This spring, I learned about a new creative project led by Suleika Jaouad that encouraged participants to “create one tiny beautiful thing each day” for 100 days as a way to bridge the isolation of Covid and return to an as-yet-to-be defined new normal. The choice of how to excite the imagination was to be determined by each participant.
When I was young, I enjoyed reading poetry but somewhere along the way, poems assumed an impenetrable guise and poetry become something I rarely read. Although I did take a significant plunge into well written verses during the summer of 2012 when I joined Karen Sandberg and Rose Mish in presenting a summer service comprised entirely of poetic readings. With the 100-Day Project the timing seemed right to revisit poetry. I decided I would read a poem each morning and discover (or re-discover) a poet every day.
I created a poem calendar to track my daily progress complete with hyperlinks so that I could re-read the gems I discovered. One such beautiful verse is Small Kindnesses by poet Danusha Laméris. She asked 1,300 teenagers about the small kindnesses that make a difference to them and then used their answers to write this poem:
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
When hearing the unfathomable and sadly knowing Uvalde, like Sandy Hook and Red Lake and so many more lost futures, will be just another “notch” on America’s gun stock. Let us not just pray but act.
For the sacred souls lost,
and the hearts shattered beyond repair;
for the ways we perpetuate violence
with gun access
with toxic masculinity
with refusing to adequately fund and provide
resources for mental health
for all of us in systems of violence,
may we remember we each have
some way, however small, to respond:
our votes, our prayers,
our broken hearts strengthening our resolve
until we all do the work
of laying down anything
that supports swords and shields
and we study war no more.
Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, May 24, 2022
I have fond memories of rhyming verses in Mrs. Miggawa’s third grade class. I wrote a published poem senior year in high school. (Although, to be honest, the small pamphlet printed as part of my Catholic all-girls high school curriculum had a minuscule readership.) And, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind is one of my favorite books. But somewhere between early enjoyment and today, poetry assumed an impenetrable guise. I blame this on too many instructors asking “What does it mean?” then being dissatisfied with my blue book reply when the real question was “What do I believe it means?” and, having missed his, her, their personal interpretation, my exam response messed with my college GPA.
My version of The 100-Day Project with Suleika Jaouad will be to read poetry. It may be a single poem each morning but I want discover (or re-discover) a poet every day. I intend to banish the judgmental “What does it mean?” question from my vocabulary and let the poem simply rest on the page. The poet’s meaning may leap off that page or remain mysteriously obscure, either will be fine.
Today’s whim – – join a blogging challenge. I’ve done Squares times four with BeckyB of Winchester, reading challenges with The Uncorked Librarian and this month I signed up for Bloganuary. (There is even a badge for participants!) With a promise of daily writing prompts from WordPress, the challenge is intended to nudge writers to write. Now, lest you worry you will be inundated with posts, I promise only sporadic musings.
With today’s prompt: “What does it mean to live boldly?” Mary Oliver comes to mind. While her poems, inspired by our miraculous natural world, might not on first reading seem audacious – they are. And, her advice in Sometimes is bold indeed.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Poetry, offered as prayer, that captures what my soul feels…
A verdict means to say the truth.
A judge and jury, in this case, convicted an executioner.
May the truth we say always be
that black lives matter
that justice is more important than order
that militarization of police hurts us all,
and we have a lot more work to do.
Some days, the world seems to wake up,
even just a little bit -
still groggy, still bleary-souled,
asking us to notice the glimmers of hope
shining through this weary world.
We need to keep waking up, again and again.
guilty is the glimmer we need
to keep doing the work
and saying the names
of George Floyd, of Sandra Bland, of Emmett Till,
and countless other sacred names,
speaking them with reverence as speaking the name of the holy,
until we can all breathe.
Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, April 20, 2021