After Talking it Over

The National Spelling Bee…

Host: “The word is galliambic.”
Katherine: “galliambic- g a l l i a m b i c”
Host: “Correct.”

Host: “The word is tlamatine.”
Nathan: “Tlamatine. t l a m a t i n e.”
Host: “Correct.”

Host: “The word is hamburger.”
45: “Hamburger. h a m b e r d e r.”
Host: “I’m sorry; it’s spelled h a m b u r g e r.”

45: “Once again, FAKE SPELLING.”


After Talking It Over

She says, “Why not?” Says,
“Corn chips, a long walk, maybe
a new dog, a mutt, half beagle or
one-third collie, one that will sit
on our laps when we watch
the worst shows on TV.” I think
TV, but know the shows will
turn into another movie or
a report on raising taxes to build
a dam in Idaho. Sixth grade

was not this frightening, but came
close. Mrs. Kendelton held spelling
bees every Friday afternoon. We’d
stand in a line along the blackboard
in the order we finished the last time.
She kept a record. We spelled
antelope, nuclear, satellite, creche.
Winners got chopsticks. Amy
Witherspoon finished elementary
school with 27 sets. Losers sat
with their knees pressing against
the bottoms of their desks. This

place is filled with winter. Winter
makes you think about your head, keeps
your mind on the road, roof, the dog
being outside. You have to know how
to spell rock salt, shovel, scarf.

–Jack Ridl

from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

Next Thursday: D.R. James, Katie Kalisz, and Greg Rappleye will be reading from their new collections at The Bookman, 715 Washington Avenue in Grand Haven, 7pm.


On January 29 at 7pm, the Hope College Visiting Writers Series will host a reading by Sophfronia Scott in the John and Dede Howard Recital Hall located in the Jack H. Miller Center


Today is the birthday of William Stafford. I remember him every day as I sit down to write, kept good company by this poem he wrote at our first house, about our first dog.


On April 1 (perfect!) (yipes, just 2.5 months away) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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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.

Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

During my 38 years in the academic world, I was informed several times that I didn’t belong. My first year I was told that if I wanted to remain in academe I had to stop droppin’ the g at the end of –ing words. I replied that I was from a blue collar family who did that, and I wasn’t up for abandonin’ ’em.

Another charge was that I was sentimental. I have never understood the criticism of sentimentality. After all, its roots are a fusion of central parts of our humanity: sentiment and mentality.

I understand phony, false, deceptive feeling. Good heavens, we experience it every day since 45 began roaming the office. But sentimentality? Hmmmm. Are we suffering a fear of tenderness? Fear of feeling? Fear of empathy?

While teaching the composing of a poem, I found it was the cool student, the objective, the stand-offish, the critically thinking student who seldom composed an authentic poem. I dare say many of those who place critical thinking at the pinnacle of learning — and have no discernment as to when to apply it — may be the ones carrying false feeling.

As for me, to this day I tear up when I hear “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. And now that the birds are migrating, I’m filling our feeders several times a day. The gathering of goldfinches puts me right back on that park bench in London with that dear woman who is, “feeding the birds, tuppence a bag.”

This week’s poem is the title poem from a new collection appearing in 2019.

Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

He’d filled the little-roofed feeders with
sunflower and thistle seeds, hooks hanging
sturdy from the birch’s branches twisting

his own arm’s length above the mulch path,
the day’s first light lapsing along the leaves.
Peter knew the neighbors were talking

about the guy in the frayed cassock
who last week moved in with only
a pick-up’s bed of what seemed to be

belongings—a small table, couple
of ladder back chairs, a sound system
that looked vintage, a lot of books,

three futons, a large canvas bag
maybe filled with pans, pots, dishes,
and three lamps, one that likely dangled

tiny stars from its frayed shade.
He had gone out and brought home
an Adirondack and about fifty flower pots,

and the feeders. Now he took his morning
green tea out to the chair to wait for the birds.
This, he felt cross his mind, is what I have

waited for. He sipped. A house finch came.
A couple cardinals, a downy woodpecker.
The chickadees would take a seed, fly

into the branches of the hemlocks surrounding
the house and batter to get to the meat. Time
and time again they returned. Peter tried

to count then wondered why, stopped
and thought about what to plant
in the pots, where he would place them

within the striped grass that made a nest
for the house to sit within. He liked thinking
he had nested. He liked thinking everything

here could be taken away. He had cosmos,
impatiens–no perennials, not until bloom
and loss became a ritual, sacred. There was

a breeze. There was the tea. And then there was
a goldfinch, just one, at the thistle feeder, its startle
of yellow and black seamless within its feathers.

Peter watched as it took the seed, sat above him.
He watched as the bird flew to the feeder, flew back
to the same branch. St. Peter and the goldfinch

here in the day’s beginning. He could not bow his head.
He knew this was time. He knew what the earth knew.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Colorado 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!