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Archive for the ‘Mary Oliver’ Category

This past week I’ve heard stories of people not going home for Thanksgiving because they’re upset their relatives voted differently than they did.

no pissing match on Thanksgiving

no pissing match on Thanksgiving!

 

Add one more to the list of disheartening effects the 2016 election has had on our country. Thanksgiving is the holiday that’s supposed to bring us together. Thanksgiving is a holiday all Americans share regardless of faith, political beliefs, or economic status, a holiday only Mr. MacGoo might object to. It also happens to be my favorite one.

 

I hate to think of people alone and angry this day, nursing grudges or avoiding toxic situations.

 

So this Thanksgiving poem-elfing is for the divided dinner table. For the arguments narrowly avoided and the arguments that’ll erupt over the fifth bottle of wine. For old hurts and fresh injuries passed around with the potatoes, for the comments swallowed and the ones blurted out, for tongues bit and tongues wagged. But most of all for the love and gratitude that bring a group of people together to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and share food. This poem-elfing is for bridges over our divides and reinforcements for our connections.

 

And if you’re a family that sees eye-to-eye on all issues, all I can say is, Welcome to Planet Earth! Golly gee, alien life forms among us!

 

On to the elfing. I went to Costco and found it surprisingly easy, even among the hoards of shoppers, to leave poems in food displays with no one noticing.

 

I started with a wine glass where I left a quote, not a poem, by Rosseau.

poem is inside 2nd or 3rd glass

poem is inside 2nd or 3rd glass

 

It’s a favorite of mine I may have quoted once or twice here in the past. I never tire of mulling this one over. Write it on your hand and read before opening your mouth.

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My least favorite part of Thanksgiving is chopping onions. My eyes, like my nerves, are overly sensitive. So into the onion bin I put Mary Oliver’s brief “Uses of Sorrow.”

poem is on onion baton left-hand side

poem is on onion bag on left-hand side

 

It may takes me years to understand “this, too, was a gift.”

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A display of pecan pies was a good spot for “While We Were Arguing” by Jane Kenyon.

poem is on middle pecan pie

poem is on middle pecan pie ingredient list

 

“’You see, we have done harm,’” she writes. Words to remember before you sit down for dinner.

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Jane Kenyon also wrote what I consider the most perfect Thanksgiving poem. It’s called “Otherwise” and I balanced it on a turkey.

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poem is on middle turkey

 

Gratitude takes perspective, and there’s no perspective as good as this: It might have been/ otherwise.

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A wine called “Seven Deadly Zins” was tailor-made for an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

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Here’s the perfect response to any argument. Memorize it—it’s the very reason people can’t be reduced to who they voted for.

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In my Costco shopping loop, I reached the flowers last, which is where I put Anne Porter’s “Looking at the Sky.” Another beautiful Thanksgiving poem.

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I shall never have enough time, she writes. Praise and gratitude for the whatever you have.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am grateful for all of you, for your insightful comments and continued support for this project.

 

Bonus: if you need some music to dance to while you’re cooking, here’s a song I heard this morning, courtesy of DJ Blizzard Lizzard: Rock a Side Pony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today is National Poetry Day, and I feel like I’ve been caught without my school project completed. I’m stalling in the hallway, scribbling out enough verbiage to meet the word count, hoping I don’t get asked to read it out loud.

 

I got nothing prepared, folks.

 

But as it happens, I visited Artprize in Grand Rapids yesterday and had an experience that I can connect to National Poetry Day, so here goes.

 

Artprize is an international competition, now in its sixth year, that brings art out into the community in a spirit I also try to embrace in this blog. The competition is open to anyone, and anyone can help with the judging. (The grand prize is $200,000, and visitors can vote as often as they like, but only once for each entry.) Entries are exhibited in coffee shops, abandoned buildings, banks, boutiques, public museums, and even in the river.

Alex Podesta's "Self Portrait as Bunnies (The Bathers)"

Alex Podesta’s “Self Portrait as Bunnies (The Bathers)”

 

One of the entries was WeavePeace.

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WeavePeace, an installation on the grounds of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, is a cooperative project between visitors and the artist, Michele Miller-Hansen. WeavePeace began as a bare structure, but in a week’s time has sprouted hundreds of strips of colorful messages. IMG_2160Artprize visitors write intentions and wishes for peace, and tie them to the dome.

 

 

 

Michele Miller-Hansen, on the left

Michele Miller-Hansen, on the left

I spoke with the artist, who hangs around inside the dome for a few hours every day. She said she’s pleased that WeavePeace seems to make those who visit feel happy. “Our world is so busy,” she said, “and people come in here and they get to slow down.” People read strips other visitors have written, spend time thinking of what they’d like to write themselves, and enjoy the beauty of the strips fluttering in the wind.

 

That sure sounds like the work of poetry to me. Poetry forces readers to slow down, reflect, connect, and appreciate beauty, if only the beauty of language and concision.

 

As I stood inside the dome with my friends waiting on the corner, ready to move on, I had trouble coming up with a poem related to peace. Finally I came up with the last lines of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” (Yes, these lines are overly-familiar, popping up everywhere these days, but I guess that’s why I remembered them.)

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Here’s the full (and more legible) text:

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Italics mine.)

Good luck to artist Michele Miller-Hansen!

 

I took a few photos of other entries.

 

This one you have to experience. I can’t tell you how beautiful it is when you find yourself covered in lacy shadows.

"Intersections" by Anila Quayyum Agha at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. So beautiful!

“Intersections” by Anila Quayyum Agha at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

 

My favorite, “Maternal Fortitude” by Lindsay Moynihan, is at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

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I took a picture of the artist’s statement for my daughter, who wants to be a midwife:

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Finally, a mural in front of the Gerald Ford Museum, which artist Tom Panei is completing as visitors watch:

"I Hear the Train a Comin'"

“I Hear the Train a Comin'”

 

Artprize runs through October 12. Visit if you can.

 

 

 

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Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains

Every summer for the past seven I’ve made a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Year after year, its wild beauty calls me back.  (You can read about my 2010 visit here.)

 

Visiting the U.P. unsettles me.  I’m enough a suburbanite that I feel on edge in a place with so many trees and so few people.  Humans never made much of an inroad in the Upper Peninsula anyway, but lately with the closing of so many mines and paper mills, it’s less populated than ever.

 

But visiting the U.P. also allows me to connect with something bigger than myself.  Call it mystery and freedom, call it nature, call it God, but it’s a connection I’ve yearned for all year without knowing it.  That soulful kind of experience, along with the spectacular views, is what pulls me back.

 

This year I went to the Porcupine Mountains for the first time. The Porkies, as they are known, are 60,000 acres of state park along Lake Superior, about 5 ½ hours west of the Mackinac Bridge. Of course I left poems wherever I hiked—after all, that’s what a poem elf does.  But I won’t be writing much about these poems because they were leftover copies of poems I either have posted already or have sent to someone privately.  A normal person would just throw the extra copies away, but that seems callous to me.  (A normal person would also say my behavior is a mix of hoarding, littering, and marking territory, and sometimes normal people are spot on.)

 

Since the internet is the slide projector of our age, I invite you to see a few photos while I gush over a trip you didn’t go on.

 

Bond Falls

If you’re a waterfall fan, the Upper Peninsula has a glut of them.  It almost gets to be like meh, another amazing waterfall, no more noteworthy than another pretty day in California.

For no particular reason, I left John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on a tree by these falls.

 

I left Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” at the bottom of the Lake of the Clouds (top photo).

No one writes about connecting with nature and spirit more beautifully than Oliver.  She really belongs here.

 

At Summit Peak, the highest point in the park, I left Scottish poet Edward Muir’s “The Confirmation.”

The poem is between my friends, tall and not-so-tall, each “as they were meant to be.”

 

I’ll post a few more pictures over the weekend.

 

Happy Friday!

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A dear friend gave me this elf for my birthday.  Nothing better than a gift you didn’t know you wanted, a gift that makes you feel that someone has studied you, understood you and desired to please you. I’m delighted with this felted fellow!  I see hours of amusement ahead with his pose-able body and naughty face.

The poem is taken from a book given to me by my dear friend’s sister.  I like the juxtaposition of the mischievous imp and the sweetness of the poem.  The poem speaks to me of my friend, who is recently a grandmother, and her sister, who has just today done a kindness for my niece.  I hope they won’t be offended when I say that  “craziness of a certain kind” is a quality I seek out in people, have found in them, and consider an ongoing gift they present to the world.

Gracias, sisters!

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