Contemplify NonRequired Reading List Email for April 30, 2019
The April NonRequired Reading List
I am no poet, but I do try to embody a poetic spirit. This month I have been holding hands with Mystery through poetry. One of my hopes is that Contemplify inspires contemplatives of the world to read poetry that speaks to their world. For example, I hope that a Jericho Brown poem might reconfigure one’s understanding of praise and worship in a language only lovers speak behind closed doors. That it inspires a Bianca Stone poem to be read among grieving friends at the tavern. That a pastor forgo a pious angle in a sermon for a Denise Levertov poem in its stead. That one be mad as hell about corrosive power to memorize a manifesto by Wendell Berry. That in a soft moment of seeing--really seeing--a creature, one might pause to recall a few lines from a Chris Dombrowski poem.
Although (still) not a poet, a rough outline of sporadic poetic moments shape my hours:
On the porch, my daughter opens the book Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hahn and sets it before her toes, pages facing heavenward. Her studied focus on the illustrations gives way to the flowing positions prescribed by the Buddhist teacher. Unknowingly, in her second mindful movement, she leveled an entire colony of ants with her back foot.
After being gifted a tea towel with ‘kindness matters’ embroidered on it, a most heartful friend tattooed the same inscription on her left forearm.
Our landlords, a couple awaiting the birth of their first child, sit at our picnic table facing west as the sun pirouettes on the horizon.
The length of my beard has a direct and adverse relationship to my wife’s interest in meeting my lips with hers. I tack a note to the bathroom mirror: don’t forget, shave.
Poetry seduces me with unguarded glances of vulnerability and paradox, and at times, I am graced with the sight of an underlying contemplative presence with all that is.
Here is April's NonRequired Reading List...
The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
I first encountered Jericho Brown’s poetry in the newspaper and coincidentally a day later I read his words of praise on the back cover of Ragged Anthem. This lead me to read his latest collection, The Tradition. My words will be insufficient (though this is true for any ruminations on poetry worth their salt) to relay the powerhouse movements of Brown’s poems. I could feel the push and pull of time and place; of reader and narrator; of vulnerability and distance; celebration and loss; all storied in Black embodiment in America. The thematic question responded to in each poem - what does it mean to have a Black body in America? There were stretches of reading that I had to remind myself to breathe. Brown never lets the reader off the hook, his words envelope you, forcing you to hold the tension within his truth and experience. The words 'white supremacy' or 'culture of white supremacy' are never uttered that I recall, but you feel their long shadow.
The internal tension I felt reading The Tradition was aerobic, the tautness of reaching beyond my comfort and my usual way of seeing as a white man in America. Reasons enough to recommend The Tradition, particularly to white folks who seek to stretch their understanding of risk and vulnerability.
Ragged Anthem by Chris Dombrowski (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
The arc of Ragged Anthem took me on a ride; beginning with a sense of devastation and a slow turn towards a rebirth. And I felt every birth pang along the way. After I finished Ragged Anthem, I turned to page one and began again. Dombrowski holds the center by tethering a through-line to the mystery of becoming. The mystery is felt even when shrouded by darkness or the weight of loss. In one’s dark night of the soul Ragged Anthem reminds you that humor, humility, and songs still hold the goodness that exists underneath the night's cover. Much like The Tradition, but from a different angle, these poems tingled at a cellular level - I am alive.
Dombrowski’s skill in charting a journey of transformation in language of landscape, both internal and external, tilled the ground for my own elation and sorrow. This collection is for those who take cheer in the growth pattern from humus to sequoia.
My friend Cliff lent me this collection of poetry. The title, The Mobius Strip Club of Grief, immediately made me chuckle and curious. In the poems that would follow I discovered a style of writing honed along the jagged ridges of grief, rage, surrender, and a sense of freedom. I was captivated. Stone is a poet who is unafraid to expose and then touch the rawness of experience, with helpful hints that absurdity often hangs out in pain’s backyard. An original voice (only Stone could describe Emily Dickinson’s poetry, ‘like grenades that fit in the hand’), Bianca Stone can be cutting and true and bend towards unknown but satisfying ends in her poems. She speaks truth to power while also naming our complicity in their continuity. And the cast of women described in her poems don’t fall into easy categories or tired tropes, but are celebrated for their personhood and peculiarities.
This collection steers towards a younger audience seeking truth and beauty in the tornadoes of overwhelm and grief.
Arts and Articles
‘Ep 27: Assalam Alaykum, BMW’ by The Stoop (Podcast): I have returned to The Stoop many times for insightful podcasting, this episode was my eye-opening introduction to the life and times of Black Muslim Women in the United States. (Hat tip to Cliff)
‘Family Takes Center On Shovels & Rope's 'By Blood'’ by NPR: I love husband and wife bands, Shovels & Rope takes the cake right alongside The War & Treaty.
‘The Pain Of Loving You: A Day With Wendell Berry’ by Silas House (On the Porch/WUKY): Silas House is a Kentucky writer who has a monthly radio show on WUKY. This episode finds House reading one of his essays. I’ve listened to it three times now. So much to learn from Wendell and Tanya Berry, and House brings you right to their porch. (Hat tip to Chris)
The most recent series on Contemplify…
The last 6 episodes are a part of series titled ‘Life of a Day’ on the intersection of contemplation and daily life in the world. The most recent episode is about how to craft your own contemplative rhythm
May the kisses of your Beloved find your face, bearded or clean-shaven, with a gaze poetic towards the road ahead. Bumpy or smooth, the road is lighter with a few verses on your lips.
Words of memory, gratitude, and worship always work in a pinch. And still, Lord have mercy is the poem I recite the most.
P.S. If you are feeling the warm glow around the Contemplify fire, please consider throwing another log in by passing a favorite episode or this reading list to a kindred spirit. If this message finds you nursing a taste of bourbon & reading the poetry of Teddy Macker, disregard this ask and pour another.