mindfulness poetry: “On How to Pick and Eat Poems” by Phyllis Cole-Dai

“Strawberries Bella and Ida at the Table” by Marc Chagall (oil on canvas, 1916).

Recently I discovered A Year of Being Here, a wonderful poetry site curated by author, editor, composer and musician Phyllis Cole-Dai

From January 2013 to January 2016, Phyllis posted a mindfulness poem by a contemporary poet each and every day. Though her 3-year project is now at an end, the collection will remain online so that everyone can continue to visit this haven of comfort, inspiration and empowerment.

Many of us live rushed and frantic lives where we are forced to multi-task. With our attention continually fragmented, we often feel overwhelmed and powerless to stem the tide of unceasing demands on our time and peace of mind. We’ve heard and agree with the sage philosophers who remind us about the importance of “being fully present,” of living in the moment, of existing wholly in the here and now. But it’s not that easy, is it?

“Making Jam” by Vladimir Makovsky (1876)

So Phyllis began to share her favorite mindfulness poems to help others:

One of the best tools in mindfulness practice today, as it has been for millennia, is poetry. Why? Because the very act of reading a poem cultivates mindfulness. To fully experience any poem, we must stop whatever else we’re doing and give it our full and gracious attention, start to finish, just as the poet did when writing it.

And she quotes Muriel Rukeyser:

. . . if a poem is any damn good at all, it invites you to bring your whole life to that moment, and we are good poets inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem.

This is why I’ve been a poetry fan for so long. When I read a good poem I know the poet has brought an extraordinary awareness to that moment of creation and there’s nothing more exciting than meeting him/her in that place. It is often another dimension of understanding, a beautifully nuanced layer of emotion, an artful expression of ineffable truth condensed in a small space, designed to resonate in the here and now.

I’ve enjoyed a new poem from A Year of Being Here each day this month, and it’s been especially gratifying to read the work of new-to-me poets. Phyllis has graciously granted me permission to share the final “thank-you” poem she wrote for her international community of readers. It seems especially appropriate for National Poetry Month, as we celebrate the writing, reading, and sharing of poetry in as many ways as we can.


“The Strawberry Girl” by Albert Anker

by Phyllis Cole-Dai

Stop whatever it is you’re doing.
Come down from the attic.
Grab a bucket or a basket and head for light.
That’s where the best poems grow, and in the dappled dark.

Go slow. Watch out for thorns and bears.
When you find a good bush, bow to it, or take off your shoes.
Then pluck. This poem. That poem. Any poem.
It should come off the stem easy, just a little tickle.
No need to sniff first, judge the color, test the firmness.
You’ll only know it’s ripe if you taste.

So put a poem upon your lips. Chew its pulp.
Let its juice spill over your tongue.
Let your reading of it teach you
what sort of creature you are
and the nature of the ground you walk upon.
Bring your whole life out loud to this one poem.
Eating one poem can save you, if you’re hungry enough.

When birds and deer beat you to your favorite patch,
smile at their familiar appetite, and ramble on.
Somewhere another crop waits for harvest.
And if your eye should ever light upon a cluster of poems
hanging on a single stem, cup your hand around them
and pull, without greed or clinging.
Some will slip off in your palm.
None will go to waste.

Take those you adore poem-picking when you can,
even to the wild and hidden places.
Reach into brambles for their sake,
stain your skin some shade of red or blue,
mash words against your teeth, for love.
And always leave some poems within easy reach
for the next picker, in kinship with the unknown.

If you ever carry away more than you need,
go on home to your kitchen, and make good jam.
No need to rush, the poems will keep.
Some will even taste better with age,
a rich batch of preserves.

Store up jars and jars of jam. Plenty for friends.
Plenty for the long, howling winter. Plenty for strangers.
Plenty for all the bread in this broken world.

~ Posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2016 Phyllis Cole-Dai. All rights reserved.

“Still Life with Milk, Bread and Raspberry Jam” by Wang Fine Art


This, like the other poems I’ve read so far on her site, seems to be just what I need right now.

That’s what mindfulness poetry does: It calls us home to where we are, and helps us abide there. It helps us pay attention. It helps us inhabit our lives instead of just going through the motions.

Listen to Phyllis reading her poem:





We have two lucky winners to announce on this fine Spring day, one who’ll shortly be craving dim sum in a big way and another who’ll be basking in seasonal beauty. Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments on both posts and interest in these fine books.


And now,

*double drum roll, please*


the winner of

THE UGLY DUMPLING by Stephanie Campisi and Shahar Kober









and the winner of

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad










high fives





Please send along your snail mail addresses to receive your books!



poetry fridayLaura Purdie Salas is hosting the Roundup at Writing the World for Kids. Check out the basket of poetic goodies she’s gathered from various bloggers in the kidlitosphere and have a nice weekend!!



Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


37 thoughts on “mindfulness poetry: “On How to Pick and Eat Poems” by Phyllis Cole-Dai

  1. OH~! I wish I’d know about the mindfulness poetry blog all along! But I”m so grateful the curator is keeping it up – I will start going to it daily to read a poem a day! Mindfulness practice has become an integral and important part of my life these past 4 years, so I’m excited about reading a mindfulness poem a day! Thank you for always sharing such great things! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fantastic project! And it’s also important to make the point that there is more than one way to come to mindfulness. Her poem is lovely and I also love the paintings you used for illustration. Let’s all go forth and thoughtfully chew on some poems.


  3. ‘So put a poem upon your lips. Chew its pulp.
    Let its juice spill over your tongue.’


    ‘mash words against your teeth, for love.’

    I am hungry for mushy, juicy poems!


  4. I will have to explore those mindful poems. I especially like “And always leave some poems within easy reach/for the next picker, in kinship with the unknown.”


  5. Ooh! Can’t wait to check out the mindfulness blog!! Thanks for the heads up, Jama :)!


  6. Yay! I won a book, and about gardens! How exciting! I don’t think I have your email, Jama. Is it on your website somewhere? Mine’s my website spelled out (friendlyfairytales) at gmail.com. If you email be, or give me your email, I’ll send my snail mail address.

    I love the poem, especially, “Let your reading of it teach you/ what sort of creature you are” and the last line. As if all the answers were on berry bushes, and we just need to ramble outside to find ourselves there. Lovely thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “When I read a good poem I know the poet has brought an extraordinary awareness to that moment of creation and there’s nothing more exciting than meeting him/her in that place.” Well said!

    I love this post and this poem so very much. Right poem and the right time, indeed. Thank you, Jama! How do you manage to hit the sweet spot week after week? (Wait…I know the answer — it has to do with the sweet! …or the salty, or the savory…) 🙂


    1. I love that Phyllis considers herself an “occasional poet.” Could have fooled me. She’s such an inspiration and I love A Year of Being Here.


  8. I always feel like I’m feasting when I read one of your posts, Jama, and this week is no exception. I love your thoughts on poetry and the idea of embracing mindfulness through poetry. Phyllis Cole-Dai’s poem is a gem. Thanks so much for sharing!


    1. What a nice thought — I do like the idea of community canning. We’ll always have something nutritious to reach for no matter the season. Yay for PF peeps!


  9. Yes yes yes! THIS POST. Poetry as mindfulness, mindfulness as poetry. Exactly. Be. Here. NOW. Love this so much and appreciate the resource. Thank you, Jama! On another note, I thought of you last night when hubby and I watched Colin Firth in the Railway Man. 🙂 xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Live Your Poem also reminds us about being here now and practicing mindfulness, the importance of this very moment!

      Haven’t seen the Railway Man yet; nice to be thought of, though. 🙂


Comments are closed.