embracing the blueness

So, one day not too long ago, I was minding my own business when dear writer friend Jessica Swaim sent me the following Brian Doyle prose poem. Does she know me, or what?


from The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond (2015)
by Brian Doyle

I was in a library in Utah the other night when
A small boy asked me to help him find a book.
The boy was perhaps four years old and intent.
I said what book would you like, little brother?
And he said, 'One with blue in it. A lot of blues.
One I can smell the blue. I love that blue. Mom
Says people can like other colors too, but why?
Is there a shelf for blue books? If lots of people
Read the book does the blue wear out? Is there
A blue bank where you have to get a new blue?'
You know, many times I have sighed that I am
Not able to help people who ask me for advice,
Or directions, or counsel about this or that. But
I don't think I ever wanted so much to say, hey,
Little brother, come with me to the room where
All the books are so blue that you have to laugh
At the seethe and soar of it; books about oceans
And herons and jays and the sky and Vida Blue,
Books about how blue used to be and might yet
Become, books brimming with azure and cobalt
And cornflower and iris and periwinkle and teal,
Books so blue that you dream in blue for days . . .

~ from How the Light Gets In: And Other Headlong
 Epiphanies (Orbis Books, 2015).


Sigh. Don’t you love the way kids wholeheartedly embrace the things they love? It could be an object, an animal, an idea, even a color. Everything is alive, has a soul, a unique set of characteristics we fail to see as adults. If only we could retain that sense of innocence and openness, that refreshingly skewed logic! When was the last time you recognized colors by their smell?

Notting Hill Book Box

Yes, I would love a library full of blue books — blue titles, blue subjects, blue covers. Do you think the little boy in Doyle’s “proem” would like these?

A few more, just in case he has a penchant for vintage:

Speaking of libraries, it seems some of them are already down with this blue books thing, with clever displays like, “These Books Blue Us Away,” and “Winter Blues,” and there’s even a collection to accommodate patrons who can’t remember what the book title was, only that it had a blue cover. Librarians are the coolest.

St. Thomas Public Library, Ontario, Canada
Cape May County Library
Unknown high school library
Melrose Park Library, IL
South Interlake Regional Library, Manitoba
Blue Willow Books, Houston, TX
Unknown library

I think the boy in Doyle’s proem would be very pleased. 🙂

Speaking of Brian Doyle, I’m so grateful to Jessica for introducing me to his work. As an Oregon resident, Doyle was editor of the Portland Magazine, and published not only poetry, but essays, short stories, nonfiction and novels before he sadly died of cancer in 2017.

He called his prose poems, “proems” — lyrical observations on what it means to be human through his personal, spiritual, theological, and philosophical lens. They read simply, sometimes about small, everyday occurrences, but he’s brilliant at revealing the measure of grace that lies within. He was someone in love with the world and everything in it, with a deep sense of humility when encountering wonder. He was amazed by it all and knew how to tell about it in the most accessible way.

Art by Nerina Canzi

In an essay entitled, “Their Irrepressible Innocence,” Doyle ruminates on how visiting a kindergarten class was the perfect antidote for life’s frustrations and disappointments, whenever he experienced “a gray November in my soul.”

I find that as few as twenty minutes with people no taller than your belt buckle is enormously refreshing, and gloriously educational, and wonderfully startling, and endlessly hilarious, and very much like drinking a tremendous glass of crystalline water when you have been desperately thirsty for a long time, and in something of a personal desert . . . They love to explain things by drawing them, and colors for them have flavors and characters and tonal intimations and strict rules and regulations; depending on the artist, you can use green for buffalo, but you cannot use blue for cougars, because cougars are afraid of blue, everyone knows that.

Thanks to Doyle, I’ve been reminded of how intuitive kids are about colors, and thanks to Jessica, I’ve discovered a wonderful new-to-me writer and poet, i.e., “proemist,” to uplift, nourish, and inspire me this year. Do check out more of Brian Doyle’s work; your life will be all the richer for it.

Meanwhile, if you need me, I’ll be out and about looking for just the right blue room. 🙂

Art by Pablo Auladell (Agnès Atzur, 2009)


The lovely and talented Jone Rush MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup. Drift on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Stay safe, be well, wear your mask, and have a very blue weekend!


*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

51 thoughts on “embracing the blueness

  1. Fantastic. I know Brian Doyle’s work because he was often published in the Christian Century magazine, which my minister father received for years. Your piece from him about spending time in kindergarten is, I think, one of the reasons his work always spoke to me, because he appreciated the same people I can’t live without. Here’s one book I think you may have missed, which appeared on our list of Notables this year: I’M FEELING BLUE, TOO by Marjorie Maddox. Thanks, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post ‘blue’ me away – just like those clever librarians you highlighted, Jama. So much blue, so little time. Thanks for the intro to the ‘proemist’ writer, Doyle. A line from a board book I used to read with my daughters still haunts me today…”Blue blue I do…” I can not for the life of me remember the title of the book it comes from, but it was a repeated read when my youngest was a baby 17 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now you have me wondering where that line came from — the great mystery of the month. Hope you remember the book’s title and share it with us soon, Bridget. 🙂


  3. Yea, blue!!!

    Marjorie Maddox Hafer http://www.marjoriemaddox.com (pen name: Marjorie Maddox)

    Professor of English and Creative Writing English Department Lock Haven University 403 Raub Hall 410 North Fairview Street Lock Haven, PA 17745 570-484-2044 mmaddoxh@lockhaven.edu

    Connect with us: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube


    I am working remotely and NOT checking my office phone. Please contact me via email.

    New since December! Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (December 2019, reprint) A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (December 2019, reprint) Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Kelsay Books, April 2020) I’m Feeling Blue, Too! (illustrated by Philip Huber, Wipf and Stock, 2020) Begin with a Question (poems, Paraclete Press, 2021) For information and reviews, please see http://www.marjoriemaddox.com



    1. Oh, my. I didn’t realize my entire email signature would show up above. Just so excited to see the celebration of blue this morning, that I responded right from my phone vs. going to the web site, LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderfully perfect blue post Jama! I ❤️ Every inch of Doyle’s “The Blue Room” proem, especially the ending blue colors, “ Become, books brimming with azure and cobalt
    And cornflower and iris and periwinkle and teal,” And all your blue book pics, library displays, and art—beautiful to wake up to all this blueness, thanks! 😊


  5. I just smelled a color this very morning! I ate a juicy sour/sweet orange with my breakfast. I am now in an “orange mood”! Thanks for highlighting those wonderful libraries and librarians! When I worked at the library in the Bronx people would always say that they couldn’t remember the title, but that it was red, blue, green… as an aside, I have blue in my email address for “Old Blue Eyes”!


    1. Great choice of email address inclusion, Joanne. My mouth is watering over your juicy sour/sweet orange. We have some fresh squeezed OJ in the fridge so I must join you in your orange mood.


    1. Either Doyle is literature’s best kept secret or I was simply the last to know (not surprising for many authors). I’ll have to put Chicago on my TBR list.


  6. It really is amazing how soothing it is to look at blue–tranquility just radiates from it! Have a blue weekend, Jama ;).


  7. Jama, it was my pure azure pleasure to introduce you, the best read person I know, to Brian Doyle — allow me to pause and send sapphire showers of gratitude to Tracie Vaughn Kleman for introducing me to his work several years ago. I will be saving and revisiting often the homage you have paid here to Doyle and to those whose hearts he touched. Today and all the days of your life, I wish you blue.


  8. Your post makes me fall in love with blue. Now I want to go find my own collection of blue books to swim in. and I think I would very much enjoy reading more from Brian Doyle.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a lovely post. I do have a thing for vintage…and proems. Hmmmmm. I think I might want to explore that more. Thank you so much for introducing me to Doyle and so many beautiful bits of blue.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve read so many of those ‘blue’ books, Jama. Are we all lucky or what? Oldest favorite – Blueberries for Sal — newest – The Blue House! Doyle’s proem is so special & the piece about kindergarteners as well. I read a book titled How The Light Gets In a few years ago, but it’s a different one, by a Pat Schneider – funny. I will look for Brian’s book. Thank you for such a beautiful share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are two of my favorite blue books too! And yes, we’re lucky there are so many. Excited to hear you mention Pat Schneider — just finished a post about her (did you hear she passed away last summer?).


    1. So, you’re one of those cool librarians who used color themes! Wouldn’t it be the ultimate to have entire libraries (physical building, interior, furnishings, shelving, and books) built in various single colors? Yes, I know I’m crazy . . .


  11. Lovely from top to bottom! The older I get, the more green and brown I get (am I turning into a plant? A tree?) but I love a good blue. This is making me want a blueberry pie, or perhaps a crumble. Thanks, Jama!


  12. I love those library displays! Two blue books in my collection (which I may have mentioned on your blog some time ago) are A Blue So Blue by Jean-Francois Dumont and I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak. Thanks for singing the blues, Jama!


  13. As a blue boy all my life, I loved your post celebrating all things blue. Brian Doyle’s poem captures the munificent obsessions of children with things adult frequently take for granted. Thank you for sharing this beautiful blueness Jama. I am in blue heaven.


  14. I loved Brian Doyle and was so sad when he died.

    I’ll plan to pass this along to my daughter, the librarian, and will ask her if she’s ever put together a “blue us away” display. 🙂


      1. I can’t remember when I first read him, but have long loved his work. I corresponded with him only once, to get his permission to use something from Portland magazine in one of my books. He was kind and gracious, as you’d expect. Just last year (or the year before? I’ve lost track of time) I read The Thorny Grace of It and I’m always blown away by his eloquence.

        Liked by 1 person

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