Christmas at My Grandfather’s

This past Monday here in the U.S. we celebrated Labor Day. My paternal grandfather was a laborer. He was also a Bohemian immigrant. Those from much of eastern Europe were denigrated in ways 45 speaks of certain immigrants today. My grandfather was a “hunky.”

When he was sixteen, he lied about his age so that he could work in a Pittsburgh factory, Westinghouse Air Brake. Each work day until he retired he stood at the assembly line.

I once asked him, “Grampa, how were you able to do that day after day, all those years?” He thought for a bit and said, “Well, I’m not sure what you mean. It was only eight hours a day.”

Christmas at My Grandfather’s

The dark stab of pre-dawn
stings my grandfather’s wrists.
He grabs his lunch pail.
The mill still burns,
one shift moving
into the next, men
held to the air
by hunger,
home, the unrelenting
threat of sudden illness,
and the nag of hope
that one kid
might get out.
At Christmas, I remember
only the gift
of the day off,
my grandfather get up
at the same time,
dress, and turn
the tree lights on.
He’d sit in the dark,
stare at the tree,
drift into the branches,
let his mind take its place
among the ornaments
as behind him, over his shoulder,
the sun came up
through the window smudged
with soot and spray-on snow.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Artful Dodge.

Subsequently published in between (Dawn Valley Press, out of print).

Personal History Workshop
On Saturday September 29 from 1-3:30 at the Douglas United Church of Christ, 56 Wall Street, Jack will be offering a workshop on a variety of ways of exploring your personal history. If you want to sign up, and please be sure about it, send an email to Jack at, or use the contact link up there at the top of

Music and Poetry Happenings
On Friday at Uncommon Grounds in Saugatuck, David James will be reading at 7pm. Rob Kenagy and Ganges and Press Delete will be playing starting around 6pm and again after David’s reading. On Saturday, Kenagy, Ganges and Real Umami will be appearing at Virtue Cider beginning at 7pm, along with poet Peter Berghoef. These promise to be great good times for one and all!


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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

Community Read: Death and Life of the Great Lakes



Hey, hi folks,

Jack and Julie here. We belong to a groovy progressive church in Douglas, MI, the DUCC, which works for equal rights, social and environmental justice, all the good stuff. We sit on the Creation Justice Team, and we’re both going to be facilitating at this event, which will take place September through November, with three meeting times. We would love it if you would join us, in person or online, if you like, by comment/discussion below.

Former State Senator Patty Birkholz, in the year or so before she passed away, served as a great mentor to the DUCC Creation Justice Team. During that time she pressed into our hands — as she did everyone she met — Dan Egan’s amazing and award-winning book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.

Patty wanted everyone in the states and provinces that border the Great Lakes to read it, to understand better the challenges our waters have faced and will face, so we can be better equipped to fight for the survival of the largest freshwater system in North America.

So we have decided to read this book together as a kind of community-wide bookclub Event.

Will you join us?

The book is divided into three parts, the Front Door, the Back Door, and the Future. We will gather at the DUCC Friendship Hall, 56 Wall Street, Douglas, MI on these dates to discuss these sections of the book. We would love it if you could commit to all three dates, but if not, join in for as many as you can.

The Front Door, September 18, 6:30p.m.

The Back Door, October 23, 6:30p.m.

The Future, November 13, 6:30p.m.

The Saugatuck-Douglas District Library has hard copies and electronic copies of the book available on loan.

Follow this link to to join in on the read!

Living in the 21st Century

We’re all wanting things to be normal, not utopian, not even idealistic. Just rather normal, civil. 

Years ago I heard someone say, “It’s all the Beatles’ fault.” Really? “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” “Here Comes the Sun.” “Eleanor Rigby.” “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine.” Oh, I know: the hair, the drugs, the outrageous dress, the riots, the protests. Much like the Gay Nineties and the Roaring 20s.

But–this today?

Normal for me would be going outside to fill the bird feeder without words such as “Rat,” “Dog” “Loser” battering my brain. “I disagree,” would be fine. Or “Not my taste.” Even “Not for me.”


Living in the 21st Century

Long before there was this day
another day came. Maybe it rained
or there was a little sunlight. People

got up and did what they always do.
Birds sang and the cats wanted out,
or in. You and I weren’t here,

but the world didn’t know. Trees
grew and nobody noticed. Someone
was cruel. Someone else

tried not to be. Maybe the weather
shifted unexpectedly and plans
had to be changed. This morning

we watched our day begin. We
wondered if it would be good,
wondered if it would rain.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press

There’s a wonderful Writers’ Retreat coming up at Lost Lake near Alpena., Michigan. Instead of the usual workshops, the retreat provides you a long-needed chance to get away, be among warm-hearted fellow writers and a staff of fiction writers, poets, and song writers with whom you can meet one on one, hear read, sing, and listen to interesting presentations. Here you will have time to write on your own in the beautiful autumn setting at Lost Lake.

October 4-7

For more details and to sign up go to

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Visit Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!


There Are No Hidden Meanings

Tuesday evening I was invited to read at The Red Dock Cafe and Bar, one of the great venues for the arts in my town. A touch of old Key West in the Midwest, it sits out in the Harbor here where we get to live in Douglas/Saugatuck, Michigan. Tony Amato and his warm-hearted staff make everyone feel at home. If you can’t lay back at The Red Dock, you wouldn’t be able to lay back in a hot tub along the beaches of the Bahamas.

Joining me was the luminous poet Laura Donnelly, the sparkle of poet/translator Rebecca Kosick, and the ever-surprising Randy Smit. The place was tidal-wave full and with us. It was what a poetry reading is supposed to be–a gift to the soulful. And the soulful were there. At least I didn’t sniff an evaluator within a mile of the place.

All four of us, along with Tony and the Red Dock staff, were there to overcome, for a couple of hours, 45 and his gang, those who daily pollute our consciousness, distracting us from what we care about, from those we love.

So thank you, soulful souls. Thank you so very much.

There Are No Hidden Meanings
for Julie

This poem you’ll have to find.
Some hints: It’s nowhere in the house,
but can be gotten to by moving under the rugs.
It might be wise to follow where the dog has sniffed.
And watch the gulls: they have a knack for knowing.
Rain is often a talisman, and clouds can lure you.
Listen to the moon crawling across the sky,
but beware of evenings and bread dough.
Whenever a child stops suddenly, look there for a sign.
Mark any spot where you fall asleep.
If, while listening to birds, you notice
a hole in their song, walk into it.
Never underestimate the possibilities in a flea market.
And don’t overlook anything hanging from a nail.
Old ball gloves, wooden toys, weed beds, pocket watches,
cowbells, moths, musty clothes, and vinegar,
they can be signals that you’re close.
Follow any arrow on any pole.
Don’t ignore a detour sign.
Pause where there is mold.
And look especially close
at whatever it is you see every day.
You’ll find it when I won’t have to say,
“Cold, colder, warmer, warmer, hot.”

–Jack Ridl

Published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press, 1984)

Kristin Brace’s collection Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin has been released from Finishing Line Press

Laura Donnelly’s award winning Watershed is published by Cider House Press.

As always, let me know of recent publications among your folks. I sure don’t wanna overlook anyone.


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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

A Free Writing (and freewriting) Event

Hey folks, I’ve got a gig coming up on April 12, 6:30 to 9:30pm at the DUCC Friendship Hall, 56 Wall Street in Douglas, MI. It’s free, and open to the public, and I’d love for you to join us, and bring a friend! It’s described in this attachment, below, which is handy for sharing with your friends and family. If you think you might like to come, please use the contact link, on my website, or the event link on my Facebook page to let me know. Thanks, and hope to see you there!

Jack Personal History Workshop

Fourth Annual Reading at the Red Dock

You know that poetry reading on the water in Saugatuck? No? The one that started as an experiment, became a sensation, and is now a tradition? Well, it’s back.

Announcing the Fourth Annual Reading at the Red Dock with Jack Ridl, and this year featuring… all the way from Moveen, Ireland… beloved poet Thomas Lynch.

DATE: The Red Dock reading is always on the second Tuesday in August. Set your calendars on repeat! This year, that means AUGUST 8

TIME: 6PM, with music starting hours beforehand.

WHERE: The Red Dock, the chillingest, laid-backest, best water-living, sun soaking joint in Saugatuck/Douglas. Find it where the Keewatin used to be parked. If that doesn’t make sense, then set your GPS to 219 N Union St, Douglas, MI 49406. Or put another way, it’s just past the Saugatuck-Douglas bridge, on the Douglas side, on the harbor. Park in the big lot, walk down the pier by the boat ramp.

PRO TIP: For this reading, come early, because once the dock is full, it’s full. And this reading usually fills the dock. Also, you just might want a folding chair in your trunk, just in case. Also, dress is extraordinarily casual. You do need shoes. Possibly also a shirt, because it’s a restaurant, and there are just a few rules. Not many.

About Thomas:  Thomas Lynch is known throughout the States and Europe for his poetry, prose, documentary films, lectures, commentaries, interviews, features on PBS, NPR, the BBC. His THE UNDERTAKING was made into a Frontline feature and he was featured guest on Bill Moyers’s On Our Own Terms, MSNBC, the Today Show. His work has been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Times of London, The New Yorker, The Paris Review. He has published five collections of poetry, four of essays, a collection of short stories, and memoirs. Thomas makes his home in the family’s ancestral cottage in Moveen, County Clare, Ireland and in Milford, Michigan where he has been the funeral director since 1974. He brings a rich sense of humor and poignant depth to all he does, to everyone he is with.

Seriously, get there early to secure a seat, have a meal, a drink, a conversation, a good listen to the good music.

You know how good it is to see you there and for all of us to be with one another.

Deepest thanks to owner Tony Amato who makes the magic happen, and his warm-hearted staff who make us all feel at home at this touch of Key West in the Midwest.

That Time We Read at Roan & Black

I lost track a while ago of all the “Once Ever” experiences poetry has brought my way in the fifty years I have been in this one art.

This past weekend extended and enriched this list because of the great and lovingly generous souls at Roan & Black Gallery–John, Doug, Angela, J, Rian, and Sophia–where within the gallery’s understated but bounteous gardens the luminously soulful poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and I read, accompanied by Rob Kenagy, the gently awesome improvisational guitarist/poet/friend.

We played before an audience (150 of you?!?) who welcomed each word and note with a warmth we soaked up and savored. Imagine–the gardens, a huge lawn for chair or blanket, flowers and lemon water on the set, incense keeping any gate-crashing bug at bay, the sun glowing down its way within weirdly accommodating weather, Prosecco, gourmet cookies, sighs and laughs, and good folk lingering after, enjoying just being with one another. Thanks to everyone who came and for your part in creating an evening that is already a sustaining memory.

Then on Saturday I got to be Rosemerry’s sidekick for an all-day workshop planned and hosted by the inexhaustible Colette DeNooyer at Colette and Bob’s welcoming home on Lake Michigan, where winsome and intelligent folk gathered in Rosemerry’s ideas, sparks, encouragement, insights, and perceptions — all fresh and valuable.

Do visit Roan & Black–it is truly a visit —  the gallery, sculpture gardens, the home store, and the soulful hosts. Being there brings to you something endangered and much needed– Quiet joy. Our books are still available there, but of course, that’s only one of many reasons to go!

And now before I place yet another exuberant adjective before you, I’ll sign off with two words that we sometimes overlook. But they contain the ineffable.

Thank you.


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Visit Roan & Black to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Reading! Reading! Reading!

  ********** ROAN AND BLACK GALLERY PRESENTS!!!! **********


Where:    Roan And Black Gallery on Blue Star Highway between Saugatuck and Douglas
Date:        Friday, June 23
Time:        7pm
Cost:        FREE!

Weather permitting, the festivities will be in the stunning gardens at the gallery. A limited number of chairs will be provided so consider bringing a chair and/or a blanket. Come early and visit the art in the gallery, stroll the gardens, enjoy the eclectic array of items in the two stores accompanying the gallery.

See the attached flier for more information. Guaranteed money back if you don’t have one terrific time. We would love being with you as we welcome–at long last–SUMMER!

Here’s that flyer.

TEDx Macatawa: The Perfectly Imperfect

A TEDx Talk.

I was asked to give a TEDx Talk.

These talks bring new ideas to the world, or at least ideas that have been overlooked. The last time I had a new idea, it was defeated in a faculty meeting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a new idea. Actually it was a very old idea, an ancient idea, and one I’ve continued to promote through retirement and onward. So, what new idea could I come up with? I came up with a chair. TED talkers walk around the stage. I walk my dog, or follow as he sniffs,  a rather uncoordinated, random walk. I am quite good at sitting. It’s how I’ve always done my best work.

TEDx and TED Talks are stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. I’m very uncomfortable with stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. When I taught at a nearby college, people were constantly pursuing excellence. Like Charlie our dog doing his sniffing. “There! Nope…. Maybe over There! Nope.”

I never had any idea what in this or any world Excellence was or looked, sounded, tasted or smelled like. But everyone  seemed to know it was there, somewhere. I knew that it was used in conversation: “Like, ya know, that’s excellllent!”

Really? Excellent? When I asked, I was told it meant “doing or making a thing better than most everyone and everything else.” At what cost? And how do you know when you’ve arrived? Merely by measurement?

Only that can be excellent which can be measured? There is a reason standards have lowered from reaching for wisdom or inspiration to spelling all the words correctly. Reaching for perfect measures is the new black.

Not being much of a fan of it, what could I talk about if I couldn’t talk about excellence? This gnawed my bones for a long time before it came: I would talk unexcellently about other things worth pursuing. Or I chose to state the positive: I would suggest that a thing is worth doing even if you don’t do it well.

In fact, most things worth doing have more important reasons for doing them than doing them well. And so I sat in my chair, promoting The Perfectly Imperfect*

I TEDx Talked about the virtue of not focusing on doing things well, or even doing them well at all.

And my microphone fell off my ear.

And I went 34 seconds past my allotted time.

And my chair squeaked.

*The title came from our daughter, who at age 7 said to me when I hung holiday lights up one side of our front door, across the top, and 1/3 of the way down the other side, “Daddy! Let’s leave them up this way. They are perfectly imperfect.”

A Community is Born

This past June The Fetzer Institute hosted a group to spend the week writing, reflecting, being alone, talking with one another, and having daily group conversations about some of the subjects that those at Fetzer are devoted to exploring. We spent the time focusing our conversations, led gently and profoundly by Mark Nepo and Shirley Showalter, on suffering, love, compassion, forgiveness, creativity, and the artist’s responsibility in working with these conditions, each one certainly an integral part of each life.

For two days a film crew was at the Institute to record our responses in a formal setting drawn out from us by the unimposing presence of and questions posed by Mark and Shirley. These “interviews” are now available on The Fetzer Institute website right here. I have a hunch that you will find the insights and “takes” of the participants to be interesting, at times provocative, at times supportive, often unusual, always warm-hearted.

Here you will hear from a master of the Kora, novelists, poets, a world authority on the spiritual nature of the labyrinth, potters, a former NPR death row reporter, a leader of women’s empowerment groups, a concert pianist/composer, writers of children’s books, health activists, and, and, and.

In one little week, we became friends. All of us have been astonished at what Mark and Shirley enabled to happen–to us, for us, with us. We have stayed in contact, celebrating one another, cheering one another on in what we are each trying to do. We became that rarest of organic creations, a community.