You'll kill. 

Got a reading this weekend? Just in time — this nugget of advice from Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review:

It’s not your job to be ingratiating. Leave that to lounge singers. I find it embarrassing when a poet tries to be liked, or explain what he or she was thinking when she wrote blah-blah-blah. Patter is just a distraction—an apology.

My advice: Memorize the poems you plan to read. Anything spoken by heart commands attention. Bring the poems with you, so you can consult them if need be—but really, the way to win an audience over is to get up there, say your poems in a loud, clear voice, face out. Then say thank-you and get off stage.

You’ll kill.


Thankful Thursday: In Waiting

Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise. Please join me in Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to appreciate people, places & things.

My head and heart feel a bit brittle this week. I am waiting to chip, waiting to feel the appreciation buried a bit too deep. In the meantime, I am thankful for:

• Letters
The world is full of paper. 
Write to me.

— Agha Shahid Ali from "Stationery"

I love long, complicated, searching-the-heart letters. In a pinch, an email or Facebook message will appease. But really, I pine for pen on paper, words folded to fit an envelope that travels miles to find me.

• Kindness
On a hotel marquee I find wise words:
Be kind to unkind people, they need it the most.

And that reminds me of one of my favorite poems. I am thankful to have favorite poems, and to share them with others, who may (in a letter ?) say, Yes, I feel that way, too. And then suddenly, we are not alone, not brittle, waiting.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems


Roll Film. Raise Spirits. 

A scene from Mad Hot Ballroom

Where do you teach?

I’m not a teacher, I mumble. I'm more of an encourager. 

I don’t have a teaching background. Until I stepped into an old schoolroom in Waldport, Oregon, I never even liked children. I wasn’t looking to teach or to share hard-won personal experience. I was just showing up as a volunteer, meeting with a group of teenagers who were writing poems and stories and hanging out.

That was six years ago. I now lead four writing groups, and have grown to love the kids at Seashore Family Literacy.

Maybe we’re all teachers. Some of us step up, some hang back, and some know their role from the get-go.  I've realized there is no one way to teach or reach, and I'm inspired by those who connect with the lost and forgotten.

And I’m inspired by films that make me want to be more, do more.

Need a bit of inspiration, or just uplifting entertainment? Try a few of my favorite reach-n-teach films:

The Hobart Shakespeareans
This documentary follows Rafe Esquith, a passionate teacher who inspires his Central Los Angeles students to love and embrace Shakespeare, Mark Twain, math, history and more. (Esquith's  book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, is also excellent).

Mad Hot Ballroom
Ballroom dancing goes from lame to cool for a group of New York City students in this insightful documentary, which follows a group of 11-year-olds as they learn to dance old-school styles including the merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing. (I love this film. It's the only movie in which I openly cheered in a crowded theatre).

Paper Clips
Rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of six million Holocaust victims, students collect six million paper clips to better understand the enormity of the calamity.

Freedom Writers
Hilary Swank stars in this drama based on real-life California teacher Erin Gruwell's unorthodox methods. To break the cycle of violence and despair that threatens their futures, she has students keep journals, and apply history's lessons, to their troubled lives. While the story gets the Hollywood treatment, the overall message is worth the sometimes sappy vibe.

I'm always looking for great films. What have I missed? Please share your favorites.


On Sunday 


Maybe you’re a verb, or some
lost part of speech
that would let us talk sense
instead of monkey-screech

when we try to explain you
to our loved ones and ourselves
when we most need to.
Who knows why someone dies

in the thick of happiness,
his true love finally found,
the world showing success
as if the world were only a cloud

that floated in a dream
above a perfect day?
Are you also dreaming our words?
Give us something to say.

Michael Ryan


Thankful Thursday: Wine Words 

Wine is poetry in a bottle.

For years I've rolled my eyes at the adage, but now I am delighted to see poetry not just in the bottle but on the bottle.

On their next: wine, King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon, offers a fabulous label and a creative back-of-the-bottle poem:

next:  2008 oregon pinot noir

next: is a statement
next: is a question
next: reminds us that
we always stand
at a crossroads,
that we are all poets,
all philosophers,
the makers and keepers
of our own dreams,
that we might bring wine to our friends
that we might share both
wine and words together,
folded into a moment
on the edge of the next.

The poem shows no author, and I am perpetually curious:  Is this the work of an ad agency? (and, if so, how do I get this gig?) Or a poem via a sister, who has a friend, who has a neighbor that is a poet?

I couldn't bear to appreciate the poem (especially those last two lines) and not know its author. A quick bit of sleuthing solved the mystery. The poem was written by Ed King, founder and CEO of King Estate Winery.

Turns out Ed likes to read and write poems, and he often supports nonprofit organizations that publish and promote poetry and the arts.

I'll drink to that! Hooray to top-down creativity! Power and poems to the people!


This message has been brought to you by Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to appreciate people, places & things. Are you a Thankful Thursday writer? Is so, let me know. I'd love to share your gratitude with others. Please visit these other Thankful Thursday writers:

Kelli Russell Agodon

Susan Rich