stepping back into fourth grade

James Crews’s new anthology has been my constant companion for the last several weeks. The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy (Storey Publishing, 2022) is a beautifully curated treasure and a welcome spiritual balm for these turbulent times.

Like his previous book, How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope (2021), this “perfect-in-the-hand” soul-nourishing collection contains 100+ poems by a diverse group of established as well as emerging poets. It’s such a pleasure to spend time with “old friends” Barbara Crooker, Andrea Potos, and Penny Harter, and to catch up with PNWers Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon, whose work I featured here awhile ago.

Current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is included, as well as Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. And as before, Crews offers (for select poems) Reflective Pauses and Invitations for Writing and Reflection  – breathing room for readers to explore ideas, delve deeper, and absorb inspiration for journaling or even writing their own poems.

Today I’m happy to share one of my favorites from the book. Brad Aaron Modlin is new to me, and he does what good poets do: take us a little off center so we can consider ideas from a fresh perspective.

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1959 Fourth Grade Classroom photo by Larry Syverson
WHAT YOU MISSED THAT DAY YOU WERE ABSENT FROM FOURTH GRADE
by Brad Aaron Moldin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

~ from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2016)

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I love all the quirky lessons Mrs. Nelson shared with her class. Often the most far reaching things can’t be found in textbooks. 

Ideally, all children should be reassured that they already have enough, and more importantly, are enough. 

“I am” just may be the most empowering belief any of us can own.

Ultimately, Modlin reminds us that we aren’t alone in feeling that we might have missed that all-important memo everyone else got. 

Hopefully with all the rich experiences we’ve had so far, we’ve come to realize that peeling potatoes can indeed be a form of prayer, and standing still to listen to the wind is an excellent practice – as is being kind especially when it is the most difficult.

What do you wish your teachers, parents, or mentors had taught you?

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THE PATH TO KINDNESS: Poems of Connection and Joy
edited by James Crews
published by Storey Publishing, April 2022
Poetry Anthology, 224 pp.

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The lovely and talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a lovely weekend!

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*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

remembering what truly matters

“Poetry of Spring” by Kent Paulette
REMEMBER 
by Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

~ from How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-200l (W.W. Norton, 2004)

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“Conquest of the Irrational” by Kent Paulette

This beautiful prayer poem, a meditative paean to the interconnectedness of all living things, is more timely than ever.

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love me some Joe Brainard

“If I’m as normal as I think I am, we’re all a bunch of weirdos.” ~ Joe Brainard

I love it when one good thing leads to another.

Kenneth Koch’s poem “Permanently” (which I shared last June), sparked my interest in New York School artist, writer and set designer Joe Brainard (1942-1994).

Joe in Calais, Vermont, about two years before he died of AIDS-induced pneumonia (photo by Pat Padgett).

Both his visual art and writings were new to me; unlike his more famous contemporaries Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Ron Padgett, James Schuyler, Andy Warhol, Fairfield Porter, and Koch himself, Brainard had somehow slipped under my radar.

Brainard’s “Chewing Gum Wrappers” (1971)

If you’ve been a Brainard fan all along, then you know he was a prolific creator who left behind an impressive oeuvre of innovative, pop culture inspired collages, assemblages, paintings, drawings, and comic book collaborations, as well as multiple collections of mostly autobiographical poetry and prose. 

C Comics No. 2 (Boke Press, 1965)
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what is your house dreaming of?

More than just wood or plaster, houses are alive with their own feelings and dreams. Each room has a story to tell.

“The Breakfast Table” by William Ratcliffe
NO. 115 DREAMS
by Jackie Kay

The living room remembers Gran dancing to Count Basie.
The kitchen can still hear my aunts fighting on Christmas day.
The hall is worried about the loose banister.
The small room is troubled by the missing hamster.
The toilet particularly dislikes my Grandfather.
The wallpaper covers up for the whole family.

And No. 115 dreams of lovely houses by the sea.
And No. 115 dreams of one night in the country.

The stairs are keeping schtum about the broken window.
The toilet’s sick of the trapped pipes squealing so.
The walls aren’t thick enough for all the screaming.
My parent’s bedroom has a bed in a choppy sea.
My own bedroom loves the bones of me.
My brother’s bedroom needs a different boy.

And No. 115 dreams of yellow light, an attic room.
And No. 115 dreams of a chimney, a new red roof.

And the red roof dreams of robin redbreasts
tap dancing on the red dance floor in the open air.

~ from Red, Cherry Red (Bloomsbury, 2019)
“Attic Room” by William Ratcliffe (1918)
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let’s get cracking

“Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.” ~ M.F.K. Fisher

photo by Nancy Jentsch
WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF EGGS? 
by Nancy Jentsch

Today’s pumpkin-colored yolks scramble 
with bubbly beaten whites, 
the foam a color Kandinsky 
would drool for. 
Frying eggs sizzle serenades 
harmonize with salty bacon 
sport accents of poblano and cheddar 
their taste delicate as their shells. 
 
If this is all you know of eggs 
it is sufficient. 
 
As for me, 
blessed with hens, 
my hands wonder  
at the warmth 
each egg entrusts 
exquisite as any snowflake or rose 
 
And in my dimpled basket 
their pastel rainbow—  
tans, blues, greens— 
seals an understated promise. 

~ Posted by permission of the author. Copyright © 2022 Nancy Jentsch
“Fried Eggs” by Dusan Vukovic
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