Slain by a Poem

Version 2 On the very day Saved by a Poem was finally published (after five years of rewrites!) a dear friend said, “But it’s got the wrong title! It’s should be called SLAIN by a poem, not Saved by a Poem!” She was absolutely right. A central summons in my work is to let yourself be slain by the poem, whether you are reading it on the page, speaking it aloud, or hearing it: let those tears or that gust of laughter break open the cage of your personality, let that involuntary sob turn your quiet voice into a wail or a whimper; fall into that velvet silence between you and whoever is with you in the precious awkwardness of not knowing what to say in the wake of a poem that has hit it’s mark. 

Every time I speak a poem, no matter how many times I’ve said it before, something in me is slain. I never know exactly what it will be. All I know is that I don’t know, and won’t know until I give myself to the poem and, as D.H. Lawrence writes, “am borrowed by the fine, fine wind that takes it’s course through the chaos of the world.” As the poem moves through my being, it magnetizes aspects of myself I have never met before, it burns off elements of my defenses and personality I no longer need – no matter how much I might think I do! It demands intimacy — that I meet it, meet myself, meet the communion with whoever might be listening — in naked presence. 

Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Slain by a Poem

Computers for Kenya

“You might think that your computer is old and done-with, but it is opening a new window in my life, and in many lives”

~Zam Obed, Kibera, Kenya

Among the torrent of life-changing experiences I had in Kenya was bringing as many used laptops as I could carry (4) to people. Me the Geek!! Nonetheless I taught 48 girls at the V-Day Safe House enough to be able to write and play songs, gave Vanda Marlow’s used mac powerbook to Zam Obed so she can apply for grants for her wonderful new NGO (see below) to help children and adults in Kibera, gave another to Ijawa Obeid and Zahra for their college studies, and one to Jecinta. It was unbelievably rewarding in all directions. Perhaps my favorite moment was seeing two sisters aged 12 and 13 who had arrived at the Safe House only days before, who spoke only Maasai and had never been to school or learned to read or write, slowly realizing they could type their own names on the keys. A Helen Keller “water” moment to be sure!
Computers for Kenya 2WANT TO JOIN ME? I’m going to start collecting used computers, iPads, iPods for my next trip. Join me in changing lives – yours and theirs — and the life of this planet too, which doesn’t need any more technological waste. Contributions are tax-deductible as is technical help to clear and prepare the devices.  Here’s a photo album of some of the precious moments. Email me if you want to contribute a computer, ipad, or ipod.

Posted in Computers for Kenya | Comments Off on Computers for Kenya

Can you help a girl from Kenya?

 The Jecinta Fund
College Scholarships for Girls from the Vday Safe House
in Narok, Kenya

Funding the college education of Jecinta has been one of the most profound gifts of my life. The love and communication between us is a life-changing experience for both of us. Jecinta is the first young womJecintaan of her village to receive a post-secondary education and her hard-work and commitment has changed not only her own story, but that of her family and her tribe. Traditionally Maasai girls are not allowed to go to school. Although it is against the law, many girls  are ‘circumcised” (Female Genital Mutilation) when they reach puberty or before, and sold into marriage to a man often 4 or 5 times their age. The VDAY Safe House provides a sanctuary for those girls who are courageous and fortunate enough to run away. The girls are sent to school and all their needs are provided for.

The legal mandate of the Safe House is to protect, provide for and educate the girls until Maasaithey graduate secondary school. At that point the girls must find someone to fund their college education or their future is uncertain.

Currently there are four girls seeking funding for post-secondary education. I know them all personally and believe that they are young women who will not only succeed in college but will return to their communities and create manifold transformation. Over the last two years, I not only had the deep joy of supporting Jecinta to flower in business school, but I also was able to connect a young woman named Regina  with a family here in California who funded her through two years of teachers college (Regina is pictured to the right at her college graduation this December). The three daughters in the family consider Regina their sister. They speak by phone and email with her regularly. When I went to Kenya, I carried personal gifts from each of them — fuzzy socks, handmade cards and a framed picture of the family. Regina wept as she pointed out each family member by name to me — her American “mum” and “dad” and each of the three girls. When I returned I carried a beaded gourd and traditional beaded necklaces – one for each of the daughters – from Regina.

Please consider if you or a group of your friends or anyone you know might want to support a Safe House girl to go to college. It is an incredible blessing to have such an immediate and tangible relationship with a bright young woman, to be able to change her life story in such a tangible way, and through her the story of her family, her tribe and women on this planet. Your support of the girls is fully tax-deductible thanks to the collaboration of Belladonna Sanctuary. If you are interested, I am overjoyed to offer you more information, as well as photos and videos of the girls seeking funding. If you decide to make the commitment, I will continue to facilitate your relationship with the student to whatever extent you choose.

Email me for more information. Kenya girls

Posted in Can you help a girl from Kenya? | Comments Off on Can you help a girl from Kenya?

Lessons from the Heart of Kenya

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 6.35.11 PM

I’ve recently returned from a life-changing journey in Kenya. This was the fourth time I’ve been, and each time the giving and receiving seems to go deeper. Yet, in the past, I’ve always felt it was just a visit. This time it was clear that my commitment to the people and communities I love there holds a central place in my heart and has become a lifelong path.

RSCN0269 - Version 2

Jecinta and me at the Menengai Crater

There are many reasons I return again and again to this world that teaches me so much: to visit Jecinta (the young woman who appears in the last chapter of Saved by a Poem, who I’ve been supporting with help from many of you as she completes her degree in Business School); to be with my friend Zam Obed and her family in Kibera, the slum outside of Nairobi; and to go to the VDay Safe House in the Great Rift Valley [link to blog], a home to 50 Maasai girls who have had to flee their families and tribes in order to escape Female Genital Mutilation and Early Childhood Marriage. I want to share stories and videos from each of these worlds in subsequent blogs. Here are some links to photos on Facebook: VDay Safe House & Zam and her Community,


Narikuni and her sister

There is another reason I spend all my frequent flyer miles to travel halfway around the planet, with suitcases full of used computers to give away (see “Computers for Kenya” in January 2014 newsletter) and gifts of clothing and jewelry for all I love, a much more personal one. I go because it is so utterly disorienting. Those of you who have taken workshops with me know that a large component of poetry’s medicine that I highlight is the power of a poem to disorient the mind from it’s habitual patterns, to unlatch the cage of our limited thoughts, and drop us into a vastness of insight and feeling that seems to come from beyond our voluntary, linear mind. Well, Kenya – and many other cultures that are so different from mine on the surface – wields a mega-medicine in this domain. Almost every single aspect of life is utterly different – electrical outlets, camel milk in the supermarket, toilet paper or not, traffic patterns, no street lights, touch, body language, talking or spending hours staring into space together not talking, playing games on your mobile phone while taking a friend out to tea, asking for help, or greeting a companion, or wearing a sleeveless dress – everything has different IMG_2221rules and messages. I cannot read people there. I cannot assume a facial expression there means what I think it means here. Or the movement of an arm, or a wink, or a sideways look. Some people don’t say goodbye at the end of a phone call and I don’t know they’ve hung up. And the waiting! Waiting is just part of relating, normal, no blame, no apology. Waiting everywhere. Waiting for a friend is part of friendship. Sometimes for hours. Not a bad thing, simply part of life. I waited two hours while a friend got her hair done. Watched the 8 beauticians in the tiny fourth floor salon braiding extensions into the hair of women and little girls. Periodically one would disappear and return with a tub of steaming water. Only then did I realize that there was no running water in the shop. Agnes waited for me at the cell phone store for at least 45 minutes. Agnes Pareyio, who is the visionary who started the Safe House. Agnes, who has been an elected official in Narok for 20 years. No problem.

I cannot read body language – or more accurately, I cannot trust my (constant) narrative of what this or that facial expression or shrug means. It makes me realize that perhaps I never can, even in a culture I think I share with the one laughing or shrugging or wincing. What would it be like to let myself not know?

hairThere I know that I do not know. I cannot predict what someone is thinking or feeling or if they’re innocent, dangerous, honest or not. 99% of the time they are so far more honest and innocent than most of my experiences in the U.S., that I’m dumbfounded. This is the most extreme disarming: how innocent people are. That giggling between girls over in the corner is not teasing or deriding or colluding against someone, it’s just giggling – because the sun is warm, or their friend is near, or they have new hair extensions. The woman asking for money is simply asking for money, not trying to take advantage or trick me. The man shaking my hand in welcome who seems so open and happy to greet me even though we’ve never met is actually open and happy to greet me even though we’ve never met.

DSCN0159I’m undone by this innocence, directness, immediacy. I’m undone by the dissolution of the millions (literally) of stories that are constantly arising in interpretation of that eye movement or this smile. A girl wiggles her hips and winks at me as she tells me how happy she is to see me. This does not mean she’s coming on to me. A friend walks away without saying goodbye. This does not mean she’s angry at me. The tall man greeting Yusef in the crowded street lifts his arm in the air as if it weighed a hundred pounds, limp at the wrist, then lets his hand plummet into Yusef’s waiting palm, and this does not mean that he is lazy or tired or resentful or unwilling to give his full attention to the meeting. Playing with your cell phone in our first longed-for meeting after 2 and a half years does not mean you do not care about me. Spending our last afternoon together sitting on the floor of your apartment watching soap operas does not mean you are not sad to see me go.

I am left with what connects us beyond what we say, how our faces express, the proximity or distance or stance of our bodies. I am left with what these people are expert at: deep, patient, loyal connections of the heart that can enfold the hundred thousand disappointments, breakages, interruptions, mishaps, waitings, missed meetings, broken toilets and cell phones and computers and roofs and hearts that life brings.

We get what we give our lives to. We in the western world are expert at getting a lot done, excelling in capitalism and technology and efficincy and the linear climb to the top. They are expert at the heart.

girls dancing





Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

Dissolving Separation with a Poem: An Excerpt from Saved by a Poem

Dissolving Separation with a Poem

An excerpt from Saved by a Poem, Chapter 10
by Kim Rosen

I discovered how the separating lines of culture and age can dissolve in the presence of a poem the first time I went to Africa. In Kenya, at the Tasaru Ntomonok Rescue Centre for safe houseGirls in the Rift Valley, I unexpectedly found myself speaking a poem to a group of Maasai girls, only a few hours after I met them. I had long wanted to visit this miraculous place, ever since it was opened by Eve Ensler and her organization V-Day in collaboration with Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman who dedicates her life to stopping the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Tasaru, also called the V-Day Safe House, was created as a haven for girls escaping FGM. Fifty or so girls live at the house at any given time. Each has had to leave her family and community. Many have traveled alone for miles, barefoot over the rough roads, spending nights hiding under the bushes for fear of being found by wild animals.

My first few hours there were awkward. My shyness kept me from striking up conversations with the girls, most of whom, though they understood English, did not speak it willingly. They were shy with me too, keeping their distance and watching me in twos or threes, whispering in Maa (the language of the Maasai) and giggling.

Finally I decided to go over to the kitchen, where I heard lively singing as a group cooked ugali (porridge made of cornmeal) and cabbage over an open fire. I listened outside as the last song dissolved into gales of laughter and a cacophony of exclamations OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin Maa. But the chatter instantly hushed when I walked in. A tall girl who spoke excellent English came up to me and stood directly in front of me: “Do you remember my name?”

I didn’t. I had been introduced to about 20 girls in the last couple of hours and could not for the life of me remember which beautiful Maasai face went with which name.

“Salula?” I asked sheepishly, grabbing for the only name I remembered. “No!” The girls shrieked with laughter at what must have been a big mistake on my part. “That is Salula!” They pointed at one of the youngest girls, who had arrived at the Safe House only months before at the age of 9, having been rescued in the midst of a forced marriage to a 42-year-old man.


photo by Marvi Lacar

“I am Jecinta.” The tall girl spoke to me with exaggerated patience, as if to a two-year-old. “Do you know any songs?” Clearly she was giving me an opportunity to redeem myself.

“I know some songs,” I said. “But what I really love most is poetry. May I recite a poem to you?”

She nodded. Suddenly I panicked. What poem might these girls relate to? I pored through the archive in my mind. Not one seemed remotely appropriate. Their life experience was so different from mine.

The kitchen had become strangely silent. The clatter of washing and cooking had ceased. The whispering and giggling that had been a constant soundtrack in the background was quiet. All the girls had stopped their work and were waiting for my poem.

Out of nowhere “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, a poem I hadn’t thought of in months, burst into my mind. Without even taking the time to run through it silently to see if it was appropriate, I began speaking: “One day you finally knew / what you had to do.”

The poem is about leaving home, turning away from the many voices that demand that you stay, risking the anguish of those who seem to need and love you, and walking alone into a wild night in order to save “the only life you can save.” The girls listened, transfixed. Each of them had lived through such a turning point. Each of them, at a very young age, had defied tribal tradition and left her parents, friends, and community to save her own life. Who could understand these lines better than they?

It is difficult to describe what happened in that crowded, smoky kitchen as I delivered the poem. There I was, a middle-class white American woman speaking words written by another middle-class white American woman, surrounded by Maasai girls who had grown up in tribal villages in the Rift Valley, in families so poor that the two cows their parents would get when they gave their daughter to an old man in marriage were their only hope of a better life.

But as “The Journey” filled the kitchen, there was no separation between us. We were transported into a timeless, place-less, language-less realm where we were the same. By the end of the poem, tears were running down my face and several of the girls were crying as well. Several of them dove toward me, wrapping their arms around my waist. There was a long silence. Then Jacinta asked, “Who is this woman, Mary Oliver? Is she Maasai?”

I shook my head, barely able to speak. “American,” I whispered. “Mzungu. Like me.”

“How did she know?”

By now there were about two dozen girls packed into the smoky kitchen or leaning in the windows.  I looked around at the crowd that had gathered. Most girls were melted into each other, their arms draped around their friends. Two girls had maneuvered me into the space between them; one rested her head on my shoulder. For a long moment of silence we gazed at each other through the smoke, our eyes full of light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Addendum: In collaboration with friends and colleagues, have had the great joy of supporting Jecinta to go to business school. To read more about her, and see a video of her expressing what her education means to her, her family and her community, click here.

Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Dissolving Separation with a Poem: An Excerpt from Saved by a Poem

In the Land of the Bards…

I’ve spent the summer in the Celtic realms – Ireland, Wales, Scotland and a part of England called Dartmoor. For the last eight summers I have migrated across the sea, thanks to the invitation of Chloe Goodchild, visionary singer and founder of The Naked Voice, and her tribe of gifted facilitators. Through no conscious plan of my own, I find myself in a deep discipleship to Celtic Goddess Brigid, keeper of the triple flame of Poetry, Healing and the Fire of Transformation.

In a Standing Stone Circle in Dartmoor, England

In a Standing Stone Circle in Dartmoor, England

Ostensibly I go there to teach – workshops, retreats and the Poetry Depths Mystery School. Yet I am not deceived by this apparent role! There is no doubt that I am also a student here where, not so long ago, Bards were the wisdom-keepers of the tribe, and, in the indigenous tongue, the word for poet, fila, is also the word for mystic.

How do I convey to you, especially my American friends, what it is like to breathe the air of a place where poetry seems to rise rhythmically out of the sheets of mist, to recite an ancestry of sorrow and survival from between abandoned potato furrows or sing from standing stone circles that grow from the moor like stanzas of silent song?

Not to romanticize. I certainly meet as many people in the Celtic lands as in the United States who feel a sense of “educational trauma” around poetry. They tell me they couldn’t relate to poetry as it was taught to them in school and haven’t looked at a poem in years. But pressed, they admit that their mother recited Yeats to them as children, or that they used to hide, pajama-clad, ear against the door of the central room of the farmhouse, listening to the adults share poems and songs deep into the night. To grow up in any nation that proudly holds her poets as central to the national identity must grow poems into the bones in a way that is so basic to the rhythm of life that it can go unnamed and unnoticed – until a foreigner from a land like the U.S., where poetry is often marginalized, holds up a mirror.

1804580As a child I loved poetry.  My mother would read to me from A. A. Milne’s book, When We Were Very Young. Do you remember that book? “Half Way Down the Stairs” was my favorite. Halfway down the stairs is a place where I sit, there isn’t any other stair quite like it…

When I was seven I started to write poems in earnest (my best poem that year, in true Scorpionic style, was called “Death.”) Although my poems were welcomed and sometimes even celebrated by my family or my school, early on I got the message that it was better (safer) to grow out of this and become a lawyer or doctor or business woman, not a poet. Sound familiar?

Even so, I am one of the fortunate ones. Although my parents made it known they would have preferred my turning towards a potentially more lucrative profession, they nonetheless gave me every opportunity to follow my heart – first into theatre, then into spirituality and psychology, then into poetry.

Somehow, in spite of these blessings, I have managed to harbour a secret sense that the arts, particularly the poetic arts, are marginal. It’s like a coming upon an internalized prejudice that’s so innate, so woven into the fabric of your reality, that you didn’t even realize you had it. (And it seems that I am not alone. Just the other day I read the horrifying statistic that the English Major is a dying breed. Verlyn Klinkenborg writes in the New York Times, “The number of students graduating in the humanities has fallen sharply. At Pomona College… this spring, 16 students graduated with an English major out of a student body of 1,560, a terribly small number.”) I am often asked why so many in America have turned away from poetry. This is material for at least a book, if not a life-work. However, you can taste an initial inquiry into the question in a blog I wrote on the Huffington Post.

Reciting poems on the graves of the ancestors, Limerick, Ireland

Reciting poems on the graves of the ancestors, Limerick, Ireland

It’s only when I go to the lands of the Bards that I see my subtle belief system thrown into stark relief against a field of consciousness that knows that poetry is central to the care and feeding of any individual, community or nation, as central as medicine or economics or politics – and at times synonymous with them.

So I return from the Celtic realms blessedly shaken to the core. Each summer that I steep, with the circles of kindred souls at my workshops and retreats, in the mystery and the power of the spoken sacred word, I am moved closer to the knowing I had at seven years old, when I stood up before the family gathering, pushed my horned rimmed glasses up on my nose, tossed my curls out of my eyes and began to read my new poem: “To some it is escape from / To others escape to / But to all unknown. . .”Mallaig, Scotland




Posted in Blog, News | 3 Comments

Protected: Recordings

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Protected: Recordings

Where Poet and Mystic are One

Where Poet and Mystic are One
August 30, 2012

“The language came from the land,” Letitia intoned in her lush Welsh accent. “Remember before Christ and before and before and before when we had 13 eyes on our body, and 13 ears? We still have them but we don’t use them. We heard sounds that we don’t hear anymore. And we began to repeat them and form them into language.”

I met Letitia at the first workshop I gave on the “far” side of the Atlantic: Wales, 2006. It was my first taste of a culture – and here I include both Welsh and Irish – where poetic language seems inscribed in the marrow, where lines of Yeats or Dylan Thomas rock babies to sleep, where poets have been seen throughout the eras as the wisdom keepers and mystics.

Of course, many Irish and Welsh people have hastened to caution me against waxing rhapsodic and romanticizing a culture where just as many kids have been scared off poetry in grammar school as on my side of the Atlantic, and the adults are still in recovery. Yes, I can relate to that, and so can many who come to my workshops and concerts regardless of nationality. I give thanks that we are “in recovery,” that through some mystery each of us heard a call or felt a longing that was more compelling than the bruises left on some of our psyches by educational mishaps.

Can you relate to this story of the prodigal poem-lover? Do you remember the moment when you changed course, when whatever it was that scared you away from poetry, or bored you, or shamed you into flight was dwarfed by the call to return? What was it that called you back? A voice heard on the radio? A poem spoken at a funeral? A book gifted to you by a new friend? I’d love to hear what it was for you. Leave a comment below if you can relate to this archetypal journey. Tell me about yours.

But I digress.

Back in 2006, when I offered my first “Poetry Dive” workshop in Wales, I don’t think I had any idea that I had stepped into world that would pick me up and carry me to unimagined depths of my own work with the transformational power of poetry.

I’ve just returned from 6 weeks in Ireland and Wales where my adventures included 6 workshops, 3 concerts and several rather wet and edgy adventures, among them an attempt to swim with Fungi, the dolphin who lives in Dingle Bay and instead of meeting a cetacean, I and my comrade Emer met an ocean current that almost sent us into the Mystery! We did survive the initiation, and were able to wave to Fungi from a boat the next day.  (That dolphin is truly a miracle story: a lone bottlenose who, 30 years ago, chose to come and make contact with humans, and has been gracing the little town of Dingle ever since, bringing tourists, revitalizing the town, showing up daily to swim alongside tourist boats eye to eye with the humans on board. One little girl, maybe 7 years old, said to her mom as she waved to him, “I’m so happy right now, I can’t even find my sad place!”)

But yet again I digress.

There are a dozens of other miracle stories I could tell you, and these about humans unlocking their souls through powerful poetry dives and writing, speaking, dancing, shouting, being immersed in silence. Of all of these, the miracle I want to share right now is, drum roll please. . .


I have not yet found words to express the profound gift that this group of pioneers has given me in their willingness to explore beyond the edges of their own “known” and mine too; in their willingness to take poems into their lives, voices, communities, workplaces, dinner parties, hospitals, therapy sessions, groups, seminars, parenting, partnerships… and on and on. As one person said,

It has been more awesome than any religious experience – being taken out of myself, into myself.  Many encounters – the angels Jacob wrestled with I have encountered in the poems – radically disturbing yet affirming also. I am now seeing myself as holding citizenship of a bigger world – and perhaps not just citizenship, but leadership.

I have discovered that a poem-as-sacred-medicine is a visceral indwelling entity and as such it transforms. It has to be voiced because the voice is a present-moment experiece – and only in the present-moment can healing happen.

And another,

Every time time I speak a poem now, my body straightens, and I am in a “sudden grace.” I feel reborn into another body, another wisdom beyond me, into something and someone I must know and yet have never before embodied.

This group is calling forth a Year Two of the Poetry Depths Mystery School. They are teaching me what I have to teach – and learn – at the deepest level. I am so grateful.

In January the first North American Poetry Depths Mystery School will begin. Even though some of the participants have suspiciously Irish sounding names, I am thrilled to feel the energies constellating for an equally transformational journey here on this side, “my” side, of the Atlantic.

Posted in Blog, News | 4 Comments

The Art of Losing

Kim and friend on the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana, photo by Cris Mulvey

I write to you from a delicious and rare moment in my own home. Since I last wrote I’ve breathed the wave spew of Ho’okena Bay, the antiseptic vapors of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, the scent of night jasmine on the cliffs of Esalen, and the sweet blow of horse-breath on the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana (see photo by Cris Mulvey). I’m perpetually stunned and grateful for the outer journeys I take and the inner journeys — my own and others’ — that I get to serve on the way.

Today California spring worked its seduction upon me, and I managed to tear myself away from this computer screen to hike up the mountain (well, hill really) across the street from my house. Though the separation from my inbox always requires an act of will, as soon as I set foot on the path I am swooning in the feast of filtered light playing over my skin, bluebelly lizards staring me down as long as they dare, Mount Tamalpais presiding over the horizon.

These last months have found me even more on the ‘road’ than I’d planned. Like so many in my generation, I’ve entered the chapter of the autobiography in which, if the heroine happens to have parents that are not taken by disease or accident early in life, she is called to meet the blessings and heartbreak of watching the legions of incapacity make their slow march through the bodies of her loved ones. For me, it is a fierce gift to practice “The Art of Losing,” step-by-poignant step. Elizabeth Bishop says, tongue in cheek I think, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master. / So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is not a disaster.” In Saved by a Poem, I write of how my friend Judith learned this poem by heart as she sat by the bedside of her dying husband:

As the words worked their way more and more deeply into her memory, they opened her—to the grief and, yes, even the humor of being with her partner of 40 years as he lost his capacities, one by one. She told me she clung to this poem for solace during the days just before and after John’s death. “You know, underneath those seemingly lighthearted words there is unspoken pain,” she said. “That is what made it so powerful for me.” And the beauty of the villanelle form of the poem, with its particular music of rhymes and repetitions, carried her as she lived, day by day, the poignant truth of the last stanza:

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

The day after I returned from leading the annual Beyond Words retreat with cellist Jami Sieber in Hawaii, I was called to the East Coast to help my 93-year old father through an illness. As I sat by his bedside in the hospital, researching hospices and learning the name of a new nurse every eight hours, I chose a different poem to learn. I turned to “Relax” by Ellen Bass to help me bring humor and perspective to my predicament. After many weeks. my father had a miraculous recovery. I walked into the next pages of my life more tender, sober and in wonder at how the unfurling of the story seems to liberate, even through heartbreak.

The poem helped a lot. Here it is:

Relax by Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat –
the one you never really liked — will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Thank you for your companionship among the tigers and strawberries,


Posted in Blog | 2 Comments

Sea Changes…

Sea Changes

~ February 11, 2012 ~

Recently a friend pointed out that two of the major power spots for my work are the diametrically opposite islands of Ireland and Hawaii. I don’t know if there is deep inner meaning in this, but it does remind me that as a child, I had a passion for stories about far away islands where people were recognized for who they really are, their essential, radiant nature – no matter how obscured that might be. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Peter Pan, and The Island of Blue Dolphins, for instance. Usually there is a wise animal involved, like Aslan in the Dawn Treader or Nana in Peter Pan. Always they had to go through some kind of initiation: a fierce confrontation with their own defenses in which they were tossed and tempted by life until they came out radiant and humbled and ever more true to the visionary within. Most of these people were children, because – almost always – children are the only ones with the willingness to throw themselves unabashedly into mystery and possibility and be changed and reborn in the process.

Though my memory for details is not great (remembering poems is very different than remembering details!) I do recall vowing, as I hid under the covers with a flashlight and a book into the wee hours, that when I grew up I would not be like the adults who seemed to lose their magical nature to a deadness of insurance payments, grocery lists and punching a time clock. I promised myself that I would not betray this sense of inner adventure, this vision of human possibility, or the “fearless face to face awareness of now naked life”* that the children in those stories always discovered through their ordeal.

So I have recently returned from Ireland where I was not quite surrounded by dolphins or mythical lions, but – dare I say it? – even better, a circle of truly magical human beings. Together we initiated the first Poetry Depths Mystery School, a training program for those who are called to take the medicine of embodied poetry into service – through their work in the world and/or through their daily lives. It was and is a dream come true, in fact it is beyond my childhood dreams because it is a communion that is happening between real people in a real world that includes the grit of the “human catastrophe” so close to the grace of the ineffable; the grist of the unpaid mortgage or lost job so close to the sheer beauty of being that sometimes the difference between them disappears. That’s what embodying a great poem can do.

At this moment, I am packing for my retreat on the Hawaiian island where the dolphins called to me 22 years ago. Now it is music and poetry that summons me through the breaking of waves on the black rock of Pele’s island. I’m very excited to have Jami Sieber again joining me at the Beyond Words Retreat to create her shamanic brew of live music to interweave the poems. There’s still one place left so if you read this and feel an outrageous impulse to come, let me know!!!

When I got to college, the worlds of Narnia and Neverland were joined by Prospero’s magical island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Those who were shipwrecked on that Isle were brought face to face with themselves, whether they liked it or not. A “sea-change” is foisted upon them by the wise and powerful Prospero.

Last year I went to see Julie Taymor’s new movie of The Tempest. (She has Helen Mirren playing a female Prospera!). And, guess what? It was shot almost entirely on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the wild, rough lava fields and tangled Chrismas Berry forests that I have lived in, and so deeply love.

*This is a phrase from one of my favorite poems, “Terra Incognita” by D. H. Lawrence



Posted in Blog | 1 Comment

Jecinta, an Inspiration…

Jecinta, An Inspiration

~ August 30, 2011 ~

Jecinta, 2007

You may remember, in the last chapter of Saved by a Poem, a girl named Jecinta challenged me to recite a poem when I was paralysed with shyness on my first day at the V-Day Safe House in Kenya. The experience of speaking Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” to a group of Maasai girls who had fled their families and communities to “save the only life [they could] save” remains one of the most powerful moments of my life. In gratitude for the gift Jecinta gave me that day, I’ve been raising funds to put her through business school for the last two years. Many of you have contributed.

This July I visited Jecinta in Nakuru, where she is a student at the Kenya Institute of Management. What a transformation! The girl I left three years ago has become a shining woman. Moving to Nakuru by herself, finding her own school and lodging, negotiating the big city and the finances of living there — all of this has been a sort of initiation for Jecinta, who grew up in Mukilit, a rural area of the Rift Valley where she lived with her parents and 9 brothers and sisters in a manyatta, a house made of mud, dung and sticks before moving to the V-Day Safe House in Narok.

Jecinta, 2011

The culmination of our time together occured when her mother surprised us by traveling on foot and matatu for 6 hours through the rain to meet and thank me. She had rarely left Mukilit, and had never seen where her daughter was living and going to school.

Later, Jecinta and I sat down and spoke about her life, her hopes and dreams, and her gratitude for all of you who have supported her. To view the video of our conversation, click here.

Jecinta will be the first young woman in her village to be educated beyond high school. Already she is an inspiration to other girls and women in her tribe, many of whom undergo FGM and are married as teens or younger to much older men. Jecinta is changing her culture by making her own choices and living her dreams. If you would like to help me support Jecinta’s education, please contact me. Even a small amount goes a long way.

Jecinta, Kim, Jecinta’s mother

Posted in Blog, News | 4 Comments

A Day in the Life of Agnes Pareyio

A Day in the Life of Agnes Pareyio
~ July, 2011 ~

It’s 7:30 am at the V-Day Safe House in Narok, Kenya, and the morning symphony has begun. I am awakened by the sound of Mama Helen singing as she returns from the farm down the street with a large jug of fresh milk, which hangs on her back in a piece of colorful fabric tied across her forehead. Mama Helen is the matron of the center, and cares for the 50 or so girls who live there. Outside my door a girl hums Swahili gospel as she sweeps the walkway, bending low to make the most of the three-foot long bundle of reeds that is her broom. Other girls call to one another across the lawn as they amble between the dormitory and the dining hall, brushing their teeth in the sun, or carrying plastic tubs of water for bathing.

The V-Day Safe House, also called the Tasaru Ntonomok Rescue Center, was opened byEve Ensler and her organization, V-Day, in collaboration with Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman, who dedicates her life to putting an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) and early childhood marriage (ECM).

Eve met Agnes in 2000, when she was traveling the Rift Valley on foot from village to village, carrying a plastic model of a woman’s pelvis, which she used to educate her tribe about the dangers of FGM. To learn about their meeting and the profound impact each had on the other’s life and work, read “Waiting for Mr. Alligator” in Eve’s memoir, Insecure at Last. Here’s an excerpt:

I asked Agnes what V-Day could do for her, how we could support her. She said, “Eve, if V-Day buys me a jeep, I could get around a lot faster.” We bought her a jeep. The first year she had it, she was able to reach 4500 girls. So I asked what else V-Day could do for her. She said, “Eve, if you gave me money, I could build a house for girls so that when they were about to be cut they could run away to the house and  save their clitoris and go to school.” So we gave her money to build a house.

In 2002, the first V-Day Safe House was opened in Narok, Kenya. In 2007, with support from V-Day and a group of V-Day activists, Agnes began construction on a second safe house at Sakutiek, a remote district about 45 kilometers north of Narok and the village where Agnes grew up.  50 or so girls live at each Safe House at any given time. In the three years since my last visit, there are many new faces.

As soon as I open my door, Mama Helen and 5 or 6 girls pour into the little guest room where I’m staying, bringing me milky tea and a basin of warm water for bathing. I see that they’ve already traded the gifts of jewelry and clothes I gave them when I arrived last night. Ann is wearing the sandals I gave Salula, and Brenda is sporting several bracelets that other girls had chosen. I notice that Dameris is wearing the wooden frog pendant that Brenda had on last night. Ownership among these girls does not exist as we know it, and one can watch a favorite outfit or accessory make its way around the community, appearing on a different person every day.

At 10 am, Agnes arrives to welcome me. As her “V-Day Jeep” pulls through the red metal gate of the center, the cacophony of giggles, shouts and gospel music, an almost constant soundtrack at the Safe House, quiets to a subdued hum. Agnes emerges from the vehicle and several girls run to her, bowing so she can touch the top of each head in the traditional Maasai greeting of an elder to a child. She asks them how they are doing in their studies and invariably tells them to work harder.

Though her relationship with them seems formal, I am beginning to sense how deeply these girls hold her as their mother. The night I arrived, Salula sat with me in the corner of the deserted dining hall and told me about her first weeks at the safe house in 2006. I had connected with Salula on my earlier visits and we have maintained a strong bond through the years. I knew the basics of her story: that Agnes and her team had rescued her two months before her 9th birthday in the midst of a forced wedding to a 42 year old man. But I’d never heard the details.

Unlike many of the girls who consciously chose to flee to the Safe House, Salula had no idea what was happening when a woman she had never seen before, flanked by a team of policemen, arrived at the wedding. Little Salula, dressed in ceremonial clothes and layers and layers of beaded jewelry, was guided into the waiting jeep and whisked away.

“When I first arrived at the Safe House, Agnes told Ann (an older girl) to stay with me and be my teacher and sister. But I disturbed her very much at night. I would sleep for only two hours then I would cry for the rest of the night, missing my mother. When Ann heard me crying, she would start crying too. Soon I was disturbing all the girls. So Agnes brought me to live with her in her house and took care of me until I got better. She became my mother. She is mother to all of us.”

I met Salula about a year after her rescue, when, at 9 years old, she was still the youngest at the Safe House. Now, though she’s only 13, she’s a true leader for the other girls, and her joy is contagious, especially when she leads the line dancing that erupts spontaneously almost every evening.

This morning, Agnes has many tasks at the Safe House. She’s already picked up sugar, maize and laundry detergent for the girls, as well as supplies—shoe polish, soap, toothpaste, sanitary pads, etc.—for four students who are about to depart for what they call “tuition,” an additional period of intensive residential study that takes place during school vacation time. Many Kenyan children spend a lot more time in school that those in the states. Often they have classes on weekends and most of the older students go to at least a week of “tuition” during each of their three month-long holidays.

As Agnes checks in with Mama Helen about a girl who has had a bad cough for several days, Grace, dressed in her school uniform and surrounded by a group of somber friends, shyly approaches. I instantly recognized her, as I had interviewed her four years earlier on my first visit to the Safe House. We had formed a tender connection as she told me how she fled her family and village in the dark and walked for several days to get to the Safe House, spending the nights under bushes for fear of the hyenas she could hear cackling nearby.

Now she is fighting back tears. Her mother has just died, leaving her an orphan. She must travel to her village for the funeral, but this is not simple for a rescued girl. She could easily be captured by those who would force her to submit to the tribal traditions she fled. Agnes and Mama Helen telephone an older sister who is sympathetic to the mission of the Safe House. Once they are satisfied that Grace will have protection, they arrange transport for the journey.

Firmly turning off her iPhone (which rings constantly), Agnes takes me by the hand and pulls me into the guest room, shutting the door behind us. “Now, I want to welcome you. How are you? Do you have everything you need here?”

I’m stunned that Agnes can find time to sit and talk with me, given her busy schedule. I can only imagine how full her life is – especially now that she’s campaigning to be the first woman representative to the Kenya Parliament from Narok County. I also know that, besides running two Safe Houses, she’s an elected Counselor to the local government and serves as Deputy Mayor [is that accurate?] of the town. As we sit in the guest room and catch up, she tells me that she’s also building a Primary Boarding School for Girls, which has been one of her dreams for many years.

I ask her how she manages to do all this and maintain the serenity that seems to emanate from her. “I felt a little stress last year when I was in school getting my diploma in Leadership and Project Management. My teachers put pressure on me because they could see that I was a good student.”

I can hardly believe my ears. “You were in school on top of all this?”

“Yes, distance learning. My professors lectured to me on the phone as I drove from meeting to meeting. They want me to go on and get an advanced degree, but with the campaign it is difficult right now.”

She stands up, her many beaded necklaces rattling as she moves. “I want you to come with me today into the field. We’ll spend the night away, so pack what you need. Take warm clothes.” I have no idea what she means, but grab my toothbrush, sweatshirt and a few protein bars and head for the waiting SUV.

It turns out that “into the field” means that I am joining Agnes on the campaign trail. Today is Saturday, and there are two rallies where she will be the guest of honor. Over the next few days I become familiar with the pre-rally protocol of bumping along the rough road from the Safe House into town, filling the vehicle with Agnes’ friends and supporters – women and men in traditional Maasai dress – and heading out, the car bucking and thrusting like a wild horse over dusty roads riddled with potholes as big as craters.

Today, my first day joining the campaign, it is all new. I mistakenly assume the state of the road is due to the fact that we must be heading for a particularly rural area, as we are bumping along for miles without seeing another car. But suddenly, rounding a bend, there are hundreds of people in the road – women in colorful shukas (bright cotton material that they tie around their shoulders), layers of beaded necklaces, collars, bracelets, and earrings hung both from the bottom and tops of their ears; and men in red Maasai blankets tied over one shoulder and wielding beaded or polished wood sticks, called rungus. They are running to greet the car, chanting “Counselor! Counselor!” to Agnes, and singing songs in Maa (the language of the Maasai) that celebrate her achievements.

“Get out,” says Agnes, the first English words I’ve heard in the buzz of Maa and Swahili that has filled the crowded car since we left town. We all climb out and join the cheering crowd marching up the road. Joseph, Agnes’ driver, slowly follows behind us in the car.

When we get to the crest of the hill, I’m stunned to see several hundred people gathered in makeshift bandstands, all cheering. I notice that there are no cars except ours, and realize that all these people must have walked, some great distances, to get there.

A flock of women, many wearing matching shukas, surround us. Hands are extended with the Maasai greeting, “Sopa!” to Agnes and the rest of the campaign party, and, to me, “Howareyoufine!” running the English together as if it were one Maasai word. As the crowd of women clears I see an almost endless line of men in western clothes, their hands extended.

“I want the people to see me, to shake my hand, to know who I am and what I stand for,” Agnes had told me earlier. “I want them to feel a personal connection. They need to know that I want to hear their questions and concerns. It is time for the government to stop being far away and disconnected. They need to know I come from their world, their village, their neighborhood, and that I will hear them and carry their needs to Parliament. So I go out to meet the people face to face every chance I get.”

When hundreds of hands have been shaken, and “Sopa!” or “Howareyoufine!” exchanged with all, we are guided toward the house of the man sponsoring the rally. A woman pours warm water over our hands to wash them. 25 people crowd into the one room, which is about 15’ by 15’. Often, the women who came with Agnes are the only females in the room. The animated conversation is interrupted by the arrival of plates heaped with steaming food: ugali, mashed potatoes, jhapati, and meat – goat or cow, I cannot tell which. Most people eat with their hands, but I notice they’ve given me a fork, a concession to the only Mzungu (white person) in the room. Next come several huge basins of meat on bones or in strips, a second course, or perhaps a dessert. Given that I haven’t eaten red meat since the last Kenyan goat I reluctantly tasted three years earlier, I try to politely avoid this delicacy. But Agnes notices that I am not partaking, pulls off a piece of hers and cuts it up into tiny bits for me, since my teeth are not used to tearing and grinding the tough meat.

When the basins are empty, soda is distributed to all and we are taken outside where the crowd has been waiting. I am led to a seat next to Agnes in the front row on a stage area, where all the guests of honor sit, facing the audience.

The rally begins with the minister offering a prayer in Maa. Then, from a distance, the sound of singing heralds the approach of a group of women in matching shukas. Agnes whispers to me that their song is about her, about the ways she has helped the community—raising money for water tanks, getting government support for the betterment of their schools, and, of course, saving and educating the girls. This group is followed by three more, each offering two or three dances and songs. Agnes leans over to speak into my ear, “Look how young some of them are! Yet they all are married.” Several of the dancers look like they could be no more than 14 years old.

After these colorful offerings, a series of perhaps 10 or 15 men stand and speak to the crowd. I cannot understand what they are saying, but each seems to be passionately expounding on some theme, which, I assume, is in support of Agnes’ candidacy.

At this point we’ve been at the rally for about 3 hours. Finally the last speaker sits down and all eyes shift to Agnes. Yet even now she does not speak. She motions for those of us who came in her entourage to stand and say something to the crowd. When it is my turn, I greet the crowd. “Sopa!” I exclaim to the women who are sitting on the ground to the left. “Sopa!” they respond, laughing, probably at my strange accent. Then I greet the men, who are seated and standing in the bandstand to the right. I tell them I’ve come from the other side of the planet to let them know that Agnes is not only changing the lives of girls in Maasailand, their families, and communities. She is changing the lives of girls and women around the world with her work. “I would go any distance to support her leadership,” I say. “And I hope you will to.” There are shouts of solidarity. Hands reach out to shake mine.

Finally it is time for Agnes to speak. As soon as she opens her mouth, the audience, which was looking a bit gray and sleepy in spite of the vibrant colors of their dress and jewelry, is electrified. They cheer and shout back to her. They applaud whenever she pauses. The men shake their rungus in the air and the women elbow each other whispering animatedly.

Over the next few days, I will see this happen again and again. In most gatherings the format is the same: the meal while the crowd waits outside, the dances and songs by the women to celebrate Agnes, then many speeches, mostly by the male leaders of the community. These formalities can last several hours, and by the time Agnes stands to speak the eyes of many have grown dull and tired. But as soon as she lifts her voice, everyone in the room, including most of the children, are riveted.

In the car, as we leave this first rally, I asked Agnes what she said that so ignited the crowd. “I told them that my opponent is using the work that I do at the Safe House to fight me. She is saying, ‘There is a woman running for Parliament who is spoiling your culture. She is denying your girls the ceremony of the cutting to become women.’ I say to the people, ‘I am that woman! But I am not ruining the culture, I am helping us to catch up to the rest of the world. It’s true, I do stand for an end to FGM and early marriage. But a girl does not need to be cut to be a woman, she needs education so she can make her own choices. Educating girls will bring benefit to all of us. When a girl graduates and gets a job and brings leadership and financial support back to her family, she changes not only her own life, but the life of her village and the culture as a whole.” Agnes tells people that her opponents are educated women who have not been cut themselves, yet they are advocating that girls should continue to undergo this violence.

As we lurch over the road to the next rally, Agnes goes on: “When I go to these meetings I try to introduce myself by telling them who I am, where I’m coming from, and where I want to go. I tell them I’ve been a counselor in the area for a long time and I’ve tried to help the people with the funds that I get. There’s a big difference between my ward and the other wards. I have friends who have helped me to drill wells for villages, yet in other wards there is no water. V-Day has helped me to build two Safe Houses, and now there are about 50 girls in each, all going to school for free. In other wards there is nothing like this. V-Day gave money so I could build a dam so there is water for the cows. I’ve started a market where women can sell what they grow and make some small income. I feel, if elected, I will make even more of a difference in some of the issues confronting my people.”

After the second rally is over, on the way back to Narok, we drive past field after field of drooping, dried out stalks. “So much of the crop has failed this year, the people are starving, ”Agnes says to me.  All along the road are people who have walked with their donkeys for miles to find a place where they can buy maize for their families. We stop at the hut of a farmer and Agnes negotiates for several bags of the precious food.

It is already dark when we drop off Joseph, the driver, and Agnes takes the wheel. She turns off the road into what looks like a vast, pathless black space. “I do not know if I can find the way in the dark,” she says, as the jeep shutters across the dusty field. I can see no sign of a road. The darkness closes around us. Paths appear among the low bushes, but whether they are roads or the tracks of the Thompson’s Gazelles whose amber eyes glint all around us, I do not know.

Driving through this territory is so athletic, I can hardly believe Agnes is doing it after giving speeches at two four-hour rallies. Finally, out of the darkness there appears a small mud and stick house, a traditional Maasai manyatta. “Ah!” she sighs. “We found it.” In the headlights I can barely make out a pen full of sheep and goats, and several structures. A man in a shuka emerges from the dark to greet us.

This is Agnes’ herd. “It is much better than having money in the bank,” she explains. “Because sheep and goats give birth twice a year. So the herd multiplies very quickly, and each is worth at least 4,000 shillings. When you get sick and you need money for the hospital, you just sell some of them. Also, people respect you if you have a big herd. It gives me credibility in the campaign.”

We duck through the low doorway into the little hut. “This is my place of rest,” Agnes says. “I come here with friends to relax.” Nonetheless, she begins bustling about the small space, pulling out cooking utensils, finding sheets for the two single beds, building a coal fire, dousing the mud floor with water to keep down the dust, scrubbing the pots she will use to cook ugali and cabbage for dinner.

Agnes and Narikuni, a friend who has accompanied us, make dinner as I sit on a three legged stool and watch, hardly able to believe where I am. The wind whistles outside, but the fire keeps us warm. Agnes turns on the battery operated radio and a Swahili talk show overflows into the night.

In the morning, Narikuni cooks pancakes over the coal fire. Out of nowhere women start to arrive. Four women in beads and shukas appear out of nowhere and crowd into the dark hut. As they duck through the door, I can see that the sun is shining outside. But inside there are only splinters of light from the two small ventilation holes in the mud walls. Within 10 minutes, three more women arrive, one with a baby strapped to her back. All are fascinated by my camera and crowd around to see themselves in the photos I’m taking. I wonder if these women have any mirrors, or if this is a rare moment of reflection.

“Where did they come from?” I ask Agnes when we step outside. “How did they know you were here?” Agnes gestures to what seem like endless fields of dust and scrubby bushes. In the distance I can barely make out several round manyattas. “They saw my car. They want to talk to me about the campaign. And they know there will be food and tea when I am here.”

Agnes has brought supplies: salt and antibiotics for the herd, and the bags of Maize she bought yesterday for the two men who take care of the animals. This will be their food until Agnes arrives again, in a month or two. They have no car and there is no village within walking distance.

On the way back to town, we stop at the building site for the new “Tasaru PrimaryBoarding School for Girls.” Three dorms, which will house 60 girls each, a huge dining room/recreation all and kitchen, a

classroom building and several smaller constructions including apartments for teachers and the matron of the school. The site is abuzz with builders. A concrete mixer spins in the field by the classroom building. The head builder emerges to greet us.

Agnes is not satisfied with the progress of the work. She confronts the builder, reminding him that the school is to open in just over 3 months, asking him how he plans to be ready. Though she speaks English to him, his answer is in Swahili. Whatever he says seems to satisfy Agnes for the moment.

“Are you in charge of all this too? Did you design it? ” I ask, incredulous.

“I designed this. This school has been my dream for some time and finally it is happening. There will be 6 classes of 30 girls each. 20 of the girls will be paying students and 10 will be rescued girls who will go to school for free. So eventually all the girls from the Safe House who need to go to Primary School (Grades 1 – 6, in American terms) will go to school here free of charge.”

While the school is the last stop for me before being dropped back at the Safe House, Agnes’ day will continue to two different gatherings where she will be the featured speaker. I am relieved to stumble out of the jeep, exhausted, to join some of the girls on the lawn in the afternoon sun as they do beadwork, study or braid each other’s hair. There is a sweet quietude here at the Safe House, though the air is full of laughter, talk and even the pulse of gospel cds from the kitchen. Yet the peace that comes from a community of girls who know they are safe is palpable. We wave goodbye as Agnes’ jeep lurches back into the world on the other side of the Safe House gate.





Posted in Blog | 6 Comments

Diving off the Cliffs of Moher and Other Poetic Adventures

~ July 20, 2012 ~ You may have heard me say, quoting the actor Austin Pendleton, “There are two ways to jump off the Cliffs of Moher. You can either squinch your eyes shut and clench your fists all the way down, or you can open your eyes and look at the sights rushing by.”

Another balmy July day at the Cliffs of Moher

So here I am on my first visit to the Cliffs of Moher. It’s “another balmy July day in Ireland,” in the words of an Irish friend. While the cliffs, and imagining the jump (which is virtually impossible not to imagine!) are thrilling and beautiful, they cannot hold a candle to the thrill of working with so many Irish, German, English, Canadian and American friends who converged on that magical island to courageously dive into the life-changing power of poetry and presence over the last month. No matter how much time I spend there, I never cease to be awed at depth to which the Irish take the medicine of a poem. Even those who have what one of my students called “educational trauma” in the area of poetry, have steeped in a country that understands from the roots of its history that “poet” and “mystic” and “seer” and “shaman” are one, and celebrates its poets as a huge part of the national identity. (Watch a video from the Dublin Poetry Concert here.)

Actually the truth is that Austin Pendleton had us hurtling from the top of the Empire State Building, not the Cliffs of Moher. At the time (the seventies), we were a bunch of aspiring theatre people living on our waitressing tips in New York City. He was speaking of having the courage to look into the eyes of the audience when you’ve just bared your soul onstage.  It can feel like a headlong tumble into a kind of death – death of your control, your safe distance, your heart’s protection. The same is true of reciting or reading a poem you love to someone. So often people will shuffle pages, or rush on to the next poem, or curl into themselves, looking down or away. They seem to be simply surviving the time between poems, rushing through it as if the whole purpose of even sharing a poem was not to reach that trembling moment of communion as the last word fades into silence. “Words, after speech, reach / Into the silence,” write T. S. Eliot in  “Burnt Norton.”

As I suggest in the appendix to Saved by a Poem,

The silence just before you speak a poem, during the poem, and right after it can be the most powerful part of your offering. Yet many of us are uncomfortable with silence and rush through these moments. Practice elongating them instead. Let your partner know you are going to intentionally sink into the wordless spaces. Begin by making eye contact with your partner. Let any discomfort or other feelings come up as you silently be with each other. Now begin the poem. Maintain eye contact as much as possible and when you are moved to drop into a silence that naturally occurs in the rhythm of the lines, do. When the poem is over, stay with the eye contact without words, letting any feelings or insights show up. Then talk together about the experience and what arose for each of you in the silences.

Let me know how it goes!

Here are a few glimpses into the month in Ireland…


Posted in Blog, News | Comments Off on Diving off the Cliffs of Moher and Other Poetic Adventures

Taped to my Mirror: How C. C. Carter was Saved by a Poem

~5/17/2011 ~ Do you remember the wondrous woman in Chapter Three of my book, whose grandmother saved her from teenage depression by “prescribing” Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” as medicine, to be recited morning and night? C.C. Carter is now a world renowned performance poet who is using her voice to stop violence against women. She founded POW WOW, INC, a weekly spoken venue that has changed the lives of men and women “who refuse to stay silent” about abuse.


I received this extraordinary poem from her last month and want to share it, and her work, with you (scroll down for more information on C.C. and POW WOW):

I was saved by a poem, by a poem written on a page but
recited out loud.  A poem that begged to be spoken cause its
intention would be missed if hummed under breath silently.
I was saved by a poem, by a poem that infused the
Mississippi Mass Choir and Nikki Giovanni’s voice over
a stereo system on Sunday morning before leaving for church.
I was saved by a poem, by a poem that transformed my
grandmother from a little old lady into a sultry Harlem
Renaissance starlet reciting Langston Hughes and Paul
Laurence Dunbar while peeling white potatoes and
snapping green beans or playing dress up with clothes
from her secret trunk hidden in the attic – I, by her side
watching and mimicking every move and vocal intonation.
I was saved by a poem, a poem that was my prayer taped to
my mirror so that I could recite every night before bed and
every morning before leaving for school – my armor into the world
of petite thin girls and weight watcher recruiters who
dared to try and battle me and Maya as Phenomenal Women.
I was saved by a poem, by a choreopoem just for colored girls
like me who were raised with a myriad of etiquette and
cultural codes of conduct of shouldn’ts, couldn’ts,
wouldn’ts and don’ts. I was saved by a poem, by a poem
that I once wrote that I didn’t always believe its power,
but performed anyway – pretended grandma was right next
to me, watched women come alive from being dead inside,
start dancing and swaying big hips and ample thighs and
then I joined in, felt their testimony and was saved too,
again.  I was saved by a poem.

More about C.C…

C.C. Carter  is a Chicagoan with national prominence on the performance poetry scene. Her first book, Body Language, a collection of poetry, was nominated for a 2003 Lambda Literary Award. She is the winner of a host of poetry slams including winning the Fifth Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Competition and the First Annual Behind Our Masks Poetry Slam. She has created and maintained several traditions in the poetry community, including national and local poetry slams for people of color, and the women of color night at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse.  She has participated in hundreds of women’s music festivals, including the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and has sold out performances on both coasts.

In 2001 she founded POW-WOW, Inc, a weekly spoken word venue that has received honors and award recognition for being a safe space for women to develop, showcase and listen to other women artists.  POW-WOW is a staple for the international and national poetry elite – having showcased Stacyann Chin, sharon bridgforth, Eve Ensler and a host of Def Poetry Jam artists who list POW-WOW as a “must do” on their tour schedules.  C.C. has produced large scale events for the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Gay Games.

As a result of her arts and activism work, she has received numerous awards and honors, including being inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for her work as an advocate in Arts and Culture and the 2004 Trailblazer Award for her work and curation of Lesbian theatre projects.  In 2005 C.C. Carter was one of six international recipients to be dubbed the esteemed title by Eve Ensler of Vagina Warrior for her work in creating a safe space for women artists who are survivors of violence.  In  2006 she received the Model of Hope Award by Pride and Equality Magazine.

In 2008 C.C. received the Social Activist Award from the Chicago Area YWCA Domestic Violence Center for her social justice poetry and performances.

2010 marks new milestones in C.C.’s Career as she is honored as an ICON in LGBTQ African American Cultural Arts in Chicago – from Art and Soul

Posted in Blog, News | Comments Off on Taped to my Mirror: How C. C. Carter was Saved by a Poem

Naked Words: Our First Language is Poetry


It’s National Poetry Month, time to remember that poetry is our first language. Literally. All over the world, mothers croon to their babies in rhythm and rhyme. Perhaps this is because the womb itself is a poetic place. Your ear is against the iambic meter of your mother’s heartbeat. You are steeping in sounds that have been changed by their passage through the amniotic fluid into a kind of whalesong. A mother seems to know this. Even before she talks English or French or Swahili to her baby she says, “Goo goo gah gah see see mah mah!”

photo by Jan Rostov

And we sing-talk back in rhythm and rhyme. I remember hearing my 14 month old nephew amusing himself, alone in his crib, upon waking from a nap: (to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) “Di-di di-di, moo-moo, cow / ow-ow me-me meow meow wow.”  Only later came “Mine!” and “Down!” and “I want!” and the inevitable “No!”

This entry into the world of words through the portal of poetry recapitulates the history of language, which began as a form of musical poetry. Many archaeologists and anthropologists speculate that our ancestors spoke to each other through song-like sounds that conveyed rhythmic, holographic, emotional messages. This “musilanguage”used by the early hominids was predominantly a function of the right hemisphere of the brain. It communicated through the feeling and intuitive faculties, not the cognitive thinking process. In The Singing Neanderthals, archaeologist Steven Mithen named this system of relating Hmmmmm, an acronym for holistic, multi-modal, manipulative, mimetic, and musical. He theorizes that it was Homo ergaster, our ancestor of 1.8 million years ago, who initially invented Hmmmmm. Mithen’s research suggests that over the eons the language may have evolved to become a highly complex and emotionally rich form of interactive bonding used by the Neanderthals about 250,000 years ago. According to Mithen and other researchers, our ancestors used sign language to communicate the pragmatic essentials, such as: “Look! there’s a saber-toothed tiger behind you!” Vocal communication was reserved for the outpouring of the inner life: feelings, relationship, the ineffable movements of spirit in flesh.

The impulse to speak – both in the evolution of the species and the evolution of the individual human – has its roots in the most intimate realm we experience: that which takes place in the invisible, private interior of our lives. Language comes to us not as a means to an end, not as a way to enforce our will on the world around us, but as naturally as song:  a spontaneous arising from within that overflows into words.

Fast forward to the present. Today, at least in the United States, most of our verbal communication has no connection to its root as a nexpression of emotion, relationship, beauty and spirituality.  Words seem to have jumped ship on their origin in our oceanic, mysterious interior and enlisted for duty as the troops of the Left Brain, ready for deployment in their mission of getting results in the world around us. As visionary Eve Ensler has said, we have forgotten how to think in metaphor, and this has led to a tragic loss of imagination, ritual, mystery, discovery, time.

I don’t know the plethora of historical and cultural factors that put such a spun on our words. Perhaps they are the same as those that compelled me to quarantine my own expression to the dry realms of reason for many years. The first time I fell in love, for instance, I remember making the disturbing discovery that everything I said to my lover sounded like a lawyer dictating a corporate contract. A voice shrouded in the muted tones of intelligence and devoid of emotion had seemed to be the key to survival in my childhood. I grew into my early twenties unable to admit I was afraid, unwilling to say the word love, and frightened to let the trembling I felt in my belly show in my words or my voice. It took years of therapy to dismantle the tonnage of history and mystery that had constellated into this terror of intimacy.

Then I discovered a much quicker route. I started reciting poems. Those words gave me a way to express my most vulnerable feelings where my own capacity for such intimacy was missing or forgotten. As I gave voice to the poems, layers of self-protection dissolved and my interior life poured out. Not only through the words, but also the silences between them. Not only through the poem, but also through the resonance of my now liberated voice. The German poet Rilke says,

I have faith in all that is not yet spoken.
I want to set free my innermost feelings.
What no one has dared to long for
will spring through me spontaneously.

Is that too bold? Then, my God, forgive me.
But I want to say just this to you:
my true voice should come like a sprout, a force of nature,
no pushing, no holding back;
the way the children love you.

Speaking a poem you love to another person can return you to an original language, a transparency of expression more naked than any outer disrobing. In this radical intimacy a mysterious phenomenon can occur. The sounds and silences become almost palpable with a resonance that seems beyond the sum of the parts. You and whoever is listening are gathered into a kind of grace. The spoken poem smoothes the rough edges of fragmented attention—harmonizing, focusing, and unifying everyone present. As the poet Rumi said of his teacher, Shams, “You make my raggedness silky.”

To put this kind of experience into words is difficult. It can so easily sound far-fetched or like a testimonial of a religious experience that may have been authentic at the time but gets lost in translation. Yet this sudden grace is not exotic or unusual. It happens all the time when people give voice to the poems that speak the truth of their souls. The phenomenon saves me, often several times a day, when I am scattered or in pain and I have lost touch with my real self. Though I have never been one to turn to organized religion, I believe I can begin to understand the experience of those who go to church every morning or bow to Mecca five times a day.

The poems I love most are those that speak of the inner life. They are my prayers. They are holy without being denominational, political without being sectarian, intimate without being bound by gender, age, or culture.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I invite you to join me in returning language to its origin in the heart. Find a poem you love and make at least 30 copies of it. Read that poem to someone every day, then give them a copy. Perhaps you will share it with your partner, a co-worker, your favorite bank teller. Then branch out to people you don’t know. Offer it to the person standing next to you on the corner as you wait for the walk signal. Ask the person beside you on the bus if they’d like to hear a poem. Or the waitress delivering your cup of tea. Pretty soon, you’ll notice that you know your poem by heart.

This month there are dozens of initiatives to support everyone and anyone to bring poetry deeper into their own lives and spread the “word” to others. On the Poets on the Loose website, you’ll find all sorts of inspiration and tools for taking your favorite poems to the streets. You’ll even find a script to help you offer your poem to a (consenting) stranger! April 14 is National Poem in Your Pocket Day and you can find poetry celebrations taking place all month long throughout the country on the National Poetry Map.

Posted in Blog, News | 1 Comment

50 Poems to Live by Heart

The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person or else keep silent
for those who do not understand
will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm waters of the love nights
where you were begotten, where you have begotten
a strange feeling creeps over you
as you watch the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness
and a desire for higher lovemaking
sweeps you upwards.

Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying
and finally insane for the light
you are the butterfly, and you are gone.

And so long as you have not experienced
this: to die and so to grow
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.

~Goethe, translated by Robert Bly & David Whyte~

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver~
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~Mary Oliver~
When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
ending, as all music does, towards silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When its over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.

When its over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~Mary Oliver~ 

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

~Galway Kinnell~

Saint Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

~Galway Kinnell~

Song Of A Man Who Has Come Through

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder,
we shall find the Hesperides.

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

~D. H. Lawrence~


And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,

with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

~Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid~

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death. Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead in winter

and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid~Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

~William Butler Yeats~

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lads and hilly lands.
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

~William Butler Yeats~

Song of Myself—Part 5

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not
even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over
upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue
to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass
all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women
my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and

~Walt Whitman~

I’m Nobody! Who are You?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!

~Emily Dickinson~

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone –

~Emily Dickinson~

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! My last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

~Elizabeth Bishop~

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
   I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
   And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
   Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
   With what I most enjoy contented least:
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
   Haply I think on thee,–and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
   From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings’.

~William Shakespeare~

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thought I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

~William Shakespeare~

I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough
to make every minute holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes towards action.
And in the silent sometimes hardly moving times
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body
and I never want to be blind or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
I want my grasp of things
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher that I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that took me safely
through the wildest storm of all.

~Rainer Maria Rilke~

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what truly thrills you is each face
That works and thirsts.

And most of all those who need you
like they need a crowbar or a fork.

You are not cold yet and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Rosen, Aarons, Bly~
The Man Watching 

I can tell by the way the trees beat
after so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it has no age:
the landscape like a line from a psalm book
is seriousness, and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
And what fights with us is so great!
If only we could let ourselves be dominated
as things do, by some immense storm,
we would grow strong too, and not need names.

When we win it is with small things,
And the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers in the Old Testament.
When the wrestlers sinews
grew long like metal strings
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated decisively
by constantly greater beings.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly~ 
Love Dogs

One night a man was crying
“Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praising and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing
you express is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love-dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

~Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks~


Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept what
troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.

Welcome difficulty
as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
then are taken off.

That undressing,
and the beautiful naked body underneath, is
the sweetness that comes after grief.

The hurt you embrace
becomes joy.
Call it to your arms where it can change.

~Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks~

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 ~Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks~

Zero Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
that No will behead us
and shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
beside ourselves, and only that, so
miraculous beings come running to help.

Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
we shall be saying finally,
with tremendous eloquence, Lead us.

When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
we shall be a mighty kindness.

~Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks~

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins~

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins~

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
The gods speak of God.

~David Whyte~

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip below
the still surface on the well of Grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breath

will never know
the source from which we drink,
the secret water cold and clear.

Nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
~David Whyte~

I talk to my inner lover and I say why
such a rush?
We know there is some sort of spirit that loves
the birds and the animals and the ants
perhaps the same one that gave radiance to you
in your mother’s womb.
Is it logical you should be walking around entirely
orphaned now?
The truth is you turned away yourself
and decided to go into the dark alone.
Now you are tangled up in others and have forgotten
what you once knew.
That is why everything you do has some weird failure in it.

~Kabir, translated by Robert Bly~

I don’t know what sort of God we have been talking about.
The caller calls out in a loud voice to the Holy One at dusk.
Why? Surely the Holy one is not deaf!
He hears the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.

Go over and over your beads.
Paint weird designs on your forehead.
Wear your hair matted, long and ostentatious.

But when deep inside you there is a loaded gun,
how can you have God?

~Kabir, translated by Robert Bly~

King of the River
If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin,
nosing upstream,
slapping, thrashing,
tumbling over the rocks
till you paint them
with your belly’s blood:
Finned Ego,
yard of muscle that coils,

If the knowledge were given you,
but it is not given,
for the membrane is clouded
with self-deceptions
and the iridescent image swims
through a mirror that flows,
you would surprise yourself
in that other flesh,
heavy with milt,
bruised, battering toward the dam
that lips the orgiastic pool.
Come. Bathe in these waters.
Increase and die.

If the power were granted you
to break out of your cells,
but the imagination fails
and the doors of the senses close
on the child within,
you would dare to be changed,
as you are changing now,
into the shape you dread
beyond the merely human.
A dry fire eats you.
Fat drips from your bones.
The flutes of your gills discolor.
You have become a ship for parasites.The great clock of your life
is slowing down,
and the small clocks run wild.
For this you were born.
You have cried to the wind
and heard the wind’s reply:
“I did not choose the way,
the way chose me.”
You have tasted the fire on your tongue
till it is swollen black
with a prophetic joy:
“Burn with me!
The only music is time,
The only dance is love.”

If the heart were pure enough,
but it is not pure,
you would admit
that nothing compels you
any more, nothing
at all abides,
but nostalgia and desire,
that two way ladder
between heaven and hell.
On the threshold
of the last mystery,
at the brute absolute hour,
you have looked into the eyes
of your creature self,
which are glazed with madness,
and you say
he is not broken but endures,
limber and firm
in the state of his shining,
forever inheriting his salt kingdom,
from which he is banished

~Stanley Kunitz~The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

~Stanley Kunitz~

The Gate

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man

but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,

rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.

This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?

And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?

And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

~ Marie Howe~

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably
fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t
turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

~Marie Howe~Annunciation

Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does—

and so it is myself that I want to turn in that direction
not as toward a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t—I was blinded like that–and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
for being loved like that.

~Marie Howe~

Against Certainty

There is something out in the dark that wants to correct us.
Each time I think “this,” it answers “that.”
Answers hard, in the heart-grammar’s strictness.
If I then say “that,” it too is taken away.
Between certainty and the real, an ancient enmity.
When the cat waits in the path-hedge,
no cell of her body is not waiting.
This is how she is able so completely to disappear.
I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.
To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,
one shadow fully at ease inside another.

~Jane Hirshfield~

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad, you slept,
you awakened.

Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

~ Jane Hirshfield ~

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~Derek Walcott~

I Am Not I

I am not I.
                   I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.

~Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by Robert Bly~


I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
                    And nothing
happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

    –Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

~Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by Robert Bly~

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~E. E. Cummings~

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

~ E. E. Cummings~


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

~W. S. Merwin~

Just Now
In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks
~W.S. Merwin~

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

~William Stafford~Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

~Naomi Shihab Nye~
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood –
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What is madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks – is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is –
Death of the soul in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

~Theodore Roethke~

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing
the day turns, the trees move.

~Wendell Berry~

I know the truth! All other truths are through!
People on earth don’t have to fight one another.
Come, look at the evening. Come look! Soon it will be night.
What is the problem – poets, lovers, Generals?
Already the wind is quiet, already the earth is dressed in dew,
The storm of stars in the sky will soon be still,
And we’ll all sleep together under the earth,
We who never let each other sleep above it.
 ~Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Sonja Franeta and Kim Rosen  ~

From The Thunder: Perfect Mind
Nag Hammadhi Library

Sent from the Power,
I have come
to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek me.
Look upon me,
you who meditate,
and hearers, hear.
Whoever is waiting for me,
take me into yourselves.
Do not drive me
out of your eyes,
or out of your voice,
or out of your ears.
Observe.  Do not forget who I am.
For I am the first, and the last.
I am the honored one, and the scorned.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother, the daughter
and every part of both.
I am the barren one who has borne many sons.
I am she whose wedding is great
and I have not accepted a husband.
I am the midwife and the childless one,
the easing of my own labor.
I am the bride and the bridegroom
and my husband is my father. 
I am the mother of my father,
the sister of my husband;
my husband is my child.
My offspring are my own birth,
the source of my power,
what happens to me is their wish.

I am the incomprehensible silence
and the memory that will not be forgotten.
I am the voice whose sound is everywhere
and the speech that appears in many forms.
I am the utterance of my own name.
Why, you who hate me, do you love me,
and hate those who love me?
You who tell the truth about me, lie,
and you who have lied, now tell the truth.
You who know me, be ignorant,
and you who have not known me, know.
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am modesty and boldness.
I am shameless, I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear. 
I am peace and all war comes from me.
Give heed to me,
the one who has been everywhere hated
and the one who is everywhere loved.
I am the one they call Life,
the one you call Death.
I am the one they call Law,
the one you call Lawless.
I am the one you have scattered,
and you have gathered me together.
I am godless, and I am the one
whose God is great.
I am the one whom you have reflected upon
and the one you have scorned.
I am unlearned,
and from me all people learn.
I am the one from whom you have hidden
and the one to whom you reveal yourself.
Yet wherever you hide, I appear,
And wherever you reveal yourself,
there I will vanish.
Those who are close to me
have failed to know me,
and those who are far from me know me.
On the day when I am close to you,
that day you are far from me;
on the day when I am far from you,
that day I am close.
I am the joining and the dissolving.
I am what lasts and what goes.
I am the one going down,
and the one toward whom they ascend.
I am the condemnation and the acquittal.
For myself, I am sinless,
and the roots of sin grow in my being.
I am the desire of the outer
and control of the inner.
I am the hearing in everyone’s ears,
I am the speech which cannot be heard.
I am the mute who is speechless,
great are the multitudes of my words.
Hear me in softness,
and learn me in roughness.
I am she who cries out,
and I am cast forth upon the face of the earth.
I prepare the bread and my mind within.
I am called truth.
You praise me and you whisper against me.
You who have been defeated
judge before you are judged:
the judge and all judging exist inside you.
For what is inside you is what is outside you,
and the one who formed you on the outside
is the one who shaped you within.
And what you see outside you, you see within.
It is visible and it is your garment.
Give heed then, you hearers,
and you also, angels and those who have been sent,
and you spirits risen now from the dead.
I am the one who alone exists,
there is no one to judge me.
For though there is much sweetness
in passionate life, in transient pleasure,
finally soberness comes
and people flee to their place of rest.
There they will find me,
and live, and not die again.

~Version by Jane Hirshfield~


Posted in Poems | 6 Comments

Poem List

Holy Longing/2
Wild Geese/3
Man Watching/6
Solid Rock/7
Steeply Sloping/8
Winged Energy/8
Only the man/9
A god can/10
Too alone/11
Tillicho Lake/12
Opening of Eyes/13
Well of Grief/13
Soul lives content/14
It is not enough/15
Yesterday was/17
Do things from/18
Crock of Gold/19
Impossible Dark/21
I know the truth/23
Fire in the Earth/24
Say Yes Quickly/25
Inner lover/28
Breath inside/28
Loaded Gun/28
Wanting Creature/29
Love Dogs/31
Community of Sp/32
Cry out in your /34
Love after Love/37
Friend, please/38
Crazy Jane/Bish/39
Lip of insanity/41
Guest House/41
Reed Flute/42
Core of Masc./44
One faith/45
(fr. #203)/46
i thank you god/47
I go among trees/48
King of the River/49
(One Art)/51
The First Elegy/52
A god can (my tr.)/56
Summer Day/57
The Gate/59
Learn the Alch./60
The Silkworm/60
(Idea of Order)/61
Own backyard/63
(Psalm 1)/64
Dark August/65
God’s Grandeur/68
Why Cling?/70
(The Panther)/71
Fire and Rose/72
Which is worth/73
All your anxiety/73
Zero Circle/74
This we have now/75
No Flag/76
No Road/77
I’m Nobody/78
St. Francis and /79
(All the Fruit)/81
I am not I/82
Time’s Knife/83
It doesn’t Matter/85
There is a Smile/86
A voice through/87
The Snowman/88
Only Breath/89
Dark, dark/91
If you came/93
No Man Believes/94
You Darkness/95
Untitled 1/100

Somewhere i/103
unobstructed cry/104
again and again/104
Autumn Rose/106
Don’t worry/107
If you are lucky/108
Anna Akhmato/108
I have faith/109
You see, I want/110
End of the world/111
Old Friend/cohen/113
Quiet Friend/115
The Forest/snake/119
Keeping Quiet/121
A Blessing/122
Holy Spirit)/124
(I wake to sleep)/125
Song of Wanderi/126
being born/cum/128
Soul at the White/129
They are trying/130
(Christ’s Body)/132
The first time/blo/134
Your Voice/135
Poison Ivy/138
Not I, not I/141
When Death/147
Self Portrait/148
Words move/149
So here I am/150
Ask Me/156
I’m Ceded/157
Speck of my heart/158
Poem for the An/159
Blackwater woods/160
Navajo chant/162
The light wraps/163
Final Soliloquy/164
How everything/165
Memory/face / 167
I want to know / 172
The Poet…face/173
What I’m doing Here/174
In a dark time/179
I dwell in/180
I carry your heart/181
Just Now/182
Waiting for Fire
God Speaks
It was like this
A Ritual to Read…

Posted in Poems | Comments Off on Poem List

Poetry Inquiry at the Brink of 2011


I enter 2011 with Hildegard Von Bingen’s words pulsing in my ears, “When the inner and the outer are wedded, revelation occurs.” On New Year’s Day, I took a hike with friends in the mist-jeweled hills along the Pacific coast. As we walked, we mingling silence, poems, and sohbet (Rumi’s word for soul-to-soul conversation). Before leaving the house, each of us had chosen a “poemcard” from my deck of about 100 favorite poems and poem fragments, which I have been collecting for the last 10 years. One at a time each of us read our poem, then let the words open us to an intimate monologue on our lives in that moment of the year’s turning: the questions, sorrows and joys we were walking with, our hopes and dreams and challenges for the new year. In our midst, new form of communication ceremony created itself. We named it a “Poetry Inquiry”.

Those of you who have been in a workshop or retreat with me have experienced the poemcards. Some frequent participants I’ve visited have a few here and there in their homes – on the fridge, on an altar, taped to the edge of the computer. One friend has a basket of them by her bathroom mirror. Every morning she chooses one (or as I often say, no metaphor intended, one chooses her.) Some people have even made their own decks.

At the beginning of every workshop, I invite people to choose a card at random, without reading it ahead of time. I never cease to be amazed at the accuracy and depth with which the poem reflects and illuminates the heart of whatever is going on for the chooser. Early in the workshop each will read her/his poemcard to the group, and speak specifically about why this poem may have appeared in their life as a guide and mirror at this exact moment.

On New Year’s, as my friends and I hiked through the exclamations of ravens and the occasional drizzle, I suggested each of us read the poem we’d chosen aloud then allow it to lead us into a monologue of self-inquiry, explorating of our inner and outer lives at this turning point of the year. At first one person said, “Well, as usual for me with most poetry, I don’t understand a lot of this.” Nonetheless, he entered into the experience with the rest.

The poems burst us open to each other in ways we didn’t expect. Though we knew one another well, and had spent much time sharing sohbet, the poems pointed in directions within us that we had not known to look and articulated truths that we had no words for. For me, it was so tender and moving to hear the man who believed he didn’t “get” his poem find in each and every line a deep truth naming a texture of his inner life that he did not previously know how to express.

The poemcard I drew sported a few lines from Walt Whitman:

I exist as I am, that is enough;
If no other in the world be aware I sit content
and if each and all be aware, I sit content

One world is aware, and by far the larger to me, and that is myself,
and whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

413-415, Leaves of Grass


I had spent much of the previous year speaking this poem to myself over and over. It’s been a fierce teacher as my book has made its way into the world. At times I can sit in amazement at the beautiful welcome my work has received and, at the same time,  peacefully accept the ways the world has been unreceptive. At other times I churn with urgency to “do” something, to shake life by the shoulders and demand that everyone listen to me right now and “grok” the incredible key to happiness and healing that is right in our midst if we’d just open up our eyes and ears to the power of spoken poetry!

So, as we hiked up a bit of an incline, I joined my panting voice with the voices of the ravens and the rain and shouted the poem to the misty mountaintops – as my prayer, my intention, my promise for 2011.

Posted in Blog, News | 2 Comments

Eve Ensler, 4

“For those who are afraid of poetry, this is a door opening;
for those who love poetry, this is a sure deepening.”
—Eve Ensler

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Eve Ensler, 4

Written on the Bones

12/8/10  I am holding in my hands the manifestation of one of my (many!) dreams. The December issue of my favorite magazine, The Sun, features an interview entitled  “Written on the Bones: Kim Rosen on Reclaiming the Ancient Power of Poetry.”Alison Luterman has created a warm, funny, and comprehensive portrait of my work. I am already receiving gratitude notes from some of you and I add mine to yours and send it all to her! If you are not a subscriber, I recommend  it, and in the meantime you can read part of the article in The Sun online or go to your local bookstore, magazine vendor or health food store to find it on the (beautifully designed) page. Here’s a taste: “A good poem is like a sacred mind-altering substance: you take it into your system, and it carries you beyond ordinary ways of understanding.” Read more here

Posted in Blog, News | 3 Comments

"News with a View"

Watch Kim on “News with a View

Posted in TV | Comments Off on "News with a View"



“Jambo, Kim!” It is my friend Zam, calling from Kenya. I can hear the sounds of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, behind her voice: children shouting as they play in the narrow passageways between mud and tin shacks, conversations in Swahili, a radio pumping Hip Hop in the distance.

Zam and Kim

“Guess what?” Zam’s voice is lush with excitement. “I am reading Saved by a Poem over the radio here every week! People are loving it! It’s not just a book about poetry, it’s about how to live. We are so grateful.”

I can hardly believe my ears. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine my words would reach so far, into lives so seemingly different from mine.

“And I read the Rumi book you gave me on the radio too,” Zam continues. “First in English, then I translate into Swahili. The poems are helping everyone in the community. People stand outside the radio station waiting to borrow my books when I come out!”

Zam and I met in 2007, when I was invited to join a group she was leading into Kibera for a day. The ostensible purpose was to awaken us to the conditions of poverty, illness and danger rampant within the slum and engage whatever help we could offer. What I never imagined was that I would meet a soul-sister there. (Well, that is not completely true. As a little girl I always fantasized that I had a sister in Africa, but that’s a story for another time…) In the back seat of the taxi on the way back to our hostel in Nairobi, Zam and I talked and talked. I don’t remember why, but I found myself reciting “The Guest House” by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. As we bumped and bucked wildly through the chaotic streets, a sacred space was created by that poem. Some invisible bond was formed which has only strengthened with time (and more accessible internet in Kibera!).

Having grown up in the metrophobia (don’t know what it means? Check out my blog on Huffington Post: Metrophobia – Are We Afraid of Poetry?) of the U. S., I am stunned and moved again and again when I meet someone, especially under conditions where the most basic survival needs — food, water, safety — are barely met, who recognizes instantly that poetry is a life-giving essential. Zam and others, such as the girls at the V-Day Safe House (see Chapter Ten of Saved by a Poem), the Iraqi poets of the Freedom Space (see Where Words Melt Walls: The Peacemaking Power of Poetry), and the people who have written me from all over the world and joined me in workshops, are gradually turning my assumptions of metrophobia blessedly upside down.

“Within the potent space [of a poem spoken aloud], any and every boundary line we humans draw around ourselves instantly disappears. It is holy without being denominational, political without being sectarian, intimate without being bound by gender, age, or culture.” –from Saved by a Poem

Posted in Blog, News | 1 Comment

Home Page Announcement

UPCOMING!! RARE one-day workshop in Berkeley, CA ~ A Poetry Concert with musical alchemists Gary Malkin and Michael Fitzpatrick, Ventura, CA ~ Heart of Poetry Retreat with poet Ellen Bass, Calistoga CA

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Home Page Announcement