Greetings, all. I am happy to be here as your guest blogger starting today and for the coming week. Yesterday was a big day; one I had been planning since April. September 24th was designated by poets the world-over as the day to celebrate 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Were you there?
Poems can change the world, as they point to what is true. Poems can be hammers, splitting rock, or rich ground where we locate compassion. When poets join forces, the energy that is generated leads to amazing things.
Store window in Guerneville, CA, the heart of 100TPC
In helping to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change activities these past five months, I made friends on Facebook with poets in Greece, Nigeria, South Africa, and all around the United States. I was reminded very directly in this process that there are many places around the globe where poets cannot congregate and do what they want to do. They cannot simply stand up and read poems in a library or a garden or a coffee house like we did in Sheboygan, Wisconsin yesterday. In some places, poems must be checked by a government agency before being read in public. In Turkmenistan, poetry cannot be read in public at all. As I looked out over the audience yesterday, I felt compelled to remind us that the freedom we have in America to congregate and to "use our words" as we see fit, should not be taken lightly.
The Sheboyan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change was a success from the standpoint of connection. People in our community crossed some lines and got to know one another a little better, all through the reading of poems. We had narrative free versers, rhymers, and straight-up rappers. We had the poet laureate of Wisconsin, Bruce Dethlefsen; we had Karl Elder, Cathryn Cofell, Chuck Rybak and many others. We had children, young adults, and seniors. We had friends and strangers writing poems while they were listening to the open mic, then standing up to share what they had just written. (Actually, there were no strangers. Everyone became a friend in the process.)
We had teenagers lying on couches in the coffee house glued to their iTouches suddenly paying attention. We had a gentleman reading the work of his adult daughter with great pride. We had audience members sharing favorite poems from books. We had small children reading Mother Goose and other verse that spoke to their experience. All in all, I accomplished what I set out to do months ago: to make people fall in love, again or for the first time, with poetry. To fall in love and pay attention.
I woke up yesterday morning to a poem by Oscar Wilde coming through on a website called Your Daily Poem. Panthea is old-fashioned, yes, I know. There are words I did not at first recognize, “hymeneal” (of or pertaining to a wedding or marriage) and “daedal-fashioned” (made by Daedelus, the legendary artist and inventor, the builder of the Labyrinth). Then, there were other lines that came in loud and clear, sounding very 21st century to my ear: “…all life is one, and all is change.”
All pathetic fallacies aside, when I practiced the poem at 7:30 yesterday morning and I got to these lines, “The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth/At daybreak know a pleasure not less real/Than we do…” I welled up with tears. I hate when that happens. Crying while reading a poem. What the heck? I thought perhaps it would be a bad idea to read a poem at an open mic if it was going to make me bawl in public; especially over something as cornball as recognizing how myself and a flower are, at some atomic level, one and the same.
But, I did read the poem, twice. Once at the open mic at the library, and much later in the day to a different crowd at the coffee house. At neither point did the offending words make me cry. However, when I looked out at the audience, I saw wet eyes, closed eyes, longing eyes, bright eyes. In that moment, I knew that the world was in good order. Poetry slows us down to look with our eyes, inward and outward, to pay attention, to revel in what is important. A poem can threaten a despot, shake a woman to her core, or touch a man’s heart. A rhyme can delight the ear of a child, no matter if the child is 3 or 93. The energy we put out into the world matters. And it does not go away. Wilde put it well when he said, “The Universe itself shall be our immortality.”
What do we want our immortality to look like? From Wall Street to whatever streets we live on, change is upon us. You may be a buttercup or a hammer. You may be ears or eyes or both. If you are like me, you are a poet. And as poets, we will be here.