Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poem: You're Not Trying Hard Enough - Lessons from "The King's Speech"

 Lessons from “The King’s Speech”

My husband and I saw "The King’s Speech" last night along with a packed theater of folks who, like us, were late to join this bandwagon.  The movie has been showing in Columbus for over a month and still is packing theaters here.  So nice to consider how word of mouth, award nominations and great acting can create this kind of stir for a movie that has no sex scenes, no violence and only a comical use of four letter words.  I came away from the movie inspired, uplifted and contemplating the lessons one might take away from this tale of a king with a painful stutter. 
His whole life he dealt with teasing and people giving him advice on how to ‘get over’ his problem.  I started thinking how quick we are to give simplistic advice for others people’s personal problems.  Until we have walked in their shoes, we best not think we have an easy answer.

You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

Step up to the microphone,
Breathe deeply,
Speak with control,

You’re not trying hard enough,

To get over your stutter,
Snap out of depression,
Quit cigarettes,
Give up the booze,
Get an A in Math,
Lose all that weight,

How hard can it be?

Let me give you advice,
A few easy steps,
You’ll be fine in no time,

You’re not trying hard enough,

I’ll say it again,

You’re not trying hard enough,

How do I know?

‘Cause people who stutter
And stammer through life
With problems and worries
 And sadness and strife
Clearly need someone to straighten them out,

Step up to the microphone,
Breathe deeply,

How hard can it be?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Poem: We Are All Politicians

I decided to look up the definition of the word politician today.  I went to on the internet and found these definitions:  1. A person who is active in party politics.  
2.  A seeker or holder of public office who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles. 
I was quite stunned by the second definition.  It is clearly stating that maintaining the moral high ground is a virtual impossibility once you engage in politics.  Is that true, I pondered?
I have a feeling it is.  No matter how virtuous the person, the small compromises will occur and those small compromises will grow into bigger compromises until the moral compass is spinning out of control never to find its bearings again.  But aren’t we all politicians in our everyday lives?  I think we are, and I think we must battle the same fight to maintain our ethical compass.

We Are All Politicians

We are all politicians,
Making small compromises,
Asserting our opinions,
Working to achieve an outcome,
Finding an advantage
That might suit our needs,
Or make someone else's life
A little bit better,

It can go either way,

We can shake a hand,
Pat a back,
Smile sincerely,
Then walk away,
Feeling, caring,
Worrying about
Our friend;
Wanting what is best for them,

Or maybe we shake a hand,
Pat a back,
Smile sincerely,
Then walk away
Wondering what our friend
Can do for us,
What advantage can be gained
By being in a relationship
With that person?

We are all politicians,

Everyday we rise,
Move through our days,
Looking for some truth,
Hoping for some goodness
To occur,
But within that framework
We look out for our own needs,

And that makes us politicians,

Being a politician used to be

It can be again,

If we use our political savvy
To improve the plight of others,
To change the world for the better,
To focus on the needs of the poor,
Then we are politicians
Of the most admirable sort,

The kind we wish for
When we turn on the news,
The kind we pray for when we
Vote at the polls,

Are they out there?
Do they care?
Do we care?

We are all politicians,

The definition can change;
And so can we,

We are all politicians,

What kind will we be?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Poem and Music: In the Line of a Song

In the Line of a Song

The Spinners wrote the song, “Games People Play” (also known as They Just Can’t Stop It) in 1975 and it still resonates today.  It was a crossover success at the time hitting #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

There are songs that define certain times in our lives - no matter when we hear them, they take us right back.  In 1975, I had just graduated from Indiana University and was feeling a certain amount of angst about my future.  This song still gets to me every time I hear it - I’m right back to being a 22 year old pondering the great unknowns of life.  Come to think of it, I’m still doing that. 

 In the Line of a Song

There’s a lyrical life
In the line of a song,
It lifts and then floats
Bringing us right along,

Sing me a song
That touches my heart,
Sing me a song
Of a raw, tender sort,

A song about love,
A song about loss,
A song about hope
Or dreams
I might toss,

You know that low feeling
When dreams lose their air,
You can’t find your way,
You start to despair,

So toss them aside,
Start out anew,
Forge a new path,

But what will you do?

Don’t let the memories
Get in the way,
Catch the next train
 Then call it a day,

Let the song lift your soul,
Keep you on track,
Remember the past,
But no turning back.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Poem: I'm Just An Old Man Asking

I'm Just an Old Man Asking

The old man shuffled
Across the parking lot,
Sloshing through the snow,
Head down against the wind,
Shielding himself from the sting
Of yet another winter
In his life,

But this year was different,
This year he was alone;
Alone for the first time in sixty years,

He never imagined
Being married for sixty years;
Who could imagine such a thing?

Helen died in December
At Christmastime,
The worst time for death,
All tangled up with holiday lights
And joyful Noels,
People smiling, sharing cookies,
Hugging strangers,
Too busy for death,
Not right now
They thought,
Save it for another time,
A time without cheer,

But death could not wait,
Now George was alone,
To buy his groceries, go to church,
Dust the house, do the dishes
Sort his laundry,
Make the bed,

Live his life,

And so he did,

He shuffled toward the door,
Entered the recreation center,
Headed to the children’s reading corner,
Found his favorite chair
And settled in,

Within minutes he was surrounded,
Children clamoring 
For a story,
Clamoring for a spot 
On his lap,
Holding books in their hands,
Holding hope in their smiles,

George smiled back
And began to read,
Thinking, Lord, please give
These children long lives and love,
Give them futures
That sparkle like holiday lights
And burst with joyful Noels,
May their nights be free from fear,
May they have someone
Who loves them near,
I'm just an old man asking,
I pray with all my heart, 
Please grant this wish for all these kids,
And I will do my part.

P.S.  Tell Helen I'm doing okay.  I'll be along in a few years,
but I still have some important little people to look after here on earth.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Telling the Truth

I was listening to a podcast today from an NPR program called On Being.  This is the information from their website: 

On Being is a spacious conversation — and an evolving media space — about the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit. The program began as an occasional series on Minnesota Public Radio in 1999, then became a monthly national program in September 2001, and launched as a weekly program titled Speaking of Faith in the summer of 2003.

On Being is heard on a growing number of public radio stations in the U.S. — 240 and counting — and globally via Internet and podcast. In 2008, the program was awarded the highest honors in both broadcasting and electronic media — our first Peabody and our second Webby Award. Being is the only public radio program in the U.S. to achieve this distinction. 

The specific program I listened to was entitled "Words that Shimmer".  It was a conversation between the host Krista Tippett and Elizabeth Alexander about how poetry is filling a specific need right now; how people seem to be hungering for the straight truths that are told in poetic form.  

Ms. Alexander is a professor of African American Studies at Yale University and wrote and delivered the poem "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama's Inauguration.  On the day before the Inauguration, she was on The Mall as they were making preparations and doing sound checks.  The audio technician asked her to say a few lines of poetry into the microphone so they could check the sound quality.  She began reciting a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks called "Kitchenette Building".  Hundreds of people were milling about The Mall, but as soon as Elizabeth began reciting the poem, they stopped their movement, paused and listened to the poem.  When she was done, they applauded.  She said it was incredibly inspirational to realize the power of poetry in that moment.  She came away with an even deeper understanding of the emotion conveyed through a few lines of fine verse.
For the many poetry lovers and lovers of words on Open Salon, I encourage you to listen to this enlightening podcast.  You will find the link below.  

Poetry is accessible, valuable and transcends the soundbite jargon that currently consumes most of the airwaves and print technologies.  We have an opportunity through poetry to tell the truth in a way that is accessible and desirable.  I wrote a poem called "On Telling the Truth" to add to the discussion..

On Telling the Truth

I will speak the truth
In words
That resonate

They will not deceive
Or leave you holding
An empty vat
Of hollow sound,

A sound that
Neither sates your hunger
Nor fills the void
Of longing,
Longing for the truth,

That’s what you wish for,
Is it not?

If I tell you the truth about life
And death
Love and hate
Will you believe me?

What if I tell you I have no answers,
But I will search with you
Until we find the truth?

Then don’t believe me,

I do not know the truth,
I cannot find the truth,
But I will search with you
For deeper meaning,
Deeper understanding,
Of all that exists,
And we will come closer
To the truth;
That I can promise,

Is the willingness to search
Together enough,
Even knowing the truth can’t be found?

Seeking the truth may be
the only truth
we can hope for.

Please enjoy the video of Ms. Alexander's Inaugural poem:


On Being link:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Poem - I Don't Suppose You Noticed

Rita and Mike - Sleeping Bear Dunes - Michigan
I Don't Suppose You Noticed

I don’t suppose you noticed
The day I caught your smile,
I’ve kept in my pocket
For such a long, long while,

I pull it out most every day,
It makes me feel just fine,
The energy flows fast and free
Like vintage, precious wine,

My heart fills up with fulsome joy,
A gift you shared with me,
For in your smile, I found the truth
And it has set me free.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Poem - So Much to Learn from Birds in Flight

My oldest son has a friend who’s from southern Ohio.  On a recent wintry day, he and his dad were out in a field when this story unfolded.  I found it to be profoundly beautiful. 

So Much to Learn from Birds in Flight

The geese flew
In a perfect
In turns
They led and followed,

Then just like that
They turned as one
Into the
stiff north wind,

They hovered there
In brisk mid-air
The vee in perfect view,
This strange bird dance
So sweet so pure,
A tantalizing balance,

What caused
The geese to pause in flight,
Why take a break mid-air?

Then looking back
It all made sense,
Such lovely
Perfect sense,

A single goose
In rapid flight
Honked out his lonely plight,
Please wait,
I wish to join your team,
To fly as one tonight,

As he approached,
They turned as one,
Lone gray hooked on the end,
The group intact,
They turned due east,
To travel forth again,

So much to learn
From birds in flight,
Look out for all your kin,
Stop flight and wait
For those in need,
And then set off again,

Just wait
Then start

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poem: Just Let Me Laugh 'Til I Cry

 Just Let Me Laugh 'Til I Cry
It was outrageously funny,
I wish you could have been there,
People were rolling in the aisles,
I’m tellin’ you it was hysterical,

This guy told jokes like
They were goin’ outta style,
Jokes so funny
Your sides felt like splittin’,

Oh it felt good to laugh,
Really laugh,

I laughed so hard
 I cried,
You know that feeling?

I’m tired of crying
Over tragedy,
Over bullets and madness,

Just let me laugh ‘til I cry,
I’ll take that any day
Over the other.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Butter Battle Book Revisited or Why Vitriolic Rhetoric is a Bad Thing

The Butter Battle Book Revisited 
Why Vitriolic Rhetoric is a Bad Thing

Dr. Seuss was a wise man, so very wise he disguised his wisdom beneath layers of clever rhymes accompanied by whimsical pictures of creatures ill-defined but easy to align with.  The characters in The Butter Battle Book were given silly names like the Zooks and the Yooks and set up with an easy to follow plot involving one group eating their bread with the butter side down and one group eating their bread with the butter side up.  Such a trivial thing to argue over, but argue they did.  With each escalation of the disagreement, a member of the Zooks or Yooks would approach the wall dividing their properties carrying an ever more powerful and cleverly designed weapon, hoping to forcibly change the behavior of the other side. Threats were considered the best method.  As feelings grew more intense and tempers flared, the antes were upped.  The final frame of the book shows the leader of the Zooks and the leader of the Yooks each holding his final weapon of the most destructive nature over the wall with every intention of blowing everything and everyone to smithereens.  Their paws outstretched, they wait and wait for the other to flinch and we, the readers, are left with the unknowing uncertainty of a book left with no conclusion and the fear of total unalterable destruction
So silly to fight over bread buttering when it all tastes the same.  So silly to fight over politics when all we want is someone to lead with honesty and heart.  So silly to fight over health care reform when we know everyone deserves to be seen by a doctor when they are ill.  So silly to fight over gun control issues when it’s obvious too many bullets in one gun is a formula for disaster.

We fight over silly things every day, threatening each other with ever more powerful and cleverly designed weapons.  The weapons of choice for many come in the form of hate-filled words, vitriolic rhetoric or a huge line in the sand that never gets crossed to shake the hand on the other side.  

Rhetoric seemingly becomes the issue, with the issue itself getting lost in the soundbite abyss.  Who can outtalk, outwit or outsmart his opponent is the winner, but what do we lose along the way? 

We lose it all folks.  We stand at the wall having thrown every ounce of our being into our stance, unwilling to step back, unwilling to bend and we sadly all end up being the losers. 

There are many issues worth caring about.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t jump into the fray; we just need to put down the weapons, speak in softer tones and listen, really listen to what the other person is saying.  Maybe, just maybe a few more battles will end with opponents stepping away from the wall or agreeably crossing the line in the sand with a new outlook on an age old disagreement.

Pick up a copy of The Butter Battle Book today.  It’s a story for the times we live in.  I warn you, it looks like a book for children (and it is).  Dr. Seuss understood the serious subject matter would most likely be understood best by clear-eyed youngsters or possibly the child who still remains inside of you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead Poets Society - What Will My Verse Be?

Dead Poets Society

What Will My Verse Be?

I was home this afternoon feeling pitiful, nursing a bad cold which was accompanied by a cough and chills – you get the picture.  I turned on the TV, flipped through the channels and saw the Dead Poets Society had just started.  Wrapped in my afghan, sipping hot apple cider, I was quickly immersed in this compelling drama.  By the end I was wiping away tears.  I’ve seen this movie before, but not since I started writing poetry.  It suddenly took on a whole new level of meaning. 
John Keating (played by Robin Williams) teaches at a private boys’ boarding school and has a unique flair and inspirational heart that pulls his impressionable students out of the confining constraints present at this very traditional school.  He speaks to them of passion, individual thought, being brave enough to ask questions, looking beyond the obvious and embracing their own potential as human beings.  He challenges them to look for words of beauty to express their feelings. He huddles up the boys toward the beginning of the movie right in the middle of the classroom and says:
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for….the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
I sat there asking myself that question – what will my verse be?  I was inspired, excited to think about the power of poetry.  I felt like I was in his classroom being urged onward.  So, here’s a poem inspired by this beautiful movie. 

What Will my Verse Be?

Forming verse
So deftly drawn
Replete with words
So fine
I’ll drink them in
Then pour them out
Like port or sparkling wine

I’ll cherish every vowel
Regard each chosen word
A loving glance
A potter’s touch
Will guide
My sweet romance

I’ll speak of honor
Truth and hope
I’ll speak of perfect dreams
The words will glow
With favored grace
Describing untold scenes

My verse will be
The words I leave
Both spoken and in rhyme
The way I live, love and work
The way I use my time

My verse will be

And I will be

Just fine

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Poem - I Miss These Men

My Brother and Me - 1977 - Indiana

I Miss These Men

My dad sat in the back pew
The day I wed,
So very ill,

My brother walked with me,
Strong, handsome,
Like Omar Sharif,
I like an Irish lass,
Siblings nonetheless,

Proudly we walked,
Misted my eyes
As I kissed my dad
In the
Back pew
The day I wed,

Later that year he died
Age 63,
I was 23
Too young to know
How much I missed,

My brother now is gone as well
Age 56,
His heart gave out,
I don’t know why,
He hadn’t changed
Since my wedding day,
So strong, so sure,
Invincible to me,

I miss these men,

Gone so young,

But while they lived
They really lived,
Daring to be
Not compromising
On ideals,
The were the deal,
The real deal,

On the day I wed
I could not know,
But now I know
How to live,

Like them,

I’ll live like them.

Dad and my Brother - 1964