Coffee Talks with Conrad Hilberry

One of the world’s best, W.S. Merwin, an important poet, translator, and environmentalist, passed away this week at 91. That’s almost 70 years of work devoted to the good. When he received the Pulitzer Prize, the war in Vietnam was raging. He wrote this in The New York Review of Books:

“I am pleased to know of the judges’ regard for my work, and I want to thank them for their wish to make their opinion public. But after years of the news… and commentary from Washington, I am too conscious of being an American to accept public congratulation with good grace, or to welcome it except as an occasion for expressing openly a shame which many Americans feel, day after day, helplessly, and in silence.”

I guess I don’t need to say how much I wish I lived in a culture that valued Merwin, his life, and his life’s work.

And speaking of peace-filled poets whose work matters…

 

Coffee Talks With Conrad Hilberry

He brought out the robust flavor
of everything, brewed us lines perked

for sipping, savoring— images
espresso intense, carried latte light

across rhythms energetic as caffeine.
We pour these poems dark, rich,

some with cream, none with a sugar cube,
but each accompanied by the real sweetness

of a buttery croissant, one dipped
into the full body of a fine French roast.

for Jane Hilberry

–Jack Ridl

First published in Peninsula Poets
Subsequently published in Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

The Gala for the Goldfinch is racking up RSVPs. We have a few more seats. Grab yours here: http://bit.ly/GoldfinchGala

Jeff Gundy has a new collection: Without a Plea (Bottom Dog Press) Here’s what Lynn Powell says, “. . . in poem after adventurous poem [Jeff Gundy reveals that ‘the world is full/ of little possibilities for love.'”

Workshop on March 23 at Grace Episcopal Church, Holland, MI
Jack will lead this workshop, sharing approaches to Writing Personal History at Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. Time 10-1:30. Contact the church to sign up.

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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.

He Went to The City of Bridges

Pittsburgh is my home city. My sister still lives there. Many times I wonder why I don’t. On November 27th the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manfred Honeck and featuring the Mendelssohn Choir and Itzhak Perlman, presented “Tree of Life: A Concert for Peace and Unity,” a gift of music as response to the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. My sister attended that concert.

Tonight, streaming it on PBS, Julie and I watched and listened to the performance. We encourage you to as well. The performance is available behind that link, above.

Pittsburgh’s Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Some of those helpers created this concert. The arts are capable of transcending, of comforting, of helping us feel we aren’t alone. When asked what you think, answer “Music.”

Pittsburgh is a relatively small city, one made up of neighborhoods, many inhabited by varied cultures. And only New York has more bridges. Pittsburgh is known as The City of Bridges. Bridges connect.

He Went to The City of Bridges

He went to The City of Bridges.
He stood in front of the synagogue.
He dared shake the hand of the Rabbi.

He said what his daughter, her husband
told him to say. He went to The City
of Bridges. He went to the city of

neighborhoods. He did not enter
The Cathedral of Learning. He did
not look in the eyes of those sitting shiva.

He proclaimed he saw no one standing in lines
with their signs: “YOU are NOT welcome”
in The City of Bridges. He went to The City

of Bridges to meet the Carnegies, to see
where the steel barons sat. The others stood
at the church where Fred Rogers knelt.

He stopped by on the way to his rally.
In The City of Bridges, there was a rally
for HIAS, for peace, for health, and for love.

He went to The City of Bridges, one built
by the -iches, the -icis, the -ids, and the -o’s.
And I’m pretty damn sure that he crossed

the irregular streets where my immigrant
Bohemian hunky great-grandfather drove
horses hitched to a wagon hauling barrels

of beer through the city where his own son,
sixteen, said he was 20, so that day after weeks
he could stand on the monotonous

line, do his irrelevant, replaceable job.
At the end of that line was something that lined
the tailored twill pockets of those balancing books.

He stood so his family could eat, have
a car, and a house, a new radio. I carry hunky
in my blood, my heritage a shit hole country.

He went to The City of Bridges. Then on
to his base to proclaim to their cheers
he was loved. Loved. Not by the murdered.

Not by the trodden, the poor, the betrayed.
Not to the sorrow-filled veils. Not to the
hope-draped at the border, all ordered

to hand over their photos, their wallets,
their backpacks, their toothpaste, and children.
At 45’s rally, the congregants roared,

“Lock her up!” Blasphemed, “Great!”
Cheered on their hate while out there,
somewhere, someone was smiling,

planning, constructing a bomb, or
stroking a gun while the bereaved,
the love-broken sat shiva.

He went to The City of Bridges.

–Jack Ridl

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, opened its doors in 1881 to aid Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Their doors have remained open in support of anyone fleeing persecution. Please consider supporting them here.

Don’t forget to check out Holland Weekly at hollandweekly.com

And Todd Davis’s new collection of poems, Native Species (Michigan State University Press) will be out January 1st. One can pre-order. Jane Hirshfield writes, “Reading Todd Davis’s gorgeous poems, you can’t help but feel that [our] capacities for this way of seeing and naming have been mysteriously increased.”

 

On April 1 (perfect!)  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.

Stonington, Maine: Early

In her poem “April 9, 2018” poet Sharon Arendshorst uses as an epigraph, the following quote from Annie Dillard…

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

45, along with his sidekicks in Congresses both national and state, chronically — through action, lack of action, unethical and callous practices, words and tweets and disregard — do violence to our right to determine how to spend our days, thus creating our lives.

Interesting word, “spend,” how it suggests a limited amount of figurative currency. It’s a terrible thing to be robbed of something of monetary value. It may be even more evil to break, enter, and steal our time, our hours and minutes that deserve to be contributed to the common good, the personal good, the good of those loved in our worlds.

“Thou shalt not steal,” is most often applied to the robbing of material things. These thieves have stolen and hoarded the expectation that everyone deserves humane housing, healthcare, food, education, and safety, what should belong to all.

And they are stealing what little time we have.

Stonington, Maine: Early

The moon, full and on its
downward turn, seems to lay
the light bright off the harbor.
The fishing boats are leaving–
Cap’n Dolan, Edward Lee,
Jesse III. The snarls of rockweed
wrap the granite juttings. Open
clam shells seem to be gaping
as if taking in the morning.
And you are waking.
Gulls are walking on the low
tide floor. The town is beginning
its day: the bait shop opening, the diner,
the bookstore with the morning paper.
Father Kenney on his walk to Mass,
Marge and Marv turning up the heat
in their gas station/grocery store.

–Jack Ridl

boneandsinewoftheland

Such good news from historian Anna-Lisa Cox who lives nearby…

Smithsonian Magazine named Anna-Lisa’s The Bone and Sinew of the Land as one of eight books honored as the “Best History Books of 2018.” This year they were looking specifically for books that spoke to events in the nation today. Her book tells the history of the brave African American pioneers in the Midwest, people whose stories have been overlooked for so long. Follow the story: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/best-history-books-2018-180970864/?no-cache

On April 1 (perfect!)  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.

Fractals: A Nocturne

Tis the season. As we learned this week from the Handbook of 45–global warming is a hoax, climate change is normal. Just note the big early snowstorms.

Sigh.

When confronted by Pilate, Jesus said, “I am not of your kingdom,” and a multitude of us are most certainly saying, yelling, muttering much the same about King 45.

Things aren’t fine, but we have learned how to hold on to all that is good, loving, true.

And so in the midst of it all, ’tis still the season to be jolly, not happy–jolly.

Fractals: A Nocturne

Today we woke to the first snowfall of the season.
You know how it is: The flakes fall, and after
the dog goes out, comes in, you wipe his paws.
Or you don’t.

My wife’s father was captain
of a destroyer heading to
Cuba during the missile crisis. He
and his crew listened to Radio Havana.
Sometimes to Tito Puente. Kennedy
called to turn back the fleet.

This is the holiday season. The deer will soon lie in
the drifts outside our bedroom window. They sleep,
lift their heads, then lower them back into sleep.

Last night we put up a Frazier fir. They hold
their needles. We also untangled the strings
of lights. Eight months before I was born, my father,

white Army captain of a black company, led his
men through the rubble of Belgium and France.
My mother and her mother trimmed a tree.

I was born in April. My father was slogging his men
through the breath-stealing heat of the Philippines.
We are not treated the same as the others, he wrote,
and we are living in a rice paddy. All there is is rain.

Here it is still snowing.

–Jack Ridl

First published by Re)verb.

Then published in Toad.

Published in an alternative form in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

I encourage you to take a look at the blog kept by award winning author and artist Linda K. Sienkiewicz. In posts she entitles “What, Why, How,” Sienkiewicz asks each person she welcomes to her blog those three questions. Talk about cutting to what really matters. Her novel In the Context of Love received not one but five major awards.

For many the Season of Advent is arriving. I noted before, Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits, her numinous reflections on creatures who live with us, each reflection accompanied by the stunning woodcuts of David G. Klein. Day one: Painted Turtle, followed by Muskrat! Soon comes the loon and then the wood frog!

And here’s what Dos Madres Press has released about Greg Rappleye’s new collection–

New Book:  Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds by Greg Rappleye

Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds

Greg Rappleye is a poet of exquisite, lush language, exacting and precise in description, inventive in the re-creation of entire worlds. In this intoxicating and revelatory journey through the Brazilian rain forests of the 19th century, he populates the canvas of his poems with not only the flora and fauna of that time and place, but with the voice and inimitable perspective of its subject: Martin Johnson Heade, an American painter obsessed with the otherworldly appearance and flight of hummingbirds. As Rappleye’s imagined Heade confesses, “[I] walk for days to find their tiny hearts / beating in the jungle dark.” Yet for all its meticulous research, the heart of this book is a meditation on connection, on what we willingly give our lives over to. As the poet asks, “What should we save—/ a fallen world, or the life we are finally given to live?” —Todd Davis

On April 1 (perfect!)  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.

The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

For the first time in the now two years that I have been posting, I received an email questioning the worth of it.

45 is still in office. Congress remains cowardly. Yes, there are some inroads of integrity as a result of the midterm elections, but…

Perhaps this questioner is unaware that I could never be brash enough to imagine I can change the oligarchical agenda or minds polluted with hate.

As I’ve said from the very beginning, all I but desperately hoped to do was offer an affirmation for those who — while keeping Jefferson’s dictum to maintain a vigilant watch over those in power — never abandon attention to people and things that matter.

After all, sarcasm, shallow irony, and cynicism are easy. What is difficult is to refrain from saying, “Honey, can’t you see that I’m watching the news?!” Or refrain from turning every conversation into a rant instead of asking, “So, tell me what’s been happening with you?” To instead feed the birds or visit the one grieving down the street.

When the synagogue in my home city of Pittsburgh suffered the hate-initiated mass killings, 45 of course drew attention to himself.

Noah Farkas, the nephew of poet Joy Friedler, is a rabbi in Los Angeles who answered the killings with an invocation to his city. He kindly allowed me to excerpt his:

A Prayer for Pittsburgh: Invocation at the Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors
Published October 30, 2018

Thank you Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for asking me to come this morning. Indeed it is a difficult morning. The last few days have tested our resolve. On this past Shabbat, the sabbath, a man filled with hate murdered eleven worshipers simply because they were Jews. They came for respite and found only violence. But I would be remiss if I did not mention that this attack-the bloodiest massacre of Jews in this country’s history-an attack meant to divide us, was a singular event. Just hours earlier two elderly African American patrons were gunned down in a grocery store because of the color of their skin. At the same moment, an assassination attempt against our nation’s leaders and former leaders was still unfolding. Such violence, such hatred, such cruelty.

As a nation we must understand that an assault during the sabbath is an assault on the sabbath itself. It’s an assault on all of us, not just Jews. On the poetry that is America.

If we are to overcome the hatred, racism and anti-semitism that has reared its ugly head we must set for ourselves the task of reaching across our divides and be fully present for each other. We cannot live only with an either/or paradigm that says that when I win you lose. Or that when you win I must lose. Your redemption cannot come to fruition on the back of my neck, nor can my freedom be at the expense of your blood and treasure. Yours and mine are the same.

It was at night when they came for us. It was at night when the Nazis marched against us. It is at night when they broke the glass and burned the crosses. Came into our houses of worship, our schools, our businesses, our homes. It was at night when the tophets glowed the brightest.

In the morning, joy will come. In the morning, for only in the morning, after a long night, in partnership with other people, together, do we dare say it will be good

.–Rabbi Noah Farkas

I can’t help noticing the ways this invocation lays itself within every place in our lives, our towns and cities, our schools and churches, our neighborhoods, our divisive hearts. We have received permission from 45 to break the fragile bonds that hold us together. Farkas seeks to mend them.

And I think that is one of the great gifts of the arts. The bonds formed by noticing the sameness and the differences. There is Bohemian Rhapsody and there is Debussy. I began each of my poetry writing classes by reminding the students that it is good to find out what we have in common and where to find common ground. “But in our poetry class we are going to seek out our differences. You are safe here to be who you are. It MUST be safe here for each of you to be you. And that is going to reveal through your art that you are not the same. However we will refrain from being cruel. There will not be room for even one eye to roll. We are going to delight in our differences.”

A repeat–

The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

He thought changing the nouns
might help. No one could say
“gun” in the same old way. You
would have to pause, say,
“What’s the name again? Oh,
yes, sassafras.” You would hear,
“Give me the wisteria to the car,”
or find yourself asking, “Why
don’t we add some whispers
to the bottom line?” He realized
this one long, hazy afternoon
while staring up into the trees,
into the wild acceptance
of their branches’ tangle. He
watched the light settle on
the leaves. He believed
the robins, vireos, and
nuthatches could see it.
Later that evening drying
his dinner plate, he felt everything
around him leaving, felt himself
alone amid the sparkles of remaining
dust. Before bed, he addressed, sealed,
and stamped a stack of empty
envelopes, one for everyone
he loved. The next morning
he made his first list: bread dough,
lightning, salt, candle, mourning dove,
while he thought of last laugh,
coffin, profit margin, highway, lie.

–Jack Ridl

From Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

My thanks to Rabbi Farkas for permission to share his invocation, and to his beloved Aunt Joy Friedler, a poet whose valuable work I encourage you to explore. Her latest collection is Capture Theory. Her previous collections include Dutiful Heart and Like Vapor.

Rabbi Farkas’s commentaries can be found at https://noahfarkas.com/

A video of his complete invocation can be found at https://vimeo.com/298000094

My friend Karen Marie Schuen Rowe, on the Big read of Station 11 in Holland, Michigan, wrote this wonderful letter, which goes straight to the heart of what the arts can do for us in troubling times. And I think how lucky her students are to have her.

 

On April 1 (perfect!)  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.