I’ve run out of words.
Fortunately, there’s poetry.
Poetry Friday today is hosted by Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Thank you, Sylvia.
Country of Freedom
Country of freedom, be free in thy heart:
Free from the shackles of poisoning pride,
Free from the liar’s contemptible art,
Free from allurements that tempt thee aside,
Free from the crafty and treacherous guide,
Free from the ravening greed of the mart,
Free from the snares that in opulence hide, —
Country of freedom be free in thy heart.
— Amos Russel Wells (1863-1933)
This is going to be a year absolutely packed with literature.
It’s going to be a year of taking risks with writing, including no longer dipping a toe into fantasy and fairy tales, but diving in, and also… taking my poetry writing seriously. I’m not fond of calling myself a writer, much less a poet… somehow the idea of A Poet seems much more deep and knowledgeable and serious than my iamb-counting, form-conforming, rule-bound, doggerel scribbling self. How do people become poets, anyway? In the same way that we become writers – by doing the thing, I’m told. So, I will be doing the thing, taking serious study with a textbook and instructors and all, and with scheduled practice time.
It’s… a little terrifying, honestly. But, it’s also very hopeful and anticipatory – much like the 365 neat, blank squares marching importantly through our calendars. So many things cluster close to our imaginations, tugging on our fine hairs, breathing into our ears, “Maybe this year! Maybe this year!”
Well? Maybe it is all going to happen this year. But, how will we find out if we don’t start?
Poetry Friday is hosted by Ruth, all the way from Haiti, at There Is No Such Thing As A God-Forsaken Town. Have a lovely, restful weekend – because Monday’s the day we jump in and make it all happen!
I know that the title to this poem specifies that these are exercises for a nature writer, but I think they’re worth being revisited in this liminal space at the New Year. Dress for the weather. Ruminate. Hold your boundaries and walk your fence lines. Work through what is troubling you through serving something else. Make space for life to slip through.
I don’t bother with many things – making resolutions being one of them, as it tends to be about making myself “better” based on a set of external guidelines rather than the interior work of self-investment which pays dividends that the world cannot always see. Yes, one could always make better habits, take up decluttering, eat more veg, or lose a pound or two, perhaps, but I categorically refuse to allow that to be your business when it’s my own, and certainly not during the month of January when people demanding others change are most obstreperous and vocal. I believe it a useful exercise to anticipate growth – not to pretzel oneself into growing into the expectations of others’ – so I will set my mind on that tomorrow, perhaps. However you complete this page of the calendar, I hope you do it warmly ensconced and centered in your own heart. Happy New Year.
I loved history in school – it seemed an endlessly wonderful story of All These People doing All These Interesting Things! My sophomore year in high school, however, Dave Reedy was my teacher. Mr. Reedy was (IS) a hippie who was caustic about the government, outspoken about “History Is Written By The Winner” and made us students realize – way back even in the mid/late eighties – that what we were being taught wasn’t exactly inclusive, thus it wasn’t wholly factual. It was from Mr. Reedy that I learned to engage history critically, to think of it with my whole mind and not just passively accept what the text said.
Thus, it was from Mr. Reedy I learned that I Would Not Want To Visit History. History has a smell that is stomach turning, and a texture that would make me want to wash my hands – repeatedly. History has soap that is made of lye and tallow, and not much else. History’s water is cold, unless I boil it over an open flame. Dry skin, toasted front and frozen back, scratchy wool and fleas – I’m…certain I’d want to avoid History at all costs.
…Which is why it’s so funny to me that our last Poetry Peeps prompt of the year is mine (also the date was wrong further indication of my involvement): Theme is Wish I’d Been There, or an historical event that incites wistfulness. Wistfulness! But, do I really wish I’d been there?
love lies lying
“I wish I’d been there,”
The kindest sort of falsehoods
told by introverts,
the chronically booked, and those
sparing of tender feelings.
not to mention the lack of modern dentistry
Nits, pease porridge, fleas
Creaky whalebone, bloomers, wigs –
Tanners, tallow, smoke and coal –
Grimed with sweaty industry, the
Grubby march of history.
Um… no. No, I don’t wish I’d been there. But, it’s nice to pretend I bound into adventure, unbothered by oh, slavery, bug bites, rodents of plague-passing sizes, stepping unshod (or shod, for that matter), in scat, or eating dubious food like lark’s tongues or tripe. It’s nice to imagine, but let’s be real: I only wish I’d been there because the outfits look so interesting in paintings and pictures. Oh, well.
If you’d like to see what the other wistful Poetry Peeps poetry closes out the year, Kelly is back with a wistful haiku. Laura is here, while Tricia is here. Sara is here, and Cousin Mary Lee is here. Stay tuned for more Poetry Peeps checking in throughout the day. Poetry Friday today is ably hosted by the poet Irene Latham – thanks Irene! Happy Christmas, if you celebrate! Warm hearths, cozy reading nooks, and historically anachronistic comforts to you.
Thankfully, we made it! November has been a CHALLENGING month, but here we are, at the finish line of the final Friday, well-rested (in theory), full of leftovers (hopefully) and ready to celebrate the season with some more poetry.
Our theme this month was the last of our hindsight/foresight poems where we were meant to either revise an older poem, or respond to one, and …well. I tried really hard to actually write something to theme AND something positive and hindsight-y at the same time. I wholly missed the theme, but you’ll have to judge how well I did with the rest. I find that this year it has been ESPECIALLY hard to keep an upbeat tone when looking back – I can look back and see so many mistakes! – but I’m still standing. We’re still here. That’s worth gratitude, is it not?
So, as this bittersweet celebration weekend continues, I’m looking back over 2020, and remembering how it all began…
new year’s eve
the neighborhood awash in crashing booms
(we midnight sleepers sighing at the sound)
a new year – 2020 – on the loom
as Fate took a fresh thread and looped it ’round
the strutting idiot frets into the light
and bloviates while Nero’s fiddles play
“If we had known” and knowing that first night,
What act could change the outcome of today?
for here we stand – in ashes of the blaze
so many gone and countless lost to fear
not helpless – science battles this malaise
hold fast to faith – that we will persevere.
Gathered apart, our courage battle-scarred
With hard-won grace, with hope our honor guard.
Writing this Thanksgiving morning, I’ve been texting back and forth with my sisters, getting snaps of what they’re cooking, a bittersweet echo of our usual tradition. Thanksgiving has always been THE Davis Family holiday. We don’t really bother with any other holiday the same way the whole year ’round. And yet, a holiday, which we’ve been socialized to believe is about family and gratitude, has dark, bloodstained roots in normalizing indigenous genocide, pain and loss – which is obviously not to be celebrated. And yet – joy is a defiance of tragedy and days of peace and rest must be taken where they can be found. Every year we seek out more ways to bring this into balance – a history of tragedy and a present of loss, offset by family feasting. It’s a process, to be sure. May you, as you navigate what celebration, and what this particular celebration means to you and yours, find a way to put out the joy into the world that it needs while doing the right your heart – and this world – needs as well.
Want more poetry? Check out how Laura’s looking back. Sara’s wordsmithing is here, and here’s Liz’s. Find Michelle’s poem here, find Carol’s here, and here’s Tricia, too. Stay tuned for more Poetry Peeps checking in with their links. Meanwhile, Poetry Friday is hosted today at Carol’s Corner – with gratitude to book-talker and teacher, Carol!
HAPPY OCTOBER’S END!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s the time of vivid skies and shaded leaves and the sharpest fading of the light, leading to long-blooming mornings and gray blue twilight that snuffs out sharply into deepest dark. It’s the time of low fogs and high winds and swirling leaves caught up and crunching underfoot… and being tracked into the house… starting off the cycle of more vacuuming and dusting and sweeping and giant spiders from who knows where just SHOWING UP and taking over your house, and also, who invited all the earwigs this year!?!?
Right. Wonderful. We were focusing on WONDERFUL.
No matter the pumpkin spiced nonsense that comes with, Autumn is A Good Time, and it seems we Poetry Peeps decided, in our infinite 2019 wisdom, that October was going to be a good time to explore a new type of poetry – new to me, at least. The name naani is a word in a Dravidian language of the ethno-linguistic Indian people of Telugu, who live predominantly in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh. Naani sounds playful and brief, and I like the idea of a poem whose name is defined as, and which addresses “of one and all.” That means our random meanderings are welcome here – as long as we keep them from 20 to 25 syllables. This is an accessible form for most of my Poetry Peeps – check out what Liz did with it. Laura‘s is here. Tricia‘s is here, Michelle’s naani is here, and Sara’s is here, and here’s Elle’s Poetry Peeps debut. Stay tuned for more links here as other Poetry Peeps check in.
Unlike the haiku form, this poetry isn’t going to be necessarily nature-inspired, but it’s more a poetry form for what catch-all topics cross the mind – housekeeping. Earwigs. Moods. In my case this month it’s …mail. Specifically, junk mail. Political mail. I’m quite ready to be done with it.
pen pal’s promise
(longer letter later) keeps me
through ads, bills & junk
hope holds on
slick-bright pages loud
with entreaty: see me! believe me!
unheeding, I file.
(Yes, that title and last line work together to create a pun on “circular file.” You’re welcome.)
In this neighborhood we have teensy tiny porch mailboxes, the flat kind with the little lid, which means there’s limited space in there for nonsense, and each day this week the box has been simply crammed. Between the door-to-door candidates who just slip something under the door mat, and the newspaper inserts and the mail, there’s so much paper trash, all of it yammering at me for my attention and my vote. 100% of it goes into the recycle bin, 99% of it without even meeting my eyes. Surely there’s a better use of politicians’ time? I know there’s certainly a better use of MINE – not to mention our poor mail carrier’s!
But, we’re nearly there, my friends. In just days the time changes, the election will finally be over, and we’ll be free to actually enjoy these blustery autumn days – light our candles instead of just leaving them to look pretty on the hearth, drink our tea, instead of just getting it as gifts, to take the moment we’re in and fully inhabit it for joy, before the next round of minor irritations and major worries gather to bracket our days. Breathe. Be.
Even more poetry today is brought to you by Linda at Teacher Dance, who is helpfully hosting our Poetry Friday with memories of Halloween past.
So much has weighed so heavily this month that the word ‘ponderous,’ which was intended as a sort of light-hearted take on feeling dragged low by the end of summertime has a much, much greater weight to it now.
There’s much, as always, for which to be grateful – for today, the air is clear, the fires are closer to reaching containment, there’s been minimal damage from any earthquakes, and while we’ve lost our Justice, a new one hasn’t been forced upon us just yet. Just for a moment, let’s take a hard turn away from the ponderous news cycle and our very literal feelings of heaviness, and concentrate on something happier… like hippos.
Of the Poetry Peeps, Laura’s usually the animal poem person, but I have had a soft heart toward hippos since seeing Disney’s Fantasia as a kid. I always cheer on the underdog, and Hyacinth Hippo was …meant to be comedic, in her ungainly grace, with her less than sylph-like size – but just like the ostriches who began the dance, she was also earnestly, beautifully dancing her best.
When Fiona, the hippo born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, became a YouTube star, I think everyone’s love of hippos skyrocketed. Fiona is adorably full of personality, and her fans find hippos just the sweetest, hugest, splooshiest… water cows, ever. (The Afrikaans word for hippo is seekoei, which literally means sea cow… which makes sense, if their closest relative is the whale.) And, finally, I have to love hippos because I was leaping around, pretend ballet-dancing after school when I was about ten, and got called a hippo, because …Middle School.
Y’know, not everyone is a graceful seahorse. We sea cows may as well own it.
Never cutting through the river
like an arrow, swift and clean –
Never poised and leaping lightly,
Not a sylph-like figurine.
Comical with weighty wallow,
In a pod they’re called a …BLOAT!
River horse, cow of the water
Always barrel-shaped and ponderous
but their bite can snap canoes.
Always outclassed as a runner –
(Those jaws need no running shoes.)
Munching eighty pounds of grasses,
They cause crocs to think again
Confidence their superpower,
Hail the whale’s more deadly kin.
(I couldn’t decide if the last lines should be, They make crocodiles think twice/Though they’re graceful in the water/Mess with them, and pay the price, but I like both conclusions equally: the hippo is the deadliest land-animal in Africa, and we should be so lucky to be called a hippo.)
Want to see what our other Poetry Peeps have done this week? Liz was relieved to write about hippos instead of, say, the presidency. Tricia’s pondering hippos, while Laura’s are stepping high. Ponder Sara’s wordplay here. Check out Carol’s seaside poem here, and Cousin Mary Lee is exploring ponderous thoughts here. Stay tuned as other poets check in with their hippo-ponderous poetry throughout the day.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone McCulloch’s blog, where we’re invited to be both brave and mathematical. Thanks, Jone!
The finalists for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature are:
・Laurie Halse Anderson
・Linda Sue Park
・Cynthia Leitich Smith
The 2021 prizewinner will be announced on Oct. 20, the second night of the 2020 Neustadt Festival, which runs Oct. 19–21. Though traditionally, this Festival is held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, this year, you’re invited to join us online! Hope to see you there!
– Aurora Levins Morales
Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,
when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning
and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.
imagine winning. This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine
every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets
in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never
unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know
that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman
wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones,
nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.
When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children