Poetry Can Help With the Terror (at least a little)

This poem does not speak to what immediately terrorizes us today, which needs no “forethought of grief” to leave us grieving (even though it breeds such forethought). It is, however, a beautiful poem, by a wonderful poet, and I am glad that someone I do not know shared it on Facebook today and that someone I do know, by “liking” it, brought it into my world. (Thank you Deborah K.)

There are forces in nature that offer comfort, and insight, even when parts of human nature make us despair.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Why My Profile Picture is Not Painted With the Flag of France

I sincerely applaud those who post their prayers for the people of Paris on Facebook. I cannot imagine any reason to condemn their sympathy for the suffering in France.

But I am not committed to the Internet memes expressing that sympathy.

Here’s one reason: I don’t think the look of my profile picture will have any impact on the killers nor upon the mourning and healing of the families victimized by the vicious attacks. I know such postings are sincere, but sadly, I cannot believe they matter.

Here’s the other reason: I have not altered my profile colors for the 43 Lebanese killed by ISIS bombs in Beirut on Friday; nor for 147 students killed in Kenya by Islamic terrorists yesterday; nor for the 80-some Yemenis mowed down at a wedding by an American drone strike; nor for the thousands of Nigerians slaughtered by Boka Haram; nor for all the Americans gunned down in their theaters, malls, and schools. That’s why I haven’t granted the French special status. I am not indifferent to the terror and pain in Paris. I am overwhelmed by the terror and pain suffered by people throughout the world.

No one nation’s colors can capture that pain.

In Honor of Billy Collins

I guess it’s OK for me to reprint a poem by Billy Collins, even though it is the title poem of a collection still for sale and certainly still under copyright. After all, it’s available online, and I offer it here to celebrate the poet and perhaps to inspire others to become his avid and book-buying fans.

Some claim that Collins’ “accessibility” is a sign of superficiality. I think those critics are failing as readers — failing to appreciate the cleanness of his language, the wryness of his self-deprecation, and the significance of his insights, which should inspire both laughter and thoughtfulness. It takes a great deal of craft to seem so conversational. I wish I could do so much through simplicity and clarity.

The Trouble with Poetry
by Billy Collins

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment —

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.


That “little amusement park of a book” is A Coney Island of the Mind, which I also savored in my high school life (even though, happily enough, I didn’t find high school treacherous). I can’t find my old copy but think I’ll go looking for it through one of our few remaining local book stores still surviving the amazon age.

Trump Makes Hay on SNL

If you are Larry David, and if you hate all that Trump represents, and if you find yourself on Saturday Night Live when Trump is hosting, and if you see that the writers have given you a chance to call out Trump for blatant racism, and if that explicit point is quickly undercut by your referencing the anti-Trump forces that will pay anyone who calls out Trump for blatant racism, and if you acknowledge the payment (as part of the joke), and if you do not simultaneously point out the fact that the charge of racism is still valid…then…you have done essentially nothing to advance the truth, to fight the oppression, to secure your own integrity.

And so it goes, it seems, in the world now defining political campaigns, especially, as I ask and wonder, about the ways in which journalism and pop entertainment have merged since Clinton first blew sax on Arsenio Hall and questions about boxers vs. briefs became meaningful to the American mind, so that a media outlet’s need for media clicks overwhelmed its need for something touched by integrity, concern, or a mere or passing touch of the truth.