Poem of the Week, by I Wrote This For You

img_5605I’ve been teaching a few free creative writing workshops in various Minneapolis neighborhoods over the last week. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that I can do. In one of the workshops yesterday, fourteen participants sat around a big conference table at a library, each with a name sign propped in front of their notebook. They wrote about someone they knew very well, and then they wrote about a moment in their past, and then they jumped off the fictional cliff and wrote a scene between a conjured person and a conjured object. Everyone read everything they wrote out loud, and we clapped after each reading. Why? Because each reading was beautiful, or funny, or hauntingly sad, or made us catch our breaths in some unexplainable way. In the room was an older gentleman with cerebral palsy; an E.R. nurse from Somalia; a middle-aged man with his young wife, who was in the later stages of early-onset Alzheimer’s and whose three writings were each about her love for her husband; a military veteran; a trans activist; a born-again former felon; a burkha-wearing mother of three; a million-dollar realtor, and more. Everything that the world needs to be better was in that room yesterday, among those disparate people: the willingness to share, the willingness to listen, and the willingness to imagine. Don’t ever tell me we can’t get along. Don’t ever tell me we can’t be generous with each other. Don’t ever tell me we can’t celebrate someone whose life is fundamentally different from ours. I have seen with my own eyes in hundreds of classrooms over dozens of years that Yes, we can.

The Light That Shines When Things End
     – I Wrote This For You

I hope that in the future they invent a small golden light that follows you everywhere and when something is about to end, it shines brightly so you know it’s about to end.

And if you’re never going to see someone again, it’ll shine brightly and both of you can be polite and say, “It was nice to have you in my life while I did, good luck with everything that happens after now.”

And maybe if you’re never going to eat at the same restaurant again, it’ll shine and you can order everything off the menu you’ve never tried. Maybe, if someone’s about to buy your car, the light will shine and you can take it for one last spin. Maybe, if you’re with a group of friends who’ll never be together again, all your lights will shine at the same time and you’ll know, and then you can hold each other and whisper, “This was so good. Oh my God, this was so good.”


For more information on I Wrote This For You, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Shack, view straight up from the hammockI was born too late to be a hippie and I grew up in the rural north, not exactly the site of mass protests and marches in the streets (we had hardly any streets). But I remember being a little girl and sitting in the high school cafeteria before elementary school started (my mother was a high school teacher and we sometimes rode to town with her to avoid the school bus horror show) observing the gigantic and intimidating high schoolers and wondering what the black armbands on some of their arms meant. It isn’t easy to give up hope, to escape a dream, says Dorianne Laux in this haunting poem. Nor should it be.


Listening to Paul Simon
     – Dorianne Laux

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can’t summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we would pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his cindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and blinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn’t easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us
in the dark, so that sleeping and waking
we heard the train’s distant whistle,
steel trestles shivering
across the land that was still ours
in our bones and hearts, its lone headlamp
searching the weedy stockyards,
the damp, gray rags of fog.


For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

For more information about Maggie Smith, please click here.


Never done before, Mary OliverI am so sorry. Especially to the beautiful young people whom I know and don’t know, I am sorry. To my Muslim and Somali, Hmong and Black and Latina/Latino and Asian and LGBTQ students and friends, I am sorry. To my own children, I am sorry. This country and the world have been in hideous places before now –before the end of slavery, before the beginning of civil rights and women’s right to vote and women’s right to sovereignty over their bodies– but from here on out I am stepping it up. I vow to be as kind as I can, whenever I can. To speak up when I see someone being bullied. To call out the perpetrators when I see acts of racism and sexism. To protect the right to a safe and legal abortion for all the young women who, like me when I was a terrified and birth control-using teenager, make that agonizing decision. To listen, no matter the views of the person speaking, so that I can try to connect in even a tiny way, one human heart to another. To put one foot in front of the other for the next four years and for every year after that to make this world a better place.

Poem of the Week, by Kevin Carey

11666099_1232950340052033_2760881278274778804_nTough choosing a poem this week amidst the hours spent hiking, walking, trying to tromp my way into some form of inner calm. More hours on the couch scrolling through my thousands of poems. Searching for certain poets, the ones who bring me comfort because they’re fearless, because they talk about life the way it is, because they use ordinary words to write about ordinary things that in their magic hands turn transcendent and remind me that I’m not in this alone. That I am never alone. That all over this country right now, there are others waking every morning and breathing in and breathing out and reminding themselves that the world has never been easy, that humankind has always been under threat by the few among us who take pleasure in being cruel, in inciting violence, in tearing apart the social fabric because . . . why? because they can, I guess. Yes, we are always under siege by those who would divide us for their own sick pleasure, and also yes, we are always fighting back. Sometimes with harshness, and sometimes with a book that lasts for a lifetime, as in this beautiful poem.

Reading to My Kids
     – Kevin Carey

When they were little I read
to them at night until my tongue
got tired. They would poke me
when I started to nod off after twenty pages
of Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket.
I read (to them) to get them to love reading
but I was never sure if it was working
or if it was just what I was supposed to do.
But one day, my daughter (fifteen then)
was finishing Of Mice and Men in the car
on our way to basketball.
She was at the end when I heard her say,
No, in a familiar frightened voice
and I knew right away where she was.
“Let’s do it now,” Lennie begged,
“Let’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta,”
and she started crying, then I started crying,
and I think I saw Steinbeck
in the back seat nodding his head,
and it felt right to me,
like I’d done something right,
and I thought to myself, Keep going,
read it to me, please, please, I can take it.

For more information about Kevin Carey, please click here.

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