nine cool things on a tuesday

Joan with her self portrait

l. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are a few portraits by the one and only Joan Baez, who turned 80 in January. I didn’t realize she was such an accomplished painter till I began following her on FB last year — initially for the music videos she posted as the pandemic raged on. It was wonderful seeing her singing in her kitchen!

Malala Yousafzai

Then she began sharing pieces from her first solo exhibition, “Mischief Makers,” featuring “risk-taking visionaries who have brought about social change through nonviolent action.”

Her debut album in 1960 was basically my introduction to folk music and activism. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always marvel at multi-talented creatives who thrive on a cross fertilization of genres.

Stacey Abrams
Alice Walker
Coretta Scott King

In addition to Joan, musicians I admire who also paint include Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Grace Slick, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, Cat Stevens, Miles Davis, and John Mellencamp.

Kamala Harris

See more Mischief Makers as well as portraits of Friends and Icons at Joan Baez Art. I like all the little backstories for each painting. You can also purchase prints or catalogs there.

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a pair of pandemic poems

Last November when I shared Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet,” I didn’t realize that a couple of weeks later, a new anthology would be released titled after lines from the same poem.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020), is pure manna for the heart and soul, just when we need it most.

Last spring, while we were all frantically washing our hands, stressing over toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, and adjusting to lockdown restrictions, Ms. Quinn “reached out to poets across the country to see if, and what, they were writing under quarantine.” She was so moved by the response that she began collecting and curating the poems arriving in her inbox.

“Front Line Hero” by Olga Gouralnik (2020)

These poets voiced our collective shock, grief, fears, and hopes — an array of layered emotions many of us did not yet have a language for. From their unique, diverse perspectives, they were able to paint an intimate portrait of a world woefully attuned to this exotic moment in history.

Strange, to experience what could never have been imagined, to step into an altered reality.

Sudden, to have life, livelihood, routines, priorities upended in the blink of an eye.

The 107 poets featured in this anthology vary by age, gender, and sexuality, and employ different styles and poetic forms to unmask human fragility, vulnerability and resilience in trying times. Some of the poems were quite cathartic, moving me to tears.

Here are two that really spoke to me. The first describes precisely how I made it through the past year, and the second reinforces my gratitude for the power of poetry to heal, sustain, and connect.

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pat schneider: “and what is more generous than a window?”

Today I am grateful for brief yet meaningful encounters.

Three years ago, I ordered a signed copy of Pat Schneider’s Another River: New and Collected Poems (2005) via her website. When it arrived, I was surprised to find a note from Pat with a gift copy of her chapbook, The Patience of Ordinary Things (2003).

I fell in love with the title poem, and was honored when Pat gave me permission to share it here. Though we only exchanged a few emails, I was touched by her kindness and generosity, totally in awe of the 83-year-old poet, author, playwright, teacher, and Founder/Director of Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA).

At the time, Pat’s poetry was new to me, and I knew little about her early years in Missouri, where, as the child of a single mother, she lived in tenements and an orphanage until she received a scholarship to attend college. “Those early experiences deeply influenced her writing and fueled her passion for those who have been denied voice through poverty and other misfortunes.”

Recently, while looking for more poems to share for Poetry Friday, I thought again about Pat and visited her website, where I was saddened to learn of her passing in August 2020. I read many tributes, listened to her reading her poems, and watched several interviews, awestruck not only by her professional accomplishments, but her abiding faith in human potential and creative genius, as she encouraged all to find and amplify their authentic voices.

I love hearing hers.

“Moon Balloon” by Sokol Selmani
THE MOON. TEN TIMES
by Pat Schneider

1. Round cool face of forever
    float free
    for me

2. Saucer without a teacup
    without the tyranny of 
    of tea

3. Owl eye without a pupil
    blind
    to contradiction

4. My white balloon
    has lost its string
    and me

5. Round, open mouth
    of the goddess
    of light

6. The night sky's
    exclamation:
    Oh!

7. Puppeteer
    of tides
    rock the shore of the world

8. Bright frisbee
    the dog star lost
    in the night

9. Perfect pearl crown
    of cornfields
    and night watchmen's hair

10. Bellybutton
      of God

~ from The Patience of Ordinary Things (Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2003)
Art by Lee White
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a Sarah Kay poem and a sweet treat for Valentine’s Day

You know what they say. When it comes to love, opposites attract. Spoken word poet Sarah Kay gets us into the mood for Valentine’s Day with her grin-inducing, soft bristled verse (no gargling required).

THE TOOTHBRUSH TO THE BICYCLE TIRE

They told me that I was meant for the cleaner life;
that you would drag me through the mud.

They said that you would tread all over me,
that they could see right through you,

that you were full of hot air;
that I would always be chasing,

always watching you disappear after sleeker models—
that it would be a vicious cycle.

But I know better. I know about your rough edges
and I have seen your perfect curves.

I will fit into whatever spaces you let me.
If loving you means getting dirty, bring on the grime.

I will leave this porcelain home behind. I’m used to
twice-a-day relationships, but with you I’ll take all the time.

And I know we live in different worlds, and we’re always really busy,
but in my dreams you spin around me so fast, I always wake up dizzy.

So maybe one day you’ll grow tired of the road,
and roll on back to me.

And when I blink my eyes into morning,
your smile will be the only one I see.

~ from No Matter the Wreckage (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014)

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Clever, refreshing, quirky, unexpected. This poem made me an instant Sarah Kay fan. Love the extended metaphor, the fearless puns. I admit I hadn’t considered love between inanimate objects before, but that’s precisely why Sarah’s work is such a joy. You may not know where she’s going to take you, only that the ride will be worth it.

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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?

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from The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond (2015)
THE BLUE ROOM
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).

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