How to make a grown poet cry…

I read enough these days that poetry is dying, an anachronism in the increasingly rapid digital world, destined for extinction, irrelevant to today’s world…

And then I read about 100,000 poems from 300 contemporary poets from 204 countries being dropped on London. A sky full of poems. The Chilean arts collective Casagrande has orchestrated poetry drops (poems on bookmarks) five times previously. In their experience, there has never been a need for a massive cleanup afterwards because people have picked up every poem. Cristobal Bianchi, a member of Casagrande, said, “Every time we have done this before there is not a single bookmark on the ground – people collect them all,” he said. “People fight for the poems, and it becomes a collective reading of poetry.”

And then I watch the videos here  of smiling people reaching up  to pluck poems from the air. Children gathering them by the handfuls. People reading and sharing what they’ve found. Laughing. Poems fluttering down through twilight into waiting arms.

I tell you. It’s enough to make a grown poet cry….

An axe for the frozen sea within us…

Kafka wrote, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

How many times have I been so broken open by what I’ve read that for the first time I glimpse the true root of a pain or a beauty in my life? Today, I am reading Houses Are Fields by Taije Silverman. I’ve read fewer than twenty pages and already I’ve been shaken by the sadness, compassion and beauty contained in this work.

As I approach my own poetry, I imagine taking successively finer grits of sandpaper to it – until what is left is the polished edge of an axe, at once tool and artwork. A keen edge for the frozen sea within myself, and perhaps some day, for another who yearns for open blue water.

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Confession Tuesday – the William Stafford’s birthday version

One week and one conference later…

Today was my first day at my new job as coordinator for the Friends of the Homer Library. I spent the day learning about expectations and filing systems, programs and membership, dedication and community chocolate. After work, I met with a friend to talk about a project that will result in a marriage of poetry and place, one of my favorite types of relationships. Then I drove home in an early evening so blue that I could taste it, like a slip of ice against my tongue, and behind me the sunset was peach and red streamers on the horizon.

I confess, I’m happy.

Today is William Stafford’s 98th birthday. I confess that I wish he was still around to celebrate with us in person. I return to his poetry, to the wisdom of his philosophy of writing and teaching, again and again. Happy birthday, Bill.

Three poems by William Stafford:

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

A Story That Could Be True

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by –
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”—
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”

Where We Are

Fog in the morning here
will make some of the world far away
and the near only a hint. But rain
will feel its blind progress along the valley,
tapping to convert one boulder at a time
into a glistening fact. Daylight will
love what came.
Whatever fits will be welcome, whatever
steps back in the fog will disappear
and hardly exist. You hear the river
saying a prayer for all that’s gone.

Far over the valley there is an island
for everything left; and our own island
will drift there too, unless we hold on,
unless we tap this: “Friend,
are you there? Will you touch when
you pass, like the rain?”