Every day, something

inside books

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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That feeling you get when you walk into a home and smell fresh bread baking. The sense of welcome, of being in the company of people who generously share what they love, what you love, in an artisanal, intentional way.

That’s what it feels like to me every time I see my work published. Of course it’s nice because then I know my words will find an audience larger than my writing group. But it’s more than that. It’s the overflow of gratitude I feel toward the editors for all the work that goes into getting any creative endeavor out into the world.

Today feels especially good because I have the honor of finding my poem, “Mother” , as Poem of the Day on one of my favorite literary websites, SWWIM Every Day.

Mother /

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You might enjoy the entire poem if you’ve ever looked longingly at a giant book of words hoping to pluck the perfect ones to speak well with someone you love. While poems are supposed to be like a family’s children, no clear favorites allowed, “Mother” holds a soft spot in my heart, as does SWWIM with its mission statement:

SWWIM publishes, celebrates & promotes women, women-identifying & femme-presenting writers through a Miama-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

That’s right. Every. Single. Day. Two super human editors – Jen Karetnick & Catherine Esposito Prescott – put out for all the world to see, one gorgeous poem. You can subscribe and have one poem delivered to your inbox every day and become an Instagram follower to find one fine poem in your feed every day.

I reached out to Jen and Catherine, first to thank them for keeping literature piping hot and always fresh. Then, as if it wasn’t enough to give my poetry an audience, I asked more of them. Questions. They kindly pulled back the curtain so we might glimpse an insight into what fuels their creativity.

How long have you been publishing a daily poem?
We began publishing on October 1, 2017.
Have you ever missed a day?
Yes! But only intentionally. We take periodic breaks around summer and the winter holidays.  This year, we plan to take a publishing sabbatical from July-August. Generally, our publishing breaks coincide with our children’s school vacations. 
Do you have a staff of thousands, or are you two exceedingly gifted at nonstop working?
Hahaha. It’s the two of us…juggling jobs, families, our writing, etc. You know what they say about busy people? We are her kind. Or just workaholics. Whatever fits the narrative.
Do you want to share who you’re reading now, which art you’re immersed in, or what music is on repeat that inspires you? 
Catherine Esposito Prescott says: I’m re-reading the Bhagavad Gītā at the moment and re-engaging with the work of mystical poets and the Transcendentalists as well as Whitman, a bit of Dickinson, and TS Eliot. I recently completed a 200-hour Jivamukti yoga teacher training course, so the music on repeat (in my mind and in my home) is kirtan…lots of mantra chanting.
 
Jen Karetnick says: I’m reading a ton of journals and lit mags—both print and online. My house is on the market, so I have to donate everything afterward to Goodwill or libraries. As we’re going through our mail in prep for an eventual move, we’ve discovered I have upwards of 20 subscriptions. Some of them I’ve been subscribed to twice, under two different spellings of names (I’m looking at you, Poets & Writers). 
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So there’s the secret sauce. Just keep doing what you love and take time to refill your spirit with inspiration.

What is it you do every single day? Some people publish poetry. Others try to find one simple way to spread kindness. Some write. Some paint. Some sing or drum or work at feeding themselves and their families by picking the grapes that dry into raisins that sweeten my bread. Some get out of bed and that’s enough.

If you have a tiny bit of extra energy, take time to reach out and say hey to someone you admire. Tell them they’re a rock star in your eyes. Then carry on being you.

With kindness.
~Catherine

 

 

 

 

“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

 

From notes at the farmer’s market

peach

“It’s alright, a farmer’s market is for learning,” says the tall farmer from Reedley, California.

Shaun from Sunny Cal Farms dices ripe peaches into tasting pieces, and he smiles at the mother we both just overheard tell her barely-tall-enough-to-reach-the-top-of-the-table toddler daughter not to grab samples with her hand. The mom returns his smile and offers her daughter a toothpick to grab sections of the juicy stone fruit.

“So if the farmer’s market is for learning,” I say, “can you please tell me something?”

“Sure.”

“These samples are ripe, fragrant and juicy, but the fruit you’re offering for sale doesn’t even smell like fruit.”

The patient farmer explains about having to perfectly time his fruit picking date to take into account his driving time to market, and how you never want to refrigerate stone fruit that’s waiting to ripen or it will become mealy, but how he needs to be able to offer fruit for sale that isn’t past its prime.

“If I picked it perfectly ripe, it would be spoiled by market day. But here’s what you do. Store stone fruit stem down, maybe for a day or two, until it gives slightly when you gently squeeze. Then it’s ripe.”

I bought peaches and plums on faith on Sunday. By Wednesday, I learned that I can trust this farmer and wonder how I’ve lived through so many summers without knowing how to perfectly ripen a peach, a nectarine, or a plum.

What are you waiting for? What art and knowledge are you bringing to the ticks of time separating now from then?

As you wait for whatever it is, here’s a delicious peach poem by Lee Sharkey, one of my favorite quietly strong poets. This poem, “”Its roundness curving to a cleft” is found in Lee’s full-length book, Calendars of Fire, although it was first published, in a different version, in dirtcakesa beautiful literary journal I founded in 2010 and am patiently waiting to figure out how to revive. Poems too, need to ripen. The edits Lee made between the dirtcakes version and the poem in Calendars of Fire, published three years later, show that one of the greatest bounties of wait time is knowing how to use it well.

Its roundness curving to a cleft by Lee Sharkey

I offer a child a perfect peach
pulled from the shadows nesting in a bin of peaches

Mourning dolls hold crosses fashioned of twigs and string
their cheks pinked, kohl eyes veiled by fishnet

A golden morning     long-winged wasp approaching
from the amber mountain            Que vergüenza la guerra!

A peach, then, without blemish when ripeness is upon it
for her to memorize and tear its velvet cheek  (for him to memorize and tear its
velvet cheek)

When someone in the future makes an offering to the heart
its ever-moment passes, hand to hand

Reticence the shell, joy the nutmeat
The skin reluctance, joy the open mouth

With peach juice on my chin,
~Catherine

(An earlier version of this post appeared on Backyard Sisters in August, 2015.)