Ice Storm (…and about that party…)

Here’s a little coda to last week’s post: How many of you grew up being subjected to the well-meaning, “Just do your best”? I don’t know about you, but I was the kid who had no idea what my best was. Anxiety to the point of panic slithered within whether I was making my bed (My mother invariably smoothed out a wrinkle or four) or studying for an exam in existential philosophy.

Always I obsessed, “Did I do my best? How will I know?” They bewildered me, those people for whom the phrase brought relief, even confidence. Even after a failure — missing a layup or receiving a C — those folks heard, “That’s okay. I know you did your best.”

Man if this is 45’s best, I dread to think what his less than best looks like.

This week has lugged in quite a storm. It’s so cold that, even if properly winter-clothed, we will be frostbitten in ten minutes. The windchill here as I write has plummeted to a minus-27 F.

At least for a while we love it. Pile up the books, get out the board games, watch an old movie, curl up with the dogs.

A storm like this is a paradoxical gift, distracting us in the best of ways by forcing us to pay attention to what matters deeply in our own lives, all we would attend to if the thief-in-chief of our personal lives had never shown up in The White House.

Which brings me to today’s poem. Am I ever lucky! The blurbs/reviews for my new collection were written by Li-Young Lee, Dan Gerber, Terrance Hayes, and Billy Collins. In tune with the weather here, here’s an excerpt from Dan Gerber on the new book:

“Open the book to page 27 and read ‘Ice Storm.’ Feel how it settles in your chest, how your breath resounds with a long, deep, ‘Yes,’ how subtly you are changed by what you didn’t know you knew.”

Ice Storm

Here on the couch with my old dog I find
I’m feeling gratitude, an odd gratitude,
an old gratitude, one I thought had gone

for good down a long back road
that led away from the years when
I felt glad, felt what I believed

was an abiding gratitude: to be,
to be warm, and grateful to be
warm, to have some pillows

and a dozen books and all afternoon.
To be alone without even a sideswipe
of loneliness. To be on page 47,

or 114, or page one and there
was nothing missing. The ice
storm made things warm,

time irrelevant, made the sleeping
dog an Amen to a prayer never
needing to be said.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Third Wednesday
To be included in Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

So much news to share!

1. Jack Interview, February 22 on WMUK’s Art Beat. 12:30pm.

2. Party Time: Book Reception, April 5 for the release of Saint Peter and the Goldfinch.

When: April 5, 6:30-9:30pm
Where: The Douglass UCC church.
There will be a reading at 7pm. Then we party. Books on site for sale and signing.
Click here to Read all about it and RSVP PLEASE

3. Writing Your Personal History Workshop, April 6. Grace Episcopal Church. 9am-2pm

4.Workshop on March 30. “Poetry Trauma: The Way to Recovery.” This will offer a fresh way to be nourished by a variety of poems. It’s FREE. But you MUST reserve a seat.

When: March 30, 10am-1pm.
Where: The Douglass UCC church Friendship Hall.
Click here to reserve your seat online, or sign up at the church hall one of these Sunday mornings.

5. Reading with Lisa Lenzo (whose new book, Unblinking, will be released in May!) on May 16 at Michigan News Agency Bookstore in Kalamazoo.. 7pm

6. Wonderful news for those of you who know or want to meet the beloved Kathleen Markland.
She has been named the Honoree for the celebration of and fundraiser for The Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency  in Saugatuck, Michigan. Ox-Bow is more than 100 years old and is a part of The Art Institute of Chicago. Stay tuned for that fundraiser date!

7. Saugatuck’s D.R. James has a new chapbook coming out! Click here for a pre-order discount!

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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.

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.

I’ve Never Seen So Many Books

During this “pause” in civilization how do we take care of our own soulful selves? Julie and I read while sitting with one another and our two dogs, Vivian and Charlie. Once in awhile cat Hattie comes out and passes by, acknowledging her presence more than ours.

The act of reading itself is mysterious to me. What are we doing when we read? What’s actually happening? All I know is that it has saved me over and over again. Do you have a reading regimen? One book at a time? A particular genre? Only fiction? Only non-fiction? A particular writer? Maybe a particular mystery writer?

I often told my students that when we read, we come alive. And especially in this
neverland, reading can place us in a world with value and bring out the best in us.

I read a bunch of books at a time. Our son-in-law says I have reading ADD.

Right now I’m wandering in Small Fry, a memoir by Steve Jobs’s daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs; Steve Hughes’s Stiff, a collection of hardscrabble urban short stories; Christ Actually by James Carroll; Thoreau: A Life, a biography by Laura Dassow Walls who brings Henry to life; Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes; Johnny Appleseed by Jennifer Clark; the memoir get me out of here by Rachel Relland about her life as and recovery from borderline personality disorder; Richard Jones’s Stranger Here; and yes, Bob Woodward’s FEAR, which has to be followed by a restoration to sanity with Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. My brain spins me to sleep.

The other day our dear friend Rebecca Klott was telling us about her time wandering in Powell’s Bookstore, a wonderfully overwhelming experience.

Let’s take a break and wander in the books that bring us back to a civilized day.

I’ve Never Seen So Many Books

This bookstore sure has lots of books.
Books in crannies, books in nooks.
Books for browsing bibliophiles
In aisles, in piles, for miles and miles.
Books on fiction, books on fact.
Books on friction, books on tact.
Books on unexpected heroes,
For computer geeks with ones and zeroes.
Books on gods that are and are not.
How to survive a pre-owned car lot.
Books on how to plant a garden.
Books on how to gain a pardon.
Books on trees, on bees, PCs,
Avoiding fleas and tacked on fees.
Books on every kind of pill.
On if you should or shouldn’t grill.
Books to make the hard seem easy.
Books on how to play Parcheesi.
Books on fraud, on sod, iPod.
On how to build the perfect bod.
Books on paints and glue and gook.
On what it takes and who got took.
Books on marriage and divorce.
Books on how to breed a horse.
Books to lessen stress, relax us.
How to deal with fractious taxes.
Books on making wine from peaches.
Books to take to summer beaches.
Books on music, dance, and art.
On playing dumb, on playing smart.
Books to lead you back to church.
Books to pull you from the lurch.
Books on style, or jog a mile.
On perfect health with Andrew Weil.
Books for teachers, books for pupils.
Books on loopholes and on scruples.
Books on staying home or travel.
Books on gravy, grieving, gravel.
Mad books, bad books, fad books, sad books,
Glad books, even I’ve been had books.
Books on ticks and tacks and talks.
Books on wicks and wax and woks.
On the smiling Dalai Lama
Books on Donald and Obama.
Books on what to wear when hiking.
On where to go fat tire biking.
On how to gain a leadership.
Get a grip, a readership.
Books by, and on, and pushed by Oprah.
To lift your spirits with Deepak Chopra.
On raising flags and lowering fats.
On living with a hundred cats.
On how to become a mover, Shaker,
Baker, Quaker, a great Great Laker.
Books for kids and older folks,
On telling lies, on telling jokes.
Books on how to micro-brew.
Avoid e-coli or the flu.
On pizza, pasta, crossword puzzles.
What you should sip, throw down with guzzles.
On how to be a better cook.
On how to hook a second look.
Books to make us less neurotic.
Less robotic, more erotic.
Books on Zen and Krishnamurti.
Books on living after thirty.
On learning basic economics,
gastronomics, plate tectonics.
Books on how to raise a puppy.
Raise a roof, a kid, a guppy.
And if your space for books should dwindle.
Find a zillion on your Kindle.
Holy cow! Good grief! Gadzooks!
I’ve never seen so many books!


–Jack Ridl

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

Still a few spots for The Lost Lake Writers Retreat. It’s such a beautiful setting, almost too beautiful to be able to write anything. It’s an R and R spot. You can write when you get home after being uplifted by everyone there. Check it out!

The Hope College Visiting Writers Series will be hosting writers Matthew Baker, Anne-Marie Oomen,, Linda Nemec Foster, and painter/illustrator Meridith Ridl. Tomorrow, 7pm, in the concert hall of the Jack Miller Music Center.

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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.

The Healers

Those with the gift of empathy are all but done in, overwhelmed by entering into the suffering of others. Not too long ago I read an article that discussed the cost of empathy. We, of course, know that 45 has not a drip of empathy. Empathy is for “losers.”

What can we do who wake up helpless within the shadow of 45? Some work hard politically to change things. Some carry on serving in capacities empathic. But what of those of us who don’t have access to doing much of anything to counter “him” other than address flyers, stick stamps onto postcards that encourage electing those who want to serve, truly serve?

In the shadow of 45 and his lost souls, and his spineless cohorts, and his deceived supporters, what can we do?

Keep speaking truth to power–A patron at Tony Amato’s Red Dock Restaurant came up to him and snarled, “I bet you voted for that n____.” Tony held up two fingers, said, “Twice,” and ordered the roach to leave. We can also carry on by shifting our conversations to the lives of those in our lives who matter. We can realize that continuing dailiness, planting another flower, handing over some of our too many zucchini, saying hello to anyone, all those things that don’t change the big scene, but enrich the worlds each of us lives within.

I’m turning this into a sermon. Sorry. It’s the UCC church in me. Let’s never abandon giving our attention (a definition of love) to what and to whom we love and who love us.

When helplessness can’t be helped I recall Samuel Beckett saying, “I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on.”

The Healers

My father guessed at work.
He gave me things to do.
We strangled weeds from the flower bed.
Washed the car.
Walked the dog.

My mother guessed at a mother’s love.
She went back to tucking sheets
Around me as I lay awake.
She pulled her fingers through my hair.
She turned away. She held me.

My good friend guessed at leaving town.
Se we lugged gravel, grinding gears
Up and down the western Pennsylvania hills.
We’d raise the bed and listen
To the gravel rush into a silent pile.

My preacher guessed at God.
He knew the answer, spread my sin.
Prayed, asked me to pray.
Sprinkled oil on my head.
Pronounced me of this world.

My doctor guessed at shock.
Strapped me down.
Hooked electrodes to my head.
Baptized me with volts.

I guessed at empty space
And all the breath
that I could spill to fill it up.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Three Rivers Poetry Journal
Subsequently published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

Good Reads
Here’s another fine, recently published collection: Invisible Fish by Susan F. Glassmeyer (Dos Madres Press). Many of you know of her project of sending out a poem and commentary each day during National Poetry Month.

And a bit ago, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer published Naked for Tea, from Able Muse Press. So many benefit from her astonishing project of sending out a new draft of a poem every single day. She’s been doing this for some ten or more years.

Again, I don’t mean to overlook any recent collections. So please let me know of any you would recommend. Lots of you have work published several months or years ago. I simply thought of this recently and had to start somewhere, so I decided to start with the past few weeks.

Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading
And now I’m nagging when YET AGAIN I say how good it would be to see you at The Red Dock on August 14 for the reading starting at 6:30 with the soul-warming presence of poet Laura Donnelly. Come early for the music that will begin a bit after 3pm. Bring your own comfortable chair. I promise that Laura’s work will settle into your heart.

And as Tony Amato, impresario of The Red Dock always says, “Peace, ta.”


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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!



War Mother

The Attack on NATO — My father seldom talked about his experiences in WWII. As Captain of a black company he led his troops throughout Europe and then into the Philippines. My wife Julie’s father was a Naval officer, the Captain of a destroyer, monitoring atomic testing, heading to Cuba during the missile crisis. He was in charge of the Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines during the Vietnam war. One of her brothers was a Top Gun flyer who watched his buddy crash into the ocean. Her other brother happened to be at a meeting when the plane hit his office at the Pentagon.

At home waited their mothers. This of course has not changed. One loved one at war, the other at home. This poem of course represents that time, when primarily men were in combat.

War Mother

For the months
she would wait.
She taught me “Daddy.”
“Daddy,” I would say
as she held me,
stroked my head.

By her chair
the radio, the shape
of a church’s chancel,
gave her all the news.
She’d sit and listen,
rock me as she’d hum.

when certain songs
came on, she’d
lift me,
dance me cheek to cheek
around the room.

–Jack Ridl

From Between (Dawn Valley Press)

Lots of good news! These remarkable friends and writers all have new work. All available at your local bookstores and online. What a joy to celebrate with them!

1. Mary McSchmidt’s Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes
2. Reka Jellema’s collection This Living
3. Anna-Lisa Cox’s The Bone and Sinew of the Land
4. Jacqueline Carey’s Starless
6. Jennifer Clark’s Johnny Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman

I would “review” these here, but I’d fall short of how important and heart-nourishing each title is.

For those of you close by, Anna-Lisa and Jacqueline will be reading and being with all of us at the Douglas Library, July 22nd at 2pm.

And self–promotion number one thousand: Laura Donnelly will be joining me at The Red Dock on August 14. Starting time is 6:30. Come have some joy.

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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!

Instead of Vacationing in Maine

Times such as these often leave one wondering about alternatives. How can we do anything other than be chronically absorbed by the disrespect for the office of the presidency and the course language and cruel disregard of those who so need the government to be “for the people”?

I think back to the time when our daughter, maybe seven or eight said, “I think a lot depends on where you put your but.” We, of course heard “butt” and burying our surprise, asked what she meant.

“I mean that you could say, ‘I wanted to go to the beach, but it’s raining.’ Or you could say, ‘It’s raining, but I can stay here and read on the porch.’ ”

I’m not suggesting that we abdicate paying attention to the miasma we’re in, but maybe it would help if we thought about where to put both our “butts” and our “buts.”

I hope I get to see you, and you get to see Tom Lynch at The Red Dock, 6pm, August 8. Books for sale at the reading.

Instead of Vacationing in Maine

Here on our screened in porch the hot August light falls
like a shawl over the dogs, each asleep in his bed,
the old one stretched out in his long white coat,

the pup curled into a pile of pillows, one ear flopped
over his forehead. The FM station sends “The Wasps”
into the humid afternoon. Williams composed it at nineteen.

At nineteen I was lost. Cicadas stutter in the branches bending
over the stream drying now to a meandering line of cold
spring water that rises from the bottom of Kelly Lake

then twists for three miles before losing its trail into
the maw of Lake Michigan. Deer come, drink, then
move closer, this year close enough to gnaw

the leaves from the mass of hostas surrounding
the house. One kingfisher cackles back and forth
from branch to branch pausing to peer down

for minnows, crayfish, and tadpoles. The gardens held
through July’s dragging lack of rain. We helped,
sprinkling the pots with a watering can we found years ago,

its paint peeling and leaving a patina that bends
into the quieting hues of the scramble of color:
wine-red begonias, pale pink and purple phlox,

a collage of coleus, the pastels of daisy, gazania,
the stunning burgundy of bergamot—seducer
of hummingbird and yellow jacket. Dragonflies pose

on the lilies’ leaves, the day-mortal blooms leaning into
the sunlight as if to invite the swallowtails and monarchs.
All here, all soon leaving with the soft, dark closing of the day.

–Jack Ridl
from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!