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Archive for the ‘Always Begin Where You Are’ Category

A few days ago I placed two poems of encouragement in a pretty park in northern Michigan. I was thinking about the cave rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team (just underway as I posted), but I was also thinking about all the dis’s in the world—the disheartened, the dispirited, the discouraged, the distracted—anyone in need of a boost, a push, a shot in the arm, a pep talk.

 

I myself am a lover of pep talks. Especially the poetry-style pep talks below.

 

poem is on sign, below the “O” of Information

 

Always Begin Where You Are

by Thomas Hornsby Ferril

 

Always begin right where you are

And work out from here:

If adrift, feel the feel of the oar in the oarlock first,

If saddling a horse let your right knee slug

The belly of the horse like an uppercut,

Then cinch his suck,

Then mount and ride away

To any dream deserving the sensible world.

 

The change from the title to the first line (“begin where you are” to “begin right where you are”) is encouragement itself. No need to position yourself, prepare or wait for the best time. Begin right where you are. In modern parlance, Just Do It.

 

But there’s a caveat. In poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s world you can’t just do any old dream that comes into your head. The images of rowing a boat and saddling a horse point towards pursuit of a realistic dream, a dream “deserving of the sensible world.” The Debbie Downer in me just loves that line. (I suspect I am not the only  Debbie Downer who loves a good pep talk.)

 

Ferril’s horse terminology was unfamiliar to me, so I looked it up. Cinch his suck, I discovered, has to do with tightening the saddle on a horse. Horses suck in air when the saddle is first put on, and once they run around and exhale, the saddle is too loose and has to be tightened.

 

Thomas Hornsby Ferril (1986-1988) was born in Denver and lived out his very long life there, eventually becoming poet laureate of his home state. His poems can be found in the Colorado capitol building, poem fragments engraved under each of eight murals in the rotunda.

 

Ferril published six volumes of poetry and a collection of essays. He worked as publicity director for the Great Western Sugar Company for forty years, and he and his wife published the Rocky Mountain Herald for over thirty years. His daughter Anne was an artist and illustrator.

 

Carl Sandburg was a friend of Ferril’s and frequent visitor to his house (now an historic landmark). Sandburg said Ferril’s poems were “terrifically and beautifully American.” Even so, Ferril was not well known outside of the Rocky Mountain region in his lifetime, and sadly that still seems the case today.

 

 

poem is on middle post of pavilion

 

Famous

by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

The river is famous to the fish.

 

The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.

 

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.

 

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

 

The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.

 

The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.

 

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

 

I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiled back.

 

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.

 

Shihab Nye’s poem “Famous” is the antidote to fame, at least our current cultural obsession with it. At the risk of sounding like an old lady crabbing about Those Young People, it seems to me that too many young people seek fame as the only way to validate their lives. All you have to do is post a viral video on Instagram and ta-dah, you’re famous! But of course it isn’t so easy for most, and that creates a situation ripe for discouragement, what with all that anxiety about one’s place in the world and confusion about one’s purpose in life.

 

Maybe these lines could be handed out with every diploma:

 

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  

but because it never forgot what it could do.

 

Reminds me of what the nuns used to tell us in grade school, that we each had a special talent and we were to use that talent to give honor and glory to God. Even if our only talent was sweeping a floor, we were to sweep the floor the very best we could. In doing even a lowly task well, we would achieve something good and holy.

 

Naomi Shihab Nye, a favorite of mine, has been featured more than once at Poem Elf. I’ll re-post her bio from previous posts.

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in 1952 in St. Louis and identifies as an Arab-American. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother American. During high school she lived for some time with her grandmother in Jerusalem and in San Antonio.

She’s written several books of poetry, children’s books, songs and novels. She has traveled for the U.S. Information Agency on goodwill tours. Her anthology for teens, The Space Between Our Footsteps, is a beautiful collection of paintings and poems from the Middle East. After 9/11, she spoke out against terrorism and against prejudice, and in 2002 she published a book of new and old poems she had written about the Middle East.

In 2009, PeacebyPeace named her a Peace Hero. I didn’t know such a thing existed, but it’s a wonderful appellation and something we can all aspire to be.

She’s won multiple literary awards, including four Pushcart Prizes. She lives in San Antonio with her photographer husband and son.

You can hear her read here, a “found” poem. Her voice surprised me. I had expected a voice soft and gentle like her face, but she sounds more like your best pal in high school talking too loud the morning after you got drunk together. Gravelly and fun.

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