Poem of the Week (excerpt), by Joy Harjo


Five openings left in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you miss one. Click here for all the details.

A long time ago, acting on instinct, I took a little piece of scrap paper and wrote “People You Can Call” at the top of it. Whichever name came to me, I jotted down, even if it were somehow surprising, like a friend I hardly ever talked to, someone I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. My dog’s name came to me and I added that to the list too.

For better and for worse I don’t belong to many groups. My sense of solidarity and community is often invisible, made of words like these words, small lights strung along a meandering, imaginary path. Looking at my list was comforting. These names had shimmered up easily, and somehow this meant they could help me call my spirit back from its wandering, as if it were a beloved child.

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet (excerpt), by Joy Harjo

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. ​

Click here for more information about U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo.

alisonmcghee.com
My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Nine openings left in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you miss one. Click here for all the details

If you ask a group of people to name a favorite poet, the name Mary Oliver will pop up within seconds. And with good reason. A few of her poems mean so much to me that I long ago memorized them, the better to weave myself an invisible, always-there blanket of comfort.

This poem goes out today to everyone living with loneliness through the holidays. Maybe your marriage ended this year, or you lost someone dear to you from death or estrangement. Maybe you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent next month. Maybe you or someone you love got bad news from a doctor. Maybe you keep listening for the sound of your dog when you put your key in the front door. Maybe you’re surrounded with friends and family and still, somehow, you feel like crying.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, this poem–and every poem of the week–is my offering to you.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

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.

Click here for more information about ​Mary Oliver.

alisonmcghee.com
My podcast: Words by Winter

Tap-tap-tapping in the coffee shop

Dear friends,

Happy early new year to you all. Today I’ll sit down and write my annual letter to myself, a rite of passage at this time of year, looking back at all that transpired (so, so much this year) and how I feel about it all. No one sees this letter but me. It helps me place pattern to life and its many transitions (and also helps me see I’m more resilient than I often feel).

January brings another rite of passage, which is a week of twice-daily writing prompts I give myself. This is a week I set aside for pure freedom, exhilaration, and who-knows-where-this-writing-may-go joy. Every year brings fourteen passages of sometimes strange, sometimes great, sometimes boring, sometimes terrible, always unexpected writing. 

What I love about this week is that there are no expectations beyond completing two passages of writing per day. No judgment. No feedback. No sharing with anyone else unless, of course, you feel like it. I think of the writings that result from this week as a storehouse of ideas. Playing around with words, without expectation, replenishes the spirit. 

This year, for the first time, I’m turning my own practice into a shared week of writing for up to 30 participants. We’ll gather in the Zoom room for an hour every morning and evening, January 7-13, for guided prompts –a different theme each day– preceded or followed by a tiny reading of a published piece that complements the prompt. 

It can be so comforting to write in the silent presence of others. This is why I’ve always loved tapping away at my laptop in a busy coffee shop surrounded by others (a pandemic-neglected habit that I need to get back to). If you too are comforted by the idea of writing in community, with prompts supplied by someone not yourself (i.e., me), with no expectation of feedback or sharing, come join us! Each session recorded in case you miss one. 

Fee: $200. Payable via Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, or personal check (click here for all the details).

Bonus: weekly prompts sent out for one month after the session. 

If you’re interested, let me know. I’d love to see you in the Zoom room! 

Cheers and thanks,

Alison

Poem of the Week, by John Okrent

I’d love to see you in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you miss one. Click here for all the details.

Yesterday I went to my neighborhood post office for the first time since it was rebuilt. It’s been a long three years and I was so happy to see Fred back at his station. Fred is the greatest postal clerk in the history of the world: so funny, so endearing, so full of smiles and quips and zippy repartee.

I was afraid he’d retired but nope, there he was, making everyone’s day better, in the same way that Elizabeth, my favorite grocery story cashier, makes my life better. “How are YOU?” she will say when I haven’t been shopping in a while. “I see you’re baking again today, aren’t you?”

Fred, Elizabeth, the elderly man who walks his elderly dog past my house every day: these people and so many others at the edges of my daily life, weaving in color and caring and kindness. It is beautiful to be glad to see a person every time you see them.

May 5, 2020, by John Okrent

It is beautiful to be glad to see a person
every time you see them, as I was to see Juan,
the maintenance man, with whom it was always the same
brotherly greeting—each of us thumping a fist
over his heart and grinning, as though we shared a joke,
or bread. I barely knew him. Evenings in clinic,
me finishing my work, him beginning his—
fluorescence softening in the early dark. He wasn’t even fifty,
had four grandchildren, fixed what was broken, cleaned
for us, caught the virus, and died on his couch
last weekend. And what right have I to write this poem,
who will not see him in his uniform of ashes,
only remember him, in his Seahawks cap, and far from sick,
locking up after me, turning up his music.

Click here for more information on poet John Okrent.

alisonmcghee.com
My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Kim Addonizio


I’d love to see you in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you miss one. Click here for all the details

Sometimes don’t you just get so tired of being good?

Of being polite?

Of being patient and kind and clean?

Sometimes don’t you just want to be dirty?

Sometimes do you look back on those few secret memories you don’t talk about with anyone, memories of being bad, of how hard you laughed, how alive you felt, and think, yep, that’s in you too and don’t ever forget it.

Good Girl, by Kim Addonizio

 Look at you, sitting there being good.
After two years you’re still dying for a cigarette.
And not drinking on weekdays, who thought that one up?
Don’t you want to run to the corner right now
for a fifth of vodka and have it with cranberry juice
and a nice lemon slice, wouldn’t the backyard
that you’re so sick of staring out into
look better then, the tidy yard your landlord tends
day and night — the fence with its fresh coat of paint,
the ash-free barbeque, the patio swept clean of small twigs—
don’t you want to mess it all up, to roll around
like a dog in his flowerbeds? Aren’t you a dog anyway,
always groveling for love and begging to be petted?
You ought to get into the garbage and lick the insides
of the can, the greasy wrappers, the picked-over bones,
you ought to drive your snout into the coffee grounds.
Ah, coffee! Why not gulp some down with four cigarettes
and then blast naked into the streets, and leap on the first
beautiful man you find? The words ruin me, haven’t they
been jailed in your throat for forty years, isn’t it time
you set them loose in slutty dresses and torn fishnets
to totter around in five-inch heels and slutty mascara?
Sure it’s time. You’ve rolled over long enough.
Forty, forty-one. At the end of all this
there’s one lousy biscuit, and it tastes like dirt.
So get going. Listen: they’re howling for you now:
up and down the block your neighbors’ dogs
burst into frenzied barking and won’t shut up.

Click here for more info about the brilliant Kim Addonizio.

alisonmcghee.com
My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Octavia Butler

I’d love to see you in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you can’t make it. Click here for all the details

One of my children, then tiny, was scared of an upcoming small adventure. I remember the troubled but resolute look on their face as they recited advice from their father: “If you don’t try new things, you can’t have new fun.”

Much has changed in my life this year, some joyful, some painful, some nuanced and complicated, and all of it inevitable because change is inevitable. But the thought of our own small selves as capable changing everything we touch…what a sobering, powerful thought.

All That You Touch, by Octavia Butler

All that you touch
you change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
is Change.

God
is Change.

Click here for more about Octavia Butler.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast