thoughts on singing in dark times
Thanks for this thread. Definitely hard to write at the moment,. For some reason the poem I landed with over the past week is Linda Pastan's "I am learning to abandon the world," which is actually hard and hopeful and I love her, miss her. She was local to me, and died recently. In my other life, I teach high school kids in a tough area (Freddie Grey's block) and the world's stuff just sits on them right next to their own violent experiences. One of them said yesterday, Ms. LaMay, you look like you need to take another look outside. It is beautiful out there, look at the sky. Here, I'll wash a window and you go sit and look. ..... so I did ... I guess what Maggie would call a beauty emergency. Blue sky, brilliant fall colors, but especially such a beatific gift from my student. :)
Poems do so very much for me, in times of light and in times of darkness. You are absolutely right in that they remind us of our humanity. I am grateful for what you share here, for the Brecht, for your poems, and here is what I turn to, the late great John O' Donohue's Book of Blessings and a short essay entitled, "Blessing our world now," which begins: "Sometimes when we look out, the world seems so dark. War, violence, hunger, and misery seem to abound. This makes us anxious and helpless. What can I do in my private little corner of life that could have any effect on the march of world events?...The way you look at things is not simply a private matter. Your outlook actually and concretely affects what goes on. When you give in to helplessness, you collude with despair and add to it. When you take back your power and choose to see the possibilities for healing and transformation, your creativity awakens and flows to become an active force of renewal and encouragement in the world."
My body has told me in many ways this past week that I (like so many of us right now) am holding a lot. I woke up yesterday with a piercing anxiety. I tried a number of things to curb it, but then picked up Pansy, poems by Andrea Gibson, which I just checked out from the library. I randomly (??) read "A Letter To My Dog Exploring The Human Condition" and laughed, and wept, and read it as a voice note to my daughter who is college and misses our dog more than she misses us. That poem gave me an unexpected moment of release, a feeling of being deeply seen, and an activity to get me out of my head. Not to mention a scratch session with my dog Marlo, aka Marzie, aka Marzipan, aka Sweet Baby Love of My Life. ;) That's what a poem can do.
Here are a few I turn to again and again:
The Thing Is by Ellen Bass
If You Knew by Ellen Bass
For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First Birthday by Ellen Bass
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal by Naomi Shihab Nye
The House of Belonging by David Whyte
Everything Is Waiting For You by David Whyte
Sending you love, Maggie. It's a heavy time.
I’ve made a playlist of poems, and the song I feel particularly drawn to right now is Thank You For Hearing Me (played loud to absorb the beat), the last track on Universal Mother by Sinead O’Connor.
Thank you for this. Definitely a stone for my pocket. ❤️ I really connect with this crisis-of-imagination concept. In the last few years, I’ve realized more and more how vital reclaiming my imagination is for navigating chaos--both internally and externally.
Also! I was so glad to hear you speak with Two Sylvia’s last week. I gathered many pebbles of delight and inspiration there.
Thank you. You said just what I feel. It's so hard to write and yet, we must. I find, right now, that the act of writing haikus has helped me. The counting of syllables feels like a ritual and calms me down for a bit. The haikus also force me to look and name the beauty emergencies!
Love and appreciate this. Love that your daughter was mindful and fully present when seeing the "narwhal." What a gift. During stressful times, I catch myself looking down while walking. I try to find my pace and rhythm in walking and then remember to look up, whether looking in the faces of passersby or higher to the trees and sky. Sometimes that which grounds us can be found in that which transcends us. Thank you, as always, Maggie.
Joy is an act of resistance, and poetry reminds us of our humanity: two to take to heart.
Thank you for talking about this devastation when some of us feel lost and alone with this state of the world.
I think I am always looking for comfort or answers or hope or anything in poems because several of these I love and know by heart. many I did not know, so thank you for introducing us. :-)
I would add - almost anything by Mosab Ahu Toha, but especially "My Grandfather and Home". Also, "We Love What We Have" or "Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear". (ps - if you are not already familiar with him as a poet and a person, then you are welcome. ;-) he is a great light in Gaza and the world, and I hope (and pray, but in my own way) that he survives this)
Also, to "joy as resistance" I can't help but immediately think of "Sorrow is Not My Name" by Ross Gay (which describes how I can only aspire to be) and, of course, "a Brief for the Defense" by Jack Gilbert (which I have mixed/complicated feelings about)
thank you so much for this.
I've been feeling lots of gratitude for ya'll, and other little groups of people who constantly remind me of joy, how we have to keep looking at all the good stuff too. I was really touched by all the kind feelings in this bunch of posts when I first read them last week, so here's for you. (I have no clue how this will look when copied here... it looks cool on the page with my students' help.... I am pretty hopeless with technology... )
Here, a poem (with help from my trailer school)
Something happened in the world. What it means,
I do not know. I know nothing will ever be the same
again, that is what war is, like when my mom was shot.
Traevon, 15, Baltimore, words from the trailer school
War, raw, backwards. Our thoughts blend
online on a hard day. We want to make poet’s
roughage, words to move the harshest news
through human guts, to salvage goodness,
but we are over-full with loss, fatigue, lack
of fresh ingredients. What can a poem do?
But after logging off, I’m lifted, lighter,
chest warmed like new love, deep and flirty,
though I don’t know these people.
I’m awed by the beauty of blue on my wall,
window crystals fired with sun, how -
at least for now - I un-numb, curious. This
comfort comes salty, seeing you raw as me.
But that is belonging, I am grateful, and
too for the alchemy of poems.
Is very bad the place I live people always fightin, but
I think is worst in the war kids getting bombed and all,
so all that bein said Im greatful I live here.
That be my writing today.
Meanna, 16, Baltimore, words from the trailer school
Everything everyone is sharing moves me to add to the list of luminous words, this exquisite poem by Leila Chatti:
I Went Out To Hear
The sound of quiet. The sky
deeper from the top, like tea.
In the absence
of anything else, my own
breathing became obscene.
I heard the beating
of bats’ wings before
the air troubled above
my head, turned to look
and saw them gone.
On the surface of the black
lake, a swan and the moon
still. I knew this was
a perfect moment.
Which would only hurt me
to remember and never
live again. My God. How lucky to have lived
a life I would die for.
I have written two poems ever. Both since October 7th. It was the most natural type of writing I've ever done and both just came right out... A combination of writing and interior design, where both the aesthetic and the language matter. I feel like my essays are more subject to being either "good or bad." The poems, on the other hand, just exist. I have no idea whether they are "good or bad." it just doesn't seem like an appropriate measurement.