Still Here

When I started doing this poem stuff some fifty years ago, I couldn’t have known that poems would bring me so many uplifting souls and enriching experiences, that this was what can come from such an eccentric enterprise. I’ve been very lucky.

Two such gifts arrived last week.

Thursday I got to read with critically celebrated writer Lisa Lenzo at a venue that should have a historical marker: Michigan News in Kalamazoo. Since 1947 it has remained an authentic newsstand, now an endangered species. The one and only Dean Hauck took it over from her father. Ready for this? There are more than 6,000 magazine titles on the racks at Michigan News! And books piled on books, the categories labeled in Dean’s hand on cardboard signs. Walk in, talk with Dean and your heart will detach itself from the world of 45. There isn’t a single slick surface, no espresso bar, just the utterly uncommon reality of Dean and her beloved newsstand, a gift to all who enter.

Then on Saturday, a dear pal and I trekked up to Ludington on a Spring blooming day within the hills. While Jim hiked in the state park, I met with the Ludington Writers. Talk about an insightful, interested, warm group. Not once did anyone manipulate a question to draw attention to herself or his writing. They wanted to talk about Saint Peter and the Goldfinch.

Each had a book, and the afternoon turned into a two-hour conversation. These writers care about one another. They help one another in ways that reveal respect for and attentiveness to the writer’s work. Following our time together was a loving tribute to the marvel that was George Dila who once wrote about a man who had a gun held to his head and when ordered to say his last words, said, “Pizza Pie.” George’s books are available!

Then, of course, there’s 45, holding an economic gun to our heads while hawking how marvelous the economy has become because of him. Talk about obfuscation, about misleading figures, about distorting facts that impact people’s thoughts and lives.

Last week after sending to a friend a notice for a job, I received this–

Hi Jack!

How are you? Been thinking of you and hoping you’ve been enjoying this really lovely weather.

My parents drove up from Valpo yesterday for my mom’s 80th birthday. We barbecued and watched the robins and blue jays laugh at my homemade scarecrow. Very peaceful.

This job appeals to me and I think I’d be good at it. At 20 hrs a week, though, at $15/hr, I’d still struggle to make ends meet and would still struggle to have health insurance. [My other job] starts again soon, but that’s just under full time, only 6 weeks of work, and no benefits. Really hoping for a full time gig so ____ and I can have insurance.

[It’s a] maddening refrain how the economy is doing so well and there are so many jobs, when the reality is there are so many low paying, part time jobs with no benefits. I look at the list of cover letters I’ve written for full time jobs I’ve applied for in the last 2 yrs. with my 2 master’s degrees and years of professional experience and a handful of respectable publications, and can count on one hand how many I’ve even gotten so much as a phone call from. It is scary, frustrating, and the list goes on.

Yes, working when I did: I was so lucky.

Still Here

Easy world, you gave it once,
that quiet afternoon after
a morning rain. We
had lunch. Then, the sun
came out and we took
our sweat out into the
garden, pulled gently
on the weeds and lifted
the slugs off their path.
It was our own greenhouse,
lost under a wide sky, the
thunderheads now gone
on, the mud mixed
with the deep, muted
smell of leaves. That
was all, a morning
storm, a steamy afternoon,
a garden helping us
feel we belonged.

–Jack Ridl

Check out the Art on the Meadow classes at Ox-Bow. I’m getting to teach one called Personal Mythologies. But don’t let that intimidate you. What I mean by this is that your own personal experiences are the equal to what we inherit from known sources, like fables, legends, children’s stories, religious texts, classical myths. Work with your own world to discover that your poem about your frightening illness connects with dragon stories, that your story about being bullied connects to David facing down Goliath. You don’t have to draw on the sources. Just write your poem or story or fragment or paragraph and realize that you are doing personal mythology. Some of you might recall Joseph Campbell and his work, how he showed that we are all living our own mythological personal history. And it’ll be fun to be with one another.

When: June 23, 10am till 5pm. With a great lunch at Ox-Bow included!

Click here for online registration.
Questions? Email or
call 1-269-857-5811

A gift arrived in my inbox yesterday. Garrison Keillor featured one of my poems on The Writer’s Almanac, now a podcast. In good company with Harvey Milk, Hergé, Orville and Wilbur, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Thanks, Norbert!)


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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

8 thoughts on “Still Here

  1. That’s right, Still Here!

    The simple pleasures of life. What can be better than that? I feel very grateful for the life I have been granted by the powers that be!

    I was touched by your friend’s letter and his struggles to make ends meet, in his noble journey, and then have to worry about the possibility of illness or injury and being unable to get the needed care.

    This world is tilted up toward those with the goods, and they don’t trickle down. It’s the Greed Slide! It goes up and does not come down defying Newton’s Laws of Gravity, but not the laws of Wall Street.

    I’m trying to stay away from listening to the news [as much as I can] life is so much more clam, peaceful, and tranquil without it. When Dawn, Lillian, and I drive up to Dawn’s family’s cottage [Camp as they all refer to it] We check our cell phones at the door, there is no TV, radio, newspapers, or any reference to the outside world. I feel like an Ostrich with my head in the ground, but what a great escape! Aaah! We will be going back Again in July and be with her sisters, and family, and it will be such a wonderful distraction to what is going on with our system of government. We will swim, fish, puzzle, play cards & a round of best ball golf, and enjoy the Beauty of the Adirondacks!

    Thanks again for your weekly escape into what should be and away from what is. 👌



    • Oh man, Nick. I sure am with you. Perfect strategy to preserve
      the love and gentle ways with Dawn and Lillian. There is escape from
      as well as escape to. Both are vital during this time. And your
      description of the Great Slide is right on.
      So glad you have the magic and peace of the Adirondacks!

  2. Hi poet friend. Good to hear from you while in Alabama on vacation and book events.I’m not sure if you accepted my Facebook request, but I have been tracking my progress through my home state on a private page.. Have some photos of Africatown, Mobile Bay, Montgomery (civil rights museums), Auburn (a reading) and Birmingham. If you’re interested please let me know. I continue to work through my complexity of my history and the race issues…. Anyway, I enjoy your posts. Best,Nancy Nancy Owen Nelson,author of Searching for Nannie B:  Connecting Three Generations of Southern Women. – 2017 Kindle Book Awards, Semifinalist – 2017 Book Excellence Award winner author of My Heart Wears No Colors, poetry, from FutureCycle Press. author web sitetwitterpublisher’s author pagegoodreadsamaz

    • Nancy, sitting right here beside me is My Heart Wears No Colors! It’s an honor
      to have such important work with me/us.

      Julie tends to my FaceBook stuff. I’ll check with her. I tried once to do it,
      but I kept responding to everything every day and it took all day. It was crazy
      how I coulnd’t not write stuff back.

      Alabama. Glad you can be there. It’s, for me, one frightening place now.

  3. Jack, Really enjoy receiving your newsletters, poems and thoughts. Thanks for sending them. Moving forward has many good moments but keeping in touch with you brings back so many nice memories. Tom

    Sent from my iPhone


    • T, as Wendell Berry said to me once long ago, “Things are getting better
      all the time. It’s just that they’re getting worse a whole lot faster.”

  4. Love the poem! Deb joined a Thursday night knit club @Carmody’s pub in Ireland. One woman tonight asked her if she was Republican to which Deb replied, GOD, no. The woman then said she could stay! The world knows. Miss you…

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