the endings to our current storylines.
It's unsettling, and uncertainty is never easy.

But History - and my grandmother - show me that we are resilient, and that somehow we find ways to get through whatever History we need to get through. It may not feel comfortable, but we can do it. I think, maybe, that hope and history DO rhyme.

And that's where I'm finding hope today.

==

(Speaking of rhyming . . . let's have a poem, shall we? Because if this isn't a poem of hope, I don't know what is.)

In Any Event
Dorianne Laux

If we are fractured
we are fractured
like stars
bred to shine
in every direction,
through any dimension,
billions of years
since and hence.

I shall not lament
the human, not yet.
There is something
more to come, our hearts
a gold mine
not yet plumbed,
an uncharted sea.

Nothing is gone forever.
If we came from dust
and will return to dust
then we can find our way
into anything.

What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now, 
in advance.

==

Today's poem was selected for inclusion in How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews, Storey Publishing, 2021. Click here for more information about the poet, Dorianne Laux.

 

 

 

 

 


UP-rooted: A One Little Word Update

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Well.

This has been a very one-little-word-ish month for me. Not only was Ali Edwards' August prompt (about the stories we tell ourselves) inspirational and challenging to play with, but my own little health-crisis turned me rather upside-down besides.

I was . . . UP-rooted, you might say.

I'm actually still sifting through the fallout of a very thoughtful month. (You can bet there will be more later.) For now, I'll share a glimpse of my Root journal. And share the poem that's been a companion for me all month long.

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The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac (Part 3)
Mary Oliver

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you're in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it's happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform 
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

==

Mary Oliver, “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” from Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Mary Oliver.


Blasting You With Poetry: Week 4

Welcome to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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(This week, a view from my desk. Because it is too discouraging out in the garden right now . . . with all the frost-kill and all.)

“I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.”
—Billy Collins

Although my mom read me the standard children's poetry available in the 1960s, it was mostly of the Nursery Rhyme and Robert Louis Stevenson variety (Shel Silverstein's Cracks in the Sidewalk - which really changed the landscape for poetry-directed-at-children - wasn't published until 1974). My mom wasn't a fan of poetry. She thought it needed to rhyme, that it needed to be taken seriously, and that it wasn't for "regular people." Like us.

Then, in third grade, I had Mrs. Hermann as my teacher. She turned my world upside down when it came to poetry!

Kym Grade 3

(Third grade me.)

Mrs. Hermann loved poetry, and she found poetry in everything.  We had poetry in the classroom almost every day. We memorized poems and recited them, which most kids hate -- but Mrs. Hermann made it fun. She showed us that poems could be serious or funny - or sometimes both at the same time. She introduced limericks and haiku. She shared nonsense poems like The Jabberwock and had us create an entire "zoo" of the creatures we imagined in the poem. We wrote poems for her -- that didn't ever have to rhyme, although they certainly could. She taught us that songs (like "Waltzing Matilda," which we sang on the regular and with gusto) were poems, that stories were poems, that poetry was everywhere. And that it was most definitely for "regular people." Like us.

(I often wonder about the rest of the kids in my third grade class. I wonder how many of them, like me, still love poetry. I wonder if any of them actually became poets. I'm betting . . . the percentage is higher-than-average.)

Anyway. Mrs. Hermann made poetry accessible to us as children. She knew that the way to a child's heart . . . was through silliness, (age-appropriate) humor, and fun. I believe that the best way to get people who "hate poetry" to actually pay attention and listen to poetry - to make it accessible to them - is much the same: silliness, humor, and fun. (What poetry-hating adult doesn't appreciate silly limericks, for example?)

And when it comes to making poetry accessible for the masses (for all of us "regular people"), I think no one does it better than Billy Collins. His poetry is serious. It covers serious themes and universal truths and all that "poetry stuff." But he always gets there with cleverness. With humor. With a bit of the silly thrown in to make you smile . . . in that very knowing kind of way.

This week, Bonny, Kat, Sarah, and I are sharing the "fun stuff" -- poems that are silly or clever; poems that are easily accessible and that "regular people" can "get." Mine, as you might have guessed, is by Billy Collins. (And I think my mom would have loved this one.)

Enjoy!

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The Lanyard
Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them, 
but that did not keep me from crossing 
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift -- not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother, 
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

==

Today's poem was originally published in Billy Collins' collection The Trouble With Poetry, 2005, but can also be found in Aimless Love: New and Collected Poems by Billy Collins, 2013, Random House. For more information about the poet, check out his entry at Poets.org

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry about spring, new beginnings, and renewal today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

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For a real treat, here is Billy Collins reading The Lanyard. Worth a watch/listen!

 


Blasting You With Poetry: Week 3

Welcome to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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"You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the spring from coming."
        ---Pablo Neruda

I love watching spring . . . unfold . . . in my garden. It's like a miracle every single day out there! I mean, one minute everything is totally bleak and colorless and cold and bare, and the next? Hellebores are popping up (through the snow, even) to say "hey!" It really is poetry . . . happening right before your eyes.

During the long winter, sometimes it's hard to remember that spring is going to come back again. 
But it does.
Every year!
It gives me hope. It renews my spirit. It fills me with the good stuff again!

Have I ever told you about my larch tree? (Some of you might be more familiar with its other name . . . tamarack.) I bought it at the Master Gardener plant sale one May, many years ago now, to plant next to the little pond Brian and Tom were putting in for me at the time. The little larch was about 18" tall, and I thought it would look very nice next to my new pond. I didn't know much about larches at that point, but I've learned a lot about them since!

Like . . . that they can grow to be over 120 feet tall! 
(And mine is on the way. . . )

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You can see it out my living room window there . . .on the left.

Originally, I meant for it to cast a little shade over my pond. I really had no idea it would get as big as it did (is). I also had no idea it would make such a pretty picture out my big window! Guests to our house (y'know . . . back when we had those) always assume I created that space with the pond and the larch on purpose -- to be viewed from my living room. I'd like to take credit, but it was pure serendipity.

Larches are conifers. But they're an unusual kind of conifer: they're deciduous! That means . . . their needles (which are very soft) turn a brilliant gold in the fall, and then fall off. Leaving a very dead-looking tree in the landscape. (Another thing I didn't know when I planted it.)

Here is my (absolutely stunning) larch in the fall . . . 

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and here it is, weeks later, when all the needles fall off and it looks like a giant Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

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Every year, about now - and especially that first year, I start to worry about whether or not my larch will come back. It always seems to be so dead-looking for so long. But then . . . overnight (seriously) . . . spring comes again for my larch, and the green needles pop out again! 

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(That's looking out my window yesterday morning.)

My larch is a visible reminder for me . . . of new beginnings. Of starting again. Of renewal!
Poetry, I tell you!
It's everywhere in my garden.
For me, nothing brings a sense of beginining again . . . like spring.

==

A Purification
Wendell Berry

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

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Today's poem can be found in New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry, 2012, Counterpoint. For more information about the poet, check out his entry at Poets.org

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry about spring, new beginnings, and renewal today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

 


Blasting You With Poetry: Week 2

Welcome back to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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"Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language."
        -- Lucille Clifton

When we started talking about how we'd celebrate National Poetry Month on our blogs, Bonny, Kat, and I (and now Sarah has joined us, too!) thought it might be fun if, one week, we all focused on a specific poet. After a bit of thought and some back-and-forth emails, we decided that we wanted to bring you the work of a poet that might be somewhat less familiar to you. We decided on Elizabeth Alexander.

I was first introduced to Elizabeth Alexander when she presented her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama's first inauguration in 2009. You can watch her recite the poem below, or if you'd like to read it, you can find it here on the Poetry Foundation website.

[In last night's version of this post, I had conveniently embedded the YouTube clip of Elizabeth Alexander reading her poem at the inauguration. But in my ongoing - and growing - frustration with my blog platform host, TypePad, it will not work this morning, and in fact, caused formatting issues with this post that made me need to . . . start over. Not a fun way to begin the morning. I hates the TypePad. Anyway, if you'd like to see the clip - which is quite wonderful, click here to watch it on YouTube. My apologies.]

After the inauguration, I sought out more of her poetry, and started collecting a few of her books for my little library shelves.  Several years later, I read her wonderful memoir, The Light of the World (which is the most beautiful and moving memoir I have ever read; it's so much more than a memoir -- it's . . . well . . .  pure poetry) (as you might expect). 

Bonny has written a terrific background piece on Elizabeth Alexander today, so be sure to check out her post. You can also read more about Elizabeth Alexander's background, accomplishments, and current work on her website. She has a fascinating story, and I hope our posts today encourage you to learn more about her - and to delve deeper into her poetry. Her words are always deep, evocative, and powerful.

The poem I chose to share with you today is one of those poems where the poet talks about what poetry IS. (I'm always drawn to poems . . . poets write . . . about poetry.)

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Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'"),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

==

Today's poem can be found in Crave Abundance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 by Elizabeth Alexander, 2010, Graywolf Press. 

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry by Elizabeth Alexander today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

 


Blasting You With Poetry

Welcome, friends . . . to April -- and National Poetry Month!

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Each April, for many years now, I have celebrated National Poetry Month here on my blog.  In the past, I've shared tips on how to enjoy the month, and links to interesting poets I think you might enjoy, a story here and there, and poems, of course. But mostly . . . it's all been an opportunity for me share my love of poetry. And maybe . . . to get you to love it, too.

This year, I asked Bonny and Kat if they might like to join forces with me for the month . . . so we could coordinate our poetry posts and, well . . . blast you with poetry! Join us on our blogs each Thursday this month as we celebrate National Poetry Month.

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“But it isn't easy,' said Pooh. 'Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Today, I thought I'd share my little home poetry library with you, and just explain a little about . . . how I read poetry (which I do, every day). Because I think, for a lot of people, that poetry is kind of . . . overwhelming, maybe even intimidating, and certainly never something they would just . . . read. For enjoyment and fun. And, heck. How do you even go about . . . just reading it?

Well. I would posit that . . . you need to do exactly what Pooh suggests in the quote I shared today: go where it can find you! And for me, that's usually in a book  . . . that I just grab off the shelf.

When I was a little girl, I didn't own very many books -- but the ones I did own were very special to me. I usually got one hardcover book as a present on my birthday and maybe another at Christmas, and I always got to order a couple of paperbacks from Scholastic Books when ordering time came around at school. (I think the first time I actually entered a book store . . . was in college!) I had a little shelf right above the desk in my room, and that's where I kept my books. Back then, I dreamed of having a house with a library of my own! Shelves and shelves of books!

When we moved into the house we live in now, my dream finally came true.

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I DO have a library of my own now. (And I have to be very careful to keep my "book inventory" in check. There is plenty of room on our shelves, but we've learned to be very judicious about the books we own. It's so easy to get carried away. The books on our shelves are books that are special to us -- or books that are especially useful.

My "poetry collection" lives in the two shelves just below the wooden shoes (they were a gift to Tom when he gave a talk at Hope College many years ago), over there in the second group of shelves from the right. Here's a close up . . . 

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It's not a huge collection, but it is carefully curated. I have a few digital books of poetry on my iPad as well, but I much prefer to read poetry in actual, real-book form. 

The location of my poetry collection within the library shelves is very . . . intentional. You might not be able to tell from the photos, but my poetry books are exactly at my eye level. I can just wander over to the shelves and . . . pick out a book. Easy-peasy. And, actually, that's how I read poetry (for the most part). I wander over, I choose a book (most often just randomly, although sometimes with a poet in mind), and then I sit and read for awhile. Usually just a poem or two, but I've been known to get lost in poetry for awhile, too.

I've discovered that the book almost always falls open to the exact poem that suits my mood. It's an amazing thing, actually, and I've learned to just trust it. I rarely read a book of poetry from beginning to end, all in one sitting. It does happen, of course. Especially if it's a book of poetry arranged around a theme. Or a new collection. Or something I've borrowed from the library. But I mostly just read in little bits and bobs, here and there, poking around and letting the magic of poetry take over.

I like poetry best when I can sit with it for awhile . . . with a lot of space around the words.

This month, I invite you to Be Like Pooh. Put yourself in a place where poetry can find you!

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Here's a favorite poem . . . one that I read the other morning . . . when the book just opened up to the very page . . . 

Let Evening Come
Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go back inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

==

Today's poem comes from Jane Kenyon: Collected Poems, 2005, Graywolf Press. You can find out more about Jane Kenyon and read more of her poems here, at the Poetry Foundation.

Be sure to visit Bonny and Kat today, too. We really do want to blast you with poetry!

 


Welcoming Spring

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox. To celebrate, I have some magical flowers and a sweet little poem for you. (The flowers are an early variety of crocus, and they pop up all over in my garden -- WAY ahead of the more usual crocus varieties. Truly magical -- but very short-lived.)

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Two Sewing
by Hazel Hall

The Wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh, the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two three.

Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting colour from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.

==

I hope you can get outside to greet the Spring tomorrow . . . wherever you are.

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The poem, Two Sewing, is in the public domain. You can learn a little more about the author, Hazel Hall, here.


Beginning With Poetry

Happy New Year!

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I'm choosing to begin this new year . . . with poetry.

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To the New Year
by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

==

May this new year be full of possibility and hope for us all!

Today's poem is one I read every New Year's Day. You may see it around quite a lot today, because really . . . could there be a more perfect poem to welcome the new year? It's worth reading (and sharing) over and over again.

W. S. Merwin, “To the New Year” from Present Company (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by W. S. Merwin.

You can learn more about the poet and find links so some of his other poems here.

 


A Week of Gratitude: Thursday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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Today I share with you a poem by Joy Harjo, the current Poet Laureate of the United States. If you're not familiar with Joy Harjo, please do learn more about her (you can click here for a start) and immerse yourself in her words, in her experience.

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For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet
Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth
gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars' ears and
back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were
a dream planting itself precisely within your parents' desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the
guardians who have known you before time, who will be
there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there
without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people
who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought
down upon them.

Don't worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises,
interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and
those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few
years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and
leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the
thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning
by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders,
your heart all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your
ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our
direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take
many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or
ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and
creases of shame, judgement, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return
in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be 
happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and
given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who 
loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no
place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way
through the dark.

==

Today's poem was published in Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems, Joy Harjo, 2015, W.W. Norton & Company.

 

 


Keep Moving

All week long, I look for . . . 

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And then on Fridays? I report back!

==

A while back now, a couple of years ago or so (still deep in the Before Times, for sure), I stumbled onto Maggie Smith's Instagram feed. Every day back then, she was posting a short inspirational "reminder" to herself to . . . keep moving. It turns out she was going through a divorce, and her life was in total upheaval and nothing felt right for her anymore. So she started writing notes to herself each day (she calls them affirmations, encouragements, self-directives, goals) and posting them on social media. The words at the end of each of these notes to herself? Keep Moving.

I looked forward to seeing Maggie's daily posts. Her "notes-to-self" were much more than advice to someone grieving a marriage and trying to figure out how to keep moving through that slog. Her notes were absolutely universal -- encouraging anyone, all of us, to keep moving whenever we are stuck or alone or worn out or going through our own transformations. (And this was back in the Before Times! Remember . . . we used to feel stuck even before the pandemic.) (I forget this sometimes.)

I started taking screen shots of Maggie's Instagram posts to save for myself. I created a little "album" in my phone to store them, so I could dip in and re-read them for a little shot of inspiration whenever I needed one. I shared a lot of them with my daughter, who was working through something at the time. I shared them with friends. And then the pandemic came, and Maggie's notes took on a whole new level of meaning and motivation for me, as I really needed a reminder to . . . keep moving.

I planned to create some sort of journal or "book" for myself full of Maggie's reminders, eventually. But then . . . I didn't have to!

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Because Maggie's daily notes became so universally inspirational (turns out I wasn't the only one screen-shotting them every day), she was ultimately able to collect them up and publish them in a book!

The book - Keep Moving - came out earlier this month, a couple of weeks ago. It's the kind of book that you can sit down and read in one sitting (if you have an hour). It's also the kind of book you can just . . . open up randomly and find a just-right inspiration for that moment (which is how I usually read poetry books, by the way).

Keep Moving . . . is all about hope! There is hope on every single page! Here is what Maggie has to say about hope in one of her opening essays . . . 

"I began writing a goal for myself each day, even when I was struggling and optimism felt less than natural. What kept me going was the idea that hope begets hope, and that practicing hope and courage on a daily basis might help me arrive at that better place. Yes, there is an element of fake it until you make it to being hopeful in a time of crisis. But why not? Perhaps when we try hope on for size, it may not fit at first -- it may hang on us, several sizes too big -- but if we keep wearing it, we will grow into it."
--- Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

Hope begets hope.

Fake it until you make it.

If we keep wearing it, we will grow into it.

Yes. That's it, really, isn't it? Do you want to peek inside with me?

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Here are some concluding words about hope from Maggie in one of her final essays . . . 

"Today I think of myself as a 'recovering pessimist.' I know that optimism is not at odds with wisdom. It's quite the opposite. I think of cynicism as cool but lazy, while hope is desperately uncool -- it has sweaty palms and an earnest smile on its face. What I know to be true is that one hopeful person will accomplish more than a hundred cynics. Why? Because the hopeful person will try."
--- Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

In these disturbing days, let's not give up on hope, my friends.

Let's even be desperately uncool about it.
Faking it until we make it.

Keep moving!

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.)

And - hey! You don't think I could leave this post without sharing a Maggie Smith poem, do you???

==

FUTURE

What is the future?

Everything that hasn't happened yet, the future
is tomorrow and next year and when you're old
but also in a minute or two, when I'm through
answering. The future is nothing I imagined
as a child: no jet packs, no conveyor-belt sidewalks,
no bell-jarred cities at the bottom of the sea.
The trick of the future is that it's empty,
a cup before you pour the water. The future
is a waiting cup, and for all it knows, you'll fill it
with milk instead. You're thirsty. Every minute
carries you forward, conveys you, into a space
you fill. I mean the future will be full of you.
It's one step beyond the step you're taking now.
What you'll say next until you say it.

Maggie Smith

==

Today's poem was published in Good Bones by Maggie Smith, 2017, Tupelo Press. (It also appears in Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, 2020, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Information about the poet can be found here