Silent Poetry

Fridays in April: Reserved for Poetry

It's April . . . National Poetry Month.  
And you know what that means.  
Every year in April, I share some of my favorite poems and favorite poets on Fridays.  

I also encourage you to give poetry a try.  

I know many of us had rotten poetry teachers in school, which got us off on the wrong foot with poetry.  We didn't get it.  No one could explain it to us.  We felt like freaks if we DID happen to like it.  We were made to memorize poems we hated and thought were gross.  It was a "unit" in a literature course that only lasted 2 weeks, and we were happy to have behind us.  

That kind of thing.

But my guess is your rotten poetry teachers never shared the right poems.  The ones that did resonate with us.  Poems like this one . . . 

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A Jar of Buttons
by Ted Kooser

This is a core sample
from the floor of the Sea of Mending,

a cylinder packed with shells
that over many years

sank through fathoms of shirts –
pearl buttons, blue buttons –

and settled together
beneath waves of perseverance,

an ocean upon which
generations of women set forth,

under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side

on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.


Ted Kooser is a poet from the American Midwest best known for his accessible, conversational style of writing.  While his poetry is rooted in the Great Plains of the United States, his poems resonate universally - grounded as they are in humanity.  He served as Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress from 2004 - 2006, and is currently a Presidential Professor of Poetry at the University of Nebraska.  Ted Kooser also writes children's books.  You can find out more about him here.


The annual Poem-in-Your-Pocket day is Thursday, April 18 this year.  Think about sharing YOUR favorite poem with your friends that day.


The poem Jar of Buttons is from Delights & Shadows, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2004.  Poem copyright Ted Kooser.

Your Life is Your Life

(With special thanks today to Juliann . . . for hosting a monthly one-little-word check in over on her blog . . . . and for keeping the conversation going all year long.)

your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
    --- Charles Bukowski, the laughing heart


It turns out this is the perfect word for me . . . right now, this year.
I'm having a great time exploring and thinking and connecting with my word.


Three months into 2019, where has intention pulled me?

  • I've been doing a lot of thinking about why I do what I do.  (Knitting, for example.)
  • I've become much more aware of "Future Kym."  (Like . . . how she's not a stranger at all, and how I ought be making more of my decisions with her in mind.)
  • I'm discovering that wellness (in a holistic sense) is key to "living my best life."  (For the rest of my life.)

I've also begun compiling an "intention journal" filled with quotes and images and ideas that resonate with me as I explore my word.  This month, I added 3 poems.  This one, by Charles Bukowski, particularly fits my word . . . for me.


the laughing heart. charles bukowski

your life is your life
don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the odds will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.


How about YOU?  What are you learning about your word this year?  I'd love to hear about it.



Oh.  Mary.  You always had the words for me.
Thank you.


In Blackwater Woods
   --- Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrances of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sometimes Mondays

. . . call out for poetry.


Starlings in Winter
 --- Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

They are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one strippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, than can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard.  I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.



Hungry Dogs

As I write this blog post this morning, my dogs are looking at me with the mournful eyes.

For they are very hungry.

S-t-a-r-v-i-n-g, in fact.

And I am not feeding them.


Because this diva . . . 


is scheduled for some rather serious surgery in a couple of hours.  (Please send the good juju.  She is 11, and we'd like to keep her around a while longer.)

My hungry dogs remind me of this perfect Mary Oliver poem, from her Dog Songs book.

The Wicked Smile
by Mary Oliver

"Please, please, I think I haven't eaten
for days."

What?  Ricky, you had a huge supper.

"I did? My stomach doesn't remember.
Oh, I think I'm fading away.  Please
make me breakfast and I'll tell you 
something you don't know."

He ate rapidly.

Okay, I said  What were you going to
tell me?

He smiled the wicked smile.  "Before we
came over, Anne already gave me my breakfast,"
he said.

Be prepared.  A dog is adorable and noble.
A dog is true and loving friend.  A dog
is also a hedonist.

A Three on Thursday Poem in Your Pocket Mash Up

What I like about Poem in Your Pocket day is that it encourages people to just . . . share a poem.  


Although I won't actually be carrying a poem around in my pocket today - or standing on a street corner (or in the locker room at the gym) reciting poetry from memory, I will be looking for opportunities to share poetry today.   Here are three easy things you can do to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket day:

  1. Add a short poem to your email footer.
  2. Post lines from your favorite poem on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest.
  3. Send a favorite poem to a friend.


Here's the poem in my pocket today . . . 


Mind Body Problem
by Katha Pollitt

When I think of my youth I feel sorry not for myself
but for my body.  It was so direct
and simple, so rational in its desires,
wanting to be touched the way an otter
loves water, the way a giraffe
wants to amble the edge of the forest, nuzzling
the tender leaves at the tips of the trees.  It seems
unfair, somehow, that my body had to suffer
because I, by which I mean my mind, was saddled
with certain unfortunate high-minded romantic notions
that made me tyrannize and patronize it
like a cruel medieval baron, or an ambitious
English-professor husband ashamed of his wife --
her love of sad movies, her budget casseroles
and regional vowels.  Perhaps
my body would have liked to make some of our dates,
to come home at four in the morning and answer my scowl
with "None of your business!"  Perhaps
it would have liked more presents:  silks, mascaras.
If we had had a more democratic arrangement
we might have come, despite our different backgrounds,
to a grudging respect for each other, like Tony Curtis
and Sidney Poitier handcuffed together
instead of the current curious shift of power
in which I feel I am being reluctantly
dragged along by my body as though by some
swift and powerful dog.  How eagerly
it plunges ahead, not stopping for anything,
as though it knows exactly where we are going.


To learn more about poet and essayist Katha Pollitt, and to sample some of her work, click here.


Be sure to check out other Three on Thursday posts over at Carole's today.


Fridays are for Poetry

"Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood."
                                --- T.S. Eliot


I am a reader of poetry.  Always have been.  I collect poems.  I seek out new poets.  I keep my poetry books on a special shelf in my library.  They are the words I go to when there are no words.

But when I tell other people that, they tend to look at me funny.  Like . . . poetry?  Really?  And so I don't always tell people.

For me, though, there is power in poetry.  Big magic.  Even before we understand it.  

by 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?
Learn more about the poet Elizabeth Alexander and her work here.
And remember, next Thursday - April 26, is Poem in Your Pocket day.  Carry a poem in YOUR pocket that day.  Share it with someone else.  And maybe join me in posting it on your blog.

Fridays are for Poetry

"We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention."
                                                                    ---Mark Strand


One of the things I like most about poetry is its ability to translate that simple paying attention to daily life . . . into language.  For me, poetry is really is about this translation.  
Poetry makes the personal . . . universal.  
The mundane . . . meaningful.  
The traumatic . . . divine.

I have always loved the poetry of Nikki Giovanni.  She writes of the most elemental human longings and concerns . . . and makes them fresh, new, relatable.  For all of us.  She is a master of translation.  

Here is one of my favorites.

by Nikki Giovanni

if i can’t do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don’t want
to do

it’s not the same thing
but it’s the best i can

if i can’t have
what i want … then
my job is to want
what i’ve got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

since i can’t go
where i need
to go … then i must … go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn’t lateral

when i can’t express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal

i know
but that’s why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry


Click here to read more about Nikki Giovanni and sample her poetry.
Remember, April is National Poetry Month.  Join me here each Friday in April for more poetry.

Fridays Are For Poetry

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."
                                                                                    --- Robert Frost

In my corner of the world, April is usually a dreary month.  I know the calendar says it's spring, and I know there are blooms happening in other parts of the country (because I've seen your pictures) . . . but here in Michigan, we remain winter-weary.   Sure.  We've got robins.  And we've had snowdrops and crocus.  Daffodils are beginning to pop up; even some early tulips.  But those are just little teases of what will come, eventually.  Right now there is snow on the ground again.  And it is cold.  And grey.  And not very spring-like at all.

Not much to love about April, really.  Not here, at least.  It's a month that seems like it should be something that it's just not.

So I'm particularly pleased that April brings me something else to celebrate (while I wait for those bursting buds and blue sky blooms and . . . heck, temperatures above the freezing mark) . . . 


Yes!  April is National Poetry Month -- a month set aside to acknowledge and celebrate poetry's importance in our culture and our lives.  There are many goals of National Poetry Month (highlighting the legacy and contributions of poets, supporting the teaching of poetry, and encouraging the distribution and publication of poetry books, for example), but I can most easily embrace the goal of encouraging the reading of poems.

Each Friday during April, I'll be writing a little bit about poetry -- and then I'll share a favorite poem with you.  I hope maybe you'll join in, too.  Especially on Poem in Your Pocket Day (which is April 26 this year). 

May poetry bloom all month long (and maybe some flowers, too).


Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Learn about Derek Walcott and sample more of his poetry here.

A Silent Poetry Reading

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, February 2 was Silent Poetry Day in blog-land.  Various bloggers would post their favorite poems, and it was all quite lovely.  It doesn't seem to be A Thing any longer, but the date sticks in my head.  

So here is a poem for you.  Because it's a Friday.  And still winter.  And February 2 used to be Silent Poetry Day.  

And because we can all use more poetry in our lives, y'know?


This Much I Do Remember
Billy Collins

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of your shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the ways stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row, 
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from the millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kindgom
that we pace through every day.


I hope you find some poetry in your life today!