“You will go back to your own life…

I’m on a quest to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My hope that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.
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“You will go back to your own life, but what will happen to me?” This simple question, asked years ago by a young boy, haunted a poet / editor friend of mine and ultimately inspired her to publish Collateral Damage, a benefit poetry collection dedicated to children impacted by trauma.

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I first met Ami Kaye, that poet and editor, shortly after I embarked on my dream of creating dirtcakes, a literary journal. 

“Exceptional works to replenish the spirit.”

This mission statement of Glass Lyre Press, Ami’s publishing imprint, inspires me. It resonates with my own reasons for wanting to get into publishing, what I hope to accomplish every time I sit to write: “to replenish the spirit.”

I sought out Ami at a writer’s conference in Los Angeles to ask her advice for running an independent literary press, which means one with no institutional financial support.  Ami graciously encouraged me, then painted a picture of how at publication time she rallies a small group of volunteers around her dining room table in Illinois. They make editorial decisions about which literature will further the mission of the press, design covers and interior typesetting, diligently proofread galleys, hand package the books and magazines to be sent out to readers. Finally, someone volunteers to drive the batch to the post office.

All for the love of the word.

For so many creatives – writers, artists, musicians – and the people who promote their work, getting art out to humanity is a gesture of kindness. My lasting impression after first meeting Ami Kaye was that she’s a woman who leads with her heart. 

So I wasn’t at all surprised when I learned to she was putting together a benefit anthology titled Collateral Damage.

“This benefit anthology seeks to raise funds for children with basic survival needs, for programs that protect and educate children, and foster child advocacy. This book will highlight children caught in the crossfire of war and political strife, adult ambition and greed. It will also address the transformative power of love and care. As current custodians of this world we need to protect the future: our children. Only if we work together can we harness the strength to speak up for those not allowed a voice; turning away is not an option anymore.”

I consider myself fortunate to now hold Collateral Damage in my hand. It includes two of my poems alongside powerful work from many of my poetry heroes. Not surprisingly, one of my poems is about sharing bread.

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Putting precious resources of time and money into a book of poetry as a response to war, famine, abuse, injustice and healing might seem like a small, insignificant act of defiance.

But guess what? Counterintuitively, it may be one of the most effective ways to combat psychic numbing to trauma, whether personally experienced or witnessed through media, by offering our human psyches specific imagery, which is one of the superpowers of poetry. And that’s intriguing considering that the National Endowment for the Arts just reported poetry reading is on the rise, at its highest levels since shortly after 9/11/01.

Poet Naomi Shahib Nye offers insight into how poetry has the ability to uniquely connect humanity in an often quoted essay which appeared on Oprah.com  in early 2002.

“Apparently, the entire United States has taken to reading more poetry, which can only be a good sign. Journalists ask, “Why do you suppose people are finding strength in poetry now?” Those of us who have been reading poetry all our lives aren’t a bit surprised. As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor—those great tools of thought—and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world.”

The allure of poetry, of its ability to find a way “inside situations” and create an impact makes sense according to research on witnessing reactions to wide scale trauma by Paul Slovic, PhD, founder and president of Decision Research, a non-profit organization investigating human judgment, decision-making, and risk. Dr. Slovic has invested much of his career trying to understand why epic tragedies like mass genocide, climate change, refugee crises, create numbing among witnesses rather than mass action.

In a 2018 interview with science reporter Brian Resnick in VOX, Dr. Slovic broke down some key findings:

“People care about individuals. We see it over and over again: There’s a child who needs an operation, his parents can’t afford to pay for this operation, and there’s a story in the newspaper. An outpouring of money donations and support is often tremendous. We do care a lot about individuals. We don’t scale that up, even when we’re capable.

“Individual stories and individual photographs can be effective…they get us to see the reality, to glimpse the reality at a scale we can understand and connect to emotionally. But then there has to be somewhere to go with it.

“These…stories of individuals…give us a window of opportunity where we’re suddenly awake and not numbed, and we want to do something. If there’s something we can do, like donate to the Red Cross, people will do it. But then if there’s nothing else they can do, then over time that gets turned off again.”

So here, in Collateral Damage, are poems, “stories of individuals.” One poem, “An Interdiction Forbidding Mourning: Tehran, 2009” by Susan Fox, is dedicated to “Neda Sultan Agha, shot by a sniper for not wearing a chador.” Another, “The New Breed” by Alison Letterman is “For Emma Gonzalez and the other student activists” who are protesting gun violence. The collection holds heartbreak and paths to redemption. 

After I received my contributor copy of Collateral Damage, I sent Ami Kaye a few questions via e-mail about the back story of the anthology and her hopes for its future. She graciously responded for you, dear readers. 

What inspired this anthology?
During an undergrad semester I worked at a blind school and struck a friendship with a teenage boy. After the day’s lesson I shared stories and poems, he sang songs and told me of his dreams. On my last day he was withdrawn and refused to speak to me. After some prodding he burst out, “You will go back to your own life, but what will happen to me?” His words always stayed with me and I became very conscious of the plight of children. After I became a parent, I was even more aware of the staggering problems facing children, and while I was involved in various ways over the years, I did not have the means to do much. Now with the energy and talent of so many wonderful people, I hope we can do more.

In what ways did the project exhaust or energize you?
The sheer volume of correspondence, reading and selecting work, and the production logistics were daunting, but the response from the literary community warmed our hearts. I think that kind of enthusiasm, the shared dedication, and most of all, the thought of the children energized everyone working on this multi-dimensional project.

What did you have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to this project?
We did not say no to other projects so last year was difficult for all of us. We ended up with a four-month backlog that has spilled into this year, but we think it is worth getting this project off the ground.

Was there a poem (or more than one) that made you cry?
There were several poems that hit me in the gullet. Some poems were powerful, some arresting, some with vivid visuals, but all had components that bolstered the cause. Taken as a whole, the book gives a voice to those rarely allowed one. I know readers will find a number of poems that speak to them.

Who deserves a shout-out for making this a reality? (I see Tracy McQueen, Steven Asmussen, Linda E. Kim, and Karen Bowles’ names on the front matter. Anyone else? Do you care to say a small detail about something one of them did that made the project as beautiful as it is?)
Steve deserves the lion’s share of praise for production, but Linda Kim and Karen had the painstaking job of copyediting. Karen especially, while wrestling with health issues and an evacuee from the recent California wildfires, somehow found the energy to participate in this project. Tracy’s stark cover art is a wordless poem. Most of all, each and every one of our authors and submitting poets deserves a shout out for their dedication to this cause. That kind of sincerity and emotion humbles me and gives me hope.

Is there one specific organization that will benefit from the proceeds? What impact do you imagine it will have?
We were originally thinking of UNICEF, or we’d like to try an organization more likely to allot a greater percentage of funds directly for the children. We are thinking of Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, and a few others. Please email amikaye.pf@gmail.com with any other suggestions.

Obviously our first hope is to raise money for the children, but sometimes impact comes in unforeseen ways. I hope people will read the heartrending poems and be moved to spread the word and raise awareness for programs that benefit and foster child advocacy.

I’m deeply grateful for all the work that Ami and her team at Glass Lyre put into Collateral Damage and all her other projects.

So, I’m spreading the word. And I’m cheating a little with one of my self-set rules for this Year of Kindness: Don’t use monetary donations as an act of kindness.

I bought three issues. But I’m giving myself a pass because I want to share these three issues with you, especially if you run a writing program where you tackle issues of trauma. If you want a free gift issue of Collateral Damage , please send me an e-mail using the form on the sidebar to your right telling me a little something about why you would appreciate this particular volume.

That’s it.

Then go read some poetry. National Poetry Month is in its waning days, but our psyches thrive on the images, the music, the human connection that poetry gifts us with, and that in turn gives us more inner fire to be kind.

Light the world with kindness,
~Catherine

 

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