*Afterthought #66 – Poetry as Pause

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Poet Shannon Perry

As July comes to a close, I continue to seek rest when I can. Poetry often offers respite, even when it spurs me to act. I found such rest—and prodding—through a poem by Shannon Perry in the current issue of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. Here’s how it begins:

 

On Trump’s Election

by Shannon Perry

If I encounter knife-edged voices
I will remember cool water running
in a strong stream
I will let the water be my voice.

SRYou can read the entire poem here: http://sharkreef.org/poetry/on-trumps-election/

What poems allow you to pause?

 

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

A Call to Right

A plastic bag dangled from the door of our mailbox, a thin cardboard box raincoated against the drizzly, winter day. Suspecting the box contained a book I’d ordered, but not remembering which title I was awaiting, I walked briskly home, my yellow lab changing his trot to a sprint to keep up with me.

bookWhen I freed the box from the bag and tore it open, a thin, green volume slid out—Kim Stafford’s latest collection, The Flavor of Unity: Post-Election Poems. kimThe son of poet William Stafford, Kim greets the dawn each day as his father did, “writing the date, a few sentences about the previous day, then an ‘aphorism’ (a thought, a pattern observed, an idea…), and then a poem, half a poem, or notes for a poem.” While some of this writing eventually ends up as published poems, Kim finds that, “mostly, this custom allows me simply to settle my spiritual accounts for the day, and then to proceed with some modest added clarity to thread the needle of modern life by taking action.”

Like many of us, Kim especially sought clarity in the days following the 2016 election. So he leaned on his daily practice to consider a path toward healing the schisms that only deepened after the divisive election season. These considerations led to thirty poems about the work we all have to do if we’re “to be one people again.” The book’s title poem speaks to the source of our unity.

The Flavor of Unity
     El sabor que nos hace únicos.
                                ~ Inca Kola slogan

The flavor that makes us one cannot be bought
or sold, does not belong to a country, cannot
enrich the rich or be denied to the poor.

The flavor that makes us one emanates from the earth.
A butterfly can find it, a child in a house of grass, exiles
coming home at last to taste wind off the sea, rain
falling into the trees, mist rising from home ground.

The flavor that makes us one we must feed
to one another with songs, kind words, and
human glances across the silent square.

You can listen to Kim read this poem on a post by the PBS News Hour.

 

It’s rare for Kim to use rhyme, but in “Righter” he puts it to good use to issue a challenge—with humor.

               Righter

When things go catawampus,
when silences abound,
when nations reel from troubles
and tyranny is crowned—
by writing, be the righter,
and see what can be found
for remedy and comfort
by writing stories down
of all our old connections,
then pass your blessings round —
for people long divided,
restore our common ground.

Kim’s “Citizen of a Troubled Nation” especially spoke to my feeling called to write.

   Citizen of a Troubled Nation

Vast your calling: Serve everyone.
Small your power: One voice.
Clear your path: Honest words
Certain your days: Struggle.
Vast your purpose: Make history.
Focused your goal: A mere footnote—
                                       That sings.

Kim writes at the beginning of his book that poems from it can be reprinted at will, as long as they include this acknowledgment:

Reprinted by permission of the author from The Flavor of Unity, by Kim Stafford (Portland, Oregon: Little Infinities, 2017)  www.kim-stafford.com.

Ever since I met Kim Stafford when he was guest faculty in my writing program, I’ve adopted his morning practice (usually a good bit after dawn) to begin the day with some small bit of clarity. Here’s something close to a poem that I wrote, the morning before the presidential inauguration:

The Pen is My Tool

to build bridges,
to tear down walls
of fear and hatred,
to open doors
and hearts.

My pen is a tool
I need to sharpen
and oil and set
firmly on pages
and put into others’ hands.

I hope that Kim’s poems I’ve included here speak to you. If so, it’s likely that the other twenty-seven in the book will as well, so I encourage you to purchase a copy for yourself, and perhaps a few extras to share with others. You’ll find ordering information by searching for “The Flavor of Unity: Second Edition” at www.lulu.com. When it arrives in your mailbox, open the package, make a cup of tea, and let the flavor of unity in these words fortify you to act.

*Afterthought #55 – Listening Across Lines

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Parker Palmer

Alongside reading wisdom from early Quakers in A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr., I recently listened to the wise words of a contemporary Quaker, Parker Palmer. An educator, author, and activist, Parker participated in a conference call organized by Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) on the subject of talking across ideological lines. The call was recorded, and you can listen to it at this link: http://fcnl.org/events/call_with_parker_j_palmer/.

I’m distressed by the polarization in our country and feel at a loss about how to engage in meaningful civil discourse. Parker’s opening comments about his orientation to talking across ideological lines heartened me, and throughout the call he succinctly described some strategies. Here are a couple that especially spoke to me:

  • Drawing on David Whyte’s poem “Start Close In”, search for someone you perceive is within reach and with whom you have a relationship. Begin with sincere questions to learn that person’s story.
  • Stand and act in the “tragic gap.” The gap will never close, but act out of faithfulness, rather than concern for effectiveness.

In the coming days and weeks, I’m open to opportunities to “start close in,” listening to stories of those with differing ideas. I believe Parker’s closing assessment: “No matter who wins this election, civil discourse will be needed more than ever.” Now is the time to become more skillful at bridging ideological divides.

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

*Afterthought #50 More Mystery

Doubt. Certainty. Unanswered questions. Knowing. Faith. I’ve wrestled (still do) with them all, but the grappling is easier in the company of other seekers. Earlier this month I wrote about one of them, author Dani Shapiro. The very same day, poet friend James Scott Smith tackled the same ideas in his poem, “Mystery.” James generously agreed to my reblogging his piece.

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If you like this poem as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that James’s poetry collection, Water, Rocks and Trees, will be published this September by Homebound Publications.

 

 

 

 

Mystery

James Scott Smith

To ask

the questions

with no answers.

To learn

faith is more gut

than brains,

more moment

than memory.

To find

the lost way

of understanding

without needing

to know

I have.

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.