Growing up in a small town (population 1,200) things were uneventful save for the ordinary disturbances of any kid’s life. I was a coach’s son, played baseball and basketball, hung out with my pals, visited Gramma each weekend. My parents were parents of the 50s. We went to church, assumed God was love, Jesus was loving, the Holy Spirit was inconceivable. I don’t recall ever talking about “right religion.” It was the 50s: you didn’t talk about money, religion, politics. You were nice.

I was in youth group at the church. We played a game called Bible baseball where you were tossed a question and if you got the answer right, you got a hit. Once I was asked how many sins Jesus committed. I said, “One.” I was asked by our kindly minister why I said that. I said, “When He went off to the temple, he didn’t tell his parents where he would be.” It was that kind of childhood.

And then along about high school time our church hired a youth minister. He was charismatic, recruited several of us to meet with him several times a week for breakfast, took a deep interest in us. Before long we were praying together and he was teaching us about the “Truth” of Christianity. I’d love to tell you his name. He stole my life and after a while my very self.

Today there is a psychiatric term for what he did–Gaslighting.

45 is a gaslighter. He says the news is fake. He turns those who care about people into enemies of the state. He makes lies a means to an end. He calls revenge patriotism. It’s all about him. You don’t need me to tell you this. The youth minister was a gaslighter. He terrified me with damnation until I realized that I had to be converted. Soon he had me convinced that certainly all my friends, along with all the little town — help your neighbor, church going souls — were not real Christians. In the diction of 45, they were fake Christians.

This “correct Christianity” had nothing to do with Jesus, and a lot to do with double binds, terror, brainwashing, and the inculcating of a cult. Gaslighting by its very definition. All of us who contradict 45 are the evil ones. Lindsay Vonn after her stumble at the Winter Olympics received a deluge of tweets (I hate that word. Poor Chickadees!) declaring that this happened because of her criticism of 45 and her saying that if she won Gold she’d not go to the White House.

I went off to college. How’d that go? My sophomore year, my whole cruel gaslit psyche broke into a thousand pieces. After class one day, my roommate found me catatonic. Thirteen shock treatments, five stays in four different psychiatric wards, years of panic attacks, depression and PTSD followed — that’s how it went.

That so-called Christian minister and his like–ie. 45–always wash their hands of anything they inflict. It’s our fault. We’re wrong. We’re believing fake news.  Kinda like the 1% who have never pulled a weed from their multiple gardens saying it’s the poor’s fault, that they need to work harder for their money.

We’re being gaslighted. Know it, and resist.

After the Thirteenth Shock Treatment

I asked for two fried egg sandwiches
and a blueberry milkshake. I got soup.
And it was raining so instead of trying
again to read Middlemarch,

I lay on my side and watched the rain
glide down the window. I used to love
to go outside. My sister was a high school
cheerleader, someone everyone loved

to be around—if anything was good,
it was great. I needed to know. My God
spoke only in doubt. The nerves at the ends
of my fingers never slept, and when my fists

bloodied my forehead, only the comfort
of bandages let me look out across
the parking lot, out over the vans, Audis,
and pick-ups into the trees where I could

see how the leaves held to the limbs.
At home my father stayed alone in his
gardens. My mother carried her knitting
to a neighbor’s and talked about dinner.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Talking River

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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!

Morning with Dogs

Today is Charlie’s 14th birthday.

Well, we don’t know his exact birthday, but 14 years ago he came out from behind the counter at the shelter, on the day after Valentines, and wagged his way our way, landed in Julie’s arms, nuzzled her easy to nuzzle nose, and came home with us.

Charlie is somewhat of a beagle. He was on his last try, meaning he had been returned to the shelter twice and a third return is the dire opposite of a charm. For weeks we pretended we were in a children’s book: Take Charlie to the car and he was sure he was being returned and would throw up; make a mistake on the kitchen floor and we were sure he was pleading, “I’m sorry. Please please give me another chance.” He’s still hand shy and terrified of kids or anyone under five feet tall. You can imagine what happened to the little guy before we claimed him.

Now he has a ten month old sister, a Spinone Italiano, and they are best buddies, Charlie allowing himself to be another of her umpteen dog toys: Drag me along by the collar–sure. Pull my tail–why not? Knock me over in the snow–what could be more fun? They sleep side by side — with us of course — causing us to sleep the sleep of contortionists. (Dog trainers, stop shrieking. Vivi and Charlie are family. Those accusing us of anthropomorphism and sentimentality, you are right. And be damned.)

Charlie sits on command. He’s deaf now, but raise your hand above his head and he’ll sit. So-called VP Mike Pence sits on command, too. He’s also deaf. Charlie is in a way an immigrant, has no papers, and we didn’t return him. He also loves unconditionally.

Morning With Dogs

The old dog won’t get up. The pup
is yelping. We want to sleep another

hour, half an hour, fifteen minutes.
We are old dogs, too. But the pup

is hungry and the light
is crossing the evergreens and now 

that we have found our way out of bed
and on to the dogs’ bowls, the old dog’s

eyes open. The coffee—timed when
to perk is dripping through the grounds.

And though wanting still to sleep, we
divide the morning’s rituals: filling

the feeders for the rampant demands
of chickadees, finches, the one downy;

letting the old dog out first to pee
unencumbered by the pup’s romping

plea to play. This is the opening of our
every day. And we go on, the past

always tugging us back into regret.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

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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!

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

There are times for those who pray that it doesn’t seem possible. What words would one mutter in response to a horrific sorrow? Silence may be the most sacred of all prayers. I often think that prayer is there to lead us into being prayerful. Perhaps that’s one way to stand in opposition to what assaults all that is good and to overcome that which separates the sacred from the everyday. This week’s poem tries to enter that way of being.

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

“Pray as you can; not as you can’t.”
My prayers will sit on the backs
of bedraggled donkeys, in the sidecars
of Harleys, in the pockets of night
watchmen, on the laps of widows.
They will be the stones I walk by,
the smudges I leave on anything I touch,
the last place the last snow melts. They
will be brown, weekdays, potato pancakes.
They will stick to the undersides of porches,
docks, dog paws, and carpets. When I’m sick,
my cough will carry them. When you leave
in the morning, they will sink into the bed,
the sofa, every towel. I will carry them
in the modesty of my feet. Everything
will be praying: My dog will be petitioning
for mercy when he stops to sniff a post.
Every window in our house will be
an offering for supplication. The birds
at the feeder will be twitching
for my sins. I will say my prayers
are bread dough, doorknobs, golf tees,
any small and nameless change of heart.
When I forget my prayers, they will
bundle up and go out on their own
across the street, down into the basement,
into a small town with no mayor where
there is a single swing in the park. When
I forget, they’ll know I was watching TV,
the sky, or listening to Basie, remembering
the way my mother and father jitterbugged
to the big band station, he pulling her close,
then spinning her out across the green kitchen floor.

—Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)


Comfort often gets a bad rap. It strikes many as avoidance, or that which the privileged seek or have, or it gets attached to the odd term “comfort zone,” as if there is some area we can go where we aren’t going to be troubled. How can one get up in the morning and expect to find that? It’s where the snipe hangs out.

The comfort we deserve now is that which gives us comfort within our distress. Kinda like that old sweatshirt, or soup, or, that person who doesn’t leave when there is nothing to say.

This week’s poem, I hope, speaks to the kind of comfort/comforting we deserve, perhaps especially now.


There are those who know
the world without words,

not even a murmur or
a breath. Within the modesty

of presence, a prayer
could be green, tattered,

cold, alone as a possum
crossing a back road. It’s

the touch of the still. It’s
where we are Amen,

Shalom, Namaste—it’s our
there, here, our forgotten

habitat of yes. We become
sigh, our “I” the wet dog,

the sparrow nesting
in the anonymity of brown.

–Jack Ridl

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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!


Unfortunately there was a smooshing together of two different subjects in the latest post. I did not mean to have the care/not care comment and the thank you to those who checked in on us be together. We of course know that millions of people we’re caring in many many ways, and that friends were caring who were concerned about taking our attention. The reference to “not caring” was meant to refer to those who were exploiting the disaster. Having friends who are dealing with the storm we too keep trying to figure out whether or not to contact them or trust they know we care.I regret that I didn’t check that copy to catch that misleading construction. And I called myself an English teacher!

As We Go On

Hi folks. This is an important opportunity and a help with fundraising that we’re awfully excited about. Such very good people behind it. Please, on your paths, share the news of this event, and if possible, go! If you choose to attend in Saugatuck, we will see you there!


Sunday, May 21 at 3pm, at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts

On stage — a very important event for building understanding and community, and to raise a groundswell of support for the new-and-important Out on the Lakeshore Community Center in Holland:

AND support for Our LGBT Fund at The Grand Rapids Community Foundation:

Live storytelling: Funny, witty, sad, infuriating. Touching. We will hear the coming-out stories told by members of Ann Arbor’s LGBTQ community. These stories are our stories. The stories of the world we make and live in now. The storytellers’ ages span six decades.

Bring friends! Bring family!

Tickets are $40 general admission, $15 for students. Cash bar. tickets:

If you can’t make the Saugatuck Performance, or if you just want to see the performance again, here are the details of the Grand Rapids performance:

Saturday, June 10, 7pm, Wealthy Street Theatre in Grand Rapids.

Please share this invitation by copying and pasting!!

Blue Sky Over Key West

Welcome to Key West, where we are on our little houseboat soaking up lots of lack of inhibition. Several years ago Key West seceded from the U.S., for a moment, anyway, establishing itself as The Conch Republic, the flag of which flies high still around town. If you’ve been troubled by and since the election, come on down. While the T-Word’s T-shirts and hats sell well, and ironically, at The Little Truman White House here, this fashion statement is one not seen on the locals. Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” remains such, merely an idea. There ain’t much order here. Drop your repressions at Mile Marker One.

Our pier in the city marina, Marlin Pier, is home to a gaggle of joy-filled, caring souls ranging in age from 12 to 90. Vocations and passions include artists, jewelry makers, CSI retirees, fireworks entrepreneurs, horticulturists, teachers of the year in science, blues singers, rock musicians, ice cream shop owners, government workers, sea captains, a Welsh screen writer, eight dogs, day laborers, former Pentagon photographers, knitters, actors, an adventurer who has survived three avalanches, shop owners, charter fishing captains, gourmet chefs on tour boats, and us. It’s the best assisted living set-up in the world: If “Jane isn’t up and out on the pier by ten, we check on her.”

When we arrived on Friday and headed down the pier, we were hugged and kissed and welcomed with the warmth usually offered those who have returned from outer space. Well . . .

“Don’t just do something, sit there!” Come recover for a bit. Just remember that this is a place where on Sabbath morning the parking lot used by the parishioners of the Unity Church is the one owned by the Bare Assets Nightclub.

This week’s poem…

Blue Sky Over Key West

Sometimes when we stand in the loss
of it all, surrounded by what we will never

be, the sky seems to be just fine. It’s blue.
It’s many shades of blue. And it’s there

and will be when we join the landscape
of the invisible. Clouds cross, none ever

the same. And that’s when we realize again
that there actually is no sky, just another

anonymous unknown we are sure we see.
When our dog steps out onto the deck of

our little houseboat bobbing on the nameless
blue-green of this bight and lifts his nose into

the gull-crossed and sea-soaked breeze,
does he see our sky? I like to suppose

he does. Though most likely it’s something
his gentle nose has brought for only him to view.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review


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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!

Learning to Suffer

A blog post written first for CavanKerry

Several years ago, I was invited to be on a panel at a writers conference. The participants were asked to talk about the topic, “Can Poetry Be Healing?” We all gathered or were stuffed into a rather small meeting Room. It seemed that most everyone attending the conference came to this particular panel. I laughed to myself as I imagined that, like being in the audience of a phony evangelist, they had come to be healed. I wasn’t sure if they would find that funny or even amusing.

The first panelist began by stating outright that in no way can poetry be healing.

He talked about the loved people he had lost to cancer, accidents, any number of other physical cruelties that he never could imagine poetry possibly healing.

The second panelist seconded the first’s conclusion. She added that she had read many a poem, none of which would heal anyone, that many poems would likely only make things worse.

My turn. Well, all along I had figured that we would all be agreeing that poetry can heal. So, whew, here I come now cast as the antagonist. That’s a part I flee from playing. And so I agreed with them. Then I said that there may be another way of looking at poetry and its possible connection to healing. There is the illness and/or the pain, but there is an inner suffering as well. And so I followed, somewhat self-consciously, with my story…

By the time I was 35, I had been in and out of six psychiatric units, lost a marriage and a young child, had worked with easily a dozen therapists, taken so many drugs that several times I had to go into cold turkey before they “tried another,” and along the way had been given a total of thirteen shock treatments. Nothing relieved my suffering. (I can go into what did, but that’s not the import of this blog.)

Among the effects of my experiencing ten traumatic events as a very young child was an inability to suffer. What does that mean? For one thing it meant that there was no way that I could trudge down the blue highway to healing until I was capable of experiencing the pain that accompanies recovery. I needed to discover suffering. It was this realization that enabled me to “go on” and arrive where I am today, talking to you.

However, what might help? I couldn’t read even a sentence that described the least sense of suffering without plunging back into the need for caregiving. I had tried to read the gentlest of books, Ring of Bright Water. It wasn’t long before I put it down.

At some point I decided to try reading poetry, lyric poetry. Most of it was short. I could read the first few lines and see if I was able to go on. And I wrote poems, not very effectively, but with enough artistic technique to create a sense of control over what I put down on one of those yellow legal tablets.

After a week or so I found myself no longer putting the words away. I kept reading. I suppose it was fortunate that I was reading lyric poetry, and a lot of it was lyric poetry about those who suffered and/or by those who suffered, because at some point—slow learner that I am—I realized that “That’s it!” Most of those who wrote or spoke these poems were able to, somehow, live within their suffering. And so I read and read and wrote and read myself into the realization that something in me was becoming able to experience, to feel, that which one must be able to face.

And so it was this story that I told for my panel presentation—my explanation of why poetry just might be able to heal, to assure us that we can suffer, perhaps comfort us, help us feel we aren’t alone, that someone understands. We may even prevail, even if it’s making the day a bit cheerier for those who care for us.

It’s now been thirty plus years since I didn’t know I could suffer. I have lived this time with profound understanding from my wife and daughter. Most certainly, like everyone, I do suffer, but now with the confidence that I can.


Lifetime Achievement

I would never have hallucinated that the day would arrive when I might be given recognition for a lifetime’s work. Yikes!
A lifetime’s work?

Here’s how that happens. You do what you do every day for some 45 years and then you get an email informing you of such.

Some things, I admit, I did dream about: hitting the game winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series, receiving a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, draining a thirty foot jump shot with time running out to win a championship for my father, seeing Julie well, but what happened a couple weeks ago I could never imagine.

Okay, so what happened? First the Poetry Society of Michigan informs me that they have named me Honorary Chancellor for the next two years. This means so much: these poets work with poetry and poets for all the right reasons: respect for both poet and poetry, support for those who compose work that connects us to one another and to what deeply matters, encouragement to those learning the art, and an affirmation of poetry as crucial to  sustaining all that is humane. They give themselves to bringing out the compassion and understanding that we carry into each day.

Then, along comes a message announcing that the Literary Society of West Michigan has recognized me with one of their four awards given to those who have contributed to enhancing, enriching literacy. I was cited for a lifetime (there it is again) of work restoring understanding of what poetry really is and what it can bring to and do for others.

I feel okay celebrating these two recognitions because they were not something I worked for or dreamed of or hoped for or even knew about. They came as a result of doing what I do. I learned from my father, the coach, to never make “winning” a goal. It should always be a result. I’m even more fortunate than he was. I didn’t even know there was something that would come from, I say again, doing what I’m still doing.

Yes, I was floored when told of these. I will try to believe this was deserved. I’ll try.

PS. Speaking of the Poetry Society–the other day, their anthology, Peninsula Poets arrived. Reading the poems, I was once again shown how important poetry can be to one’s life. Every poem in the collection matters. Each came from what mattered to the poet; each connects to what matters to us all. The editor, Edward Morin, should be named “Editor-of-the Year.” He, James Ahearn, Julie George, and Angela Maloy must have given up half the hours in their days to devote themselves
to creating this edition. Gratitude abounds.

I have, of course, overlooked others who deserve celebration. If you are interested in joining this soul-sustaining organization, contact Cynthia Nankee at

And now back to earning the right to carry these recognitions.