Good Poetry for Hard Times

I have mentioned my upcoming class, Good Poetry for Hard Times, to you before, and posted the announcement on my Home page with other events, but this evening I’m taking a moment to promote it again. In short:

My Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) class begins May 24 and continues for a total of four Fridays, on Zoom, 1-3:00.  As far as I know, anyone can take a CRI class (do you have to prove you’re retired? I don’t think so), and they are inexpensive.  This class is $58.

For some backstory, I first proposed to teach a Zoom poetry workshop. CRI doesn’t do craft classes, it turns out, but rather than simply say no, they asked if I would consider teaching a class about poetry, and I said yes.

The first title was Your Memorable Poem (like my workshop last year), but someone at CRI didn’t like that title. We came up with Good Poetry for Hard Times because I had been thinking a lot about Gaza, Ukraine, Nigeria…political division in our own country, mass shooti… Okay, I’m going to stop there. My thought was, Who has time to read (or write) poetry? Does the world need another poem? Shouldn’t I be doing something?

When I asked my journal that question, these are some responses my brain came up with:

1. Reading poetry (writing poetry, too) is doing something. It makes us pause and catch our breath. It can bring us joy (it definitely brings me joy).

2. A good poem, shared at the right moment, brings breath and joy and hope to the recipient, too.

3. To expand on that, poetry (all art for that matter, and joy, too) is not a luxury. We need it.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence … The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

—Audre Lorde

4. How is poetry a necessity? William Stafford called it a way of paying attention, and what could be more useful today than a habit of attention? Not distraction, not self-medicating. Attention.

5. Poems help make sense of loss. They are vehicles for emotion, and when we see that this poet — famous, obscure, long long dead — felt what we feel, then at the very least we feel less alone.

6. In times past, when poets retreated into the mountains (Basho, Yuanming) or into monasteries (Gerard Manley Hopkins), or into their upstairs bedroom (Emily Dickinson), what were they retreating from? How did their poetry help them to survive? (How might their poetry help us to survive our times?) Nothing too shocking or earth-shattering, but these are the questions I would like to sit with for a while.

What will each class look like?

I’m cobbling together a handout of about 50 poems that inspire me. At each session, I’ll read several poems aloud, pausing over each poem to introduce the poet, and offering context I find useful. I will also talk through what I find intriguing, healing, inspiring, memorable about each poem. Other participants (are they students if there’s no prep and no homework?) are encouraged to break in with questions or to add their comments and insights to mine. (I am HOPING people will want to talk about the poems.)

I predict that the time will fly by. So, here’s why I’m promoting it:

The class is a go, but it is slightly under-enrolled, and I’m really really hoping for a few more people. All motivations welcome:

  • The person who slept through poetry class in high school, but is ready now to see what all the fuss is about. “What’s this I hear about poetry being good for your brain?”
  • Someone who read Priscilla Long’s Dancing with the Muse in Old Age and could use an introduction to poetry before beginning his own writing practice.
  • Anyone who has been reading and writing poems for years, but, like me, finds this particular conversation timely and intriguing.

The creation of art, okay, just the attempt at the creation of art, as well as the appreciation of it, is both an enlarging of the world and an expanding of consciousness.

—Dean Young, The Art of Recklessness

If you — or someone you know — fits into any of these categories, here’s the link for CRI:

I hope to see some of you there. White hair not required.


[I believe this link will take you directly to the course description:]






SLOW NOW WITH CLEAR SKIES, Julene Tripp Weaver. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2013, 96 pages, $18.99, paper,

MoonPath Press editor Lana Hechtman Ayers says that she thinks of MoonPath as a community, and a theme of community permeates Julene Tripp Weaver’s MoonPath book, Slow Now with Clear Skies. Provided we see community in both the compulsion toward others and the tug away. In as complex a weave as this collection of poems, we might expect that another theme is surprise:

Yell when you feel like it, smile when you don’t; scream to release, Julene Tripp Weaver advises us in “Rules on Life from a Green Witch,” but, following on the heels of that scream: Expect surprises. In “The Things I Do Become Calendar”: Accept// the surprise violets in this long forward / dream. The call of the unspoken…  In “Wise Women Herbal Tradition Self-Care Quest,” a sonnet sequence: Blind-sided, I stop to hold myself still. 

Blind-sided, indeed. The actors here are surprised by diagnoses: schizophrenia, myeloma, AIDS, Covid-19. They’re surprised by a pandemic (as were we all), surprised by people’s on-going need for help, for human contact, for kindness. They’re surprised by stillness and unexpected beauty. Some family members disappear — a mother with hands like scissors and a mouth with no words; and (thankfully) surprised by new family bonds, a great-grandmother who stands up for the child who will grow into the poet who writes, Don’t wait till anyone dies to be your true self (“Rules on Life”). Tripp Weaver skillfully reveres and celebrates family, while refusing to hold (almost) anything sacred.

It takes a spine to write such poems as these, and she has it: in synch, / set, grounded solid on earth, a sturdy elongated spine rooted (“Safe Space”), and later in the same poem, one of my favorite passages:

Brain fogged, I start with each

finger — feel the pen, the fabric
against my thigh, my cool cheeks,
a hug across my heart — back doors
into this body, to the safe space
that begins with tactile presence.

I have to argue, however, that Tripp Weaver isn’t sneaking in back doors. She opens everything up here, happily taking on not only male-bent society but any norm you can think of, family,  sexuality, history. She takes nothing for granted. We gave it away / and it went awry she explains in “Those of Us Who Aborted,” We wanted to believe in something. Though she posits that statement in past tense, it’s obvious that wanting to believe hasn’t gone away. Consider this admonitory poem:

Learn to Love

A new world is on its way,
it started at Woodstock, with Vietnam
protests, long hair rebels took off
into the blue sky on motorcycles,
forever nomads, now how many
live in RVs on the move
like Romani travelers, changed
by necessity. Far from the standard
American capitalist lifestyle,
way beyond the reach of the buzz.
We travel through life and time, make a path,
create our heart-home — we carry
each other; hold hands
learn to love.

— Julene Tripp Weaver

Tripp Weaver is a therapist and an herbalist, and believes in the body’s — and the body politic’s — ability to heal. Joanne M. Clarkson, author of Hospice House, writes of Slow Now with Clear Skies: 

In post-pandemic America, this is the book I need to read….The title of the collection comes from the final line of the poem, “I’ve Lived Through One War.” She rallies us with the lines: We must ask / new questions, find unconventional answers…It’s time / for massive change… / Our planet, slow now with clear skies.

I can’t say it better than that.

Find out more about at MoonPath’s author page — including links to other reviews and Tripp Weaver’s website.

You can find Slow Now with Clear Skies at MoonPath Press, at Amazon, or by ordering it through your independent bookstore.


LIGHT ENTERING MY BONES, Sally Albiso. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2020, 96 pages, $16.99, paper,

Because it is the last day of National Poetry Month, I decided this morning (April 30) to reread Sally Albiso’s Light Entering My Bones and share it with you. I hardly know where to begin, so, simply: these 61 poems, divided into 4 sections, completely bowled me over. Bittersweet? Poignant? Of course. Sentimental, not at all. Bold, yes. Deeply and beautifully wrought, moving? So much.

You’ll want to have your tissues nearby—the poems document Albiso’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and her decline. But be reassured, too. She holds our hand all the way through, a close friend walking us home in the dark. “When the Snow Falls,” begins one poem, drifting from the title into the first lines: “and stars congeal, plummeting to earth / in frigid descent, we go out to greet them. / We make angels of our bodies / and petition the stellae to remain with us.” I think that sums up the book’s task as well as anything. Life is precious and fleeting; pay attention.

I’m tempted to try to do something skillful in picking out the subthemes. But perhaps sharing a poem will be enough. In this one, birds:

Birds Reside in Me

I cough up feathers
and dream of singing,
light entering my bones.
Ruby-crowned kinglets
flutter about my heart like valves
while gulls keen in my liver
like heirs feigning grief.
They want more of everything.

I open my mouth
so blackbirds lining my stomach
escape. How they call all day,

crowd the feeder, dark and slick
as if brushed with butter.
I’d bake them in a pie, brown their cries
beneath a flaky crust
until the house smells

of caramelized need,
the sweet scent of the satiated—
but I’ve only this throat
and a voice that fades.
When kingfishers dive
into my bloodstream
to gather platelets like fish,
I begin to bruise, contusions

decorating my body in the shape
of shadowed swimming. I scratch
at skin’s surface as if it were water
through which salt rises, take deep breaths
and submerge beneath sleep
while grosbeaks peck at the suet
between my ribs, an ache
like being elbowed aside.

—Sally Albiso

In Light’s introductory essay, Carmen Germain writes about exchanging poems with Albiso, and emphasizes the “honesty and truth” of this chronicle. Consider these final lines of  “Ambulance”:

In the morning,
an obstructed duct will be opened
so bile will flow freely again

and be passed by the body—a struggle
to live without bitterness.

If the poems feel at times brutal, they are brutally honest. They are also, as Karen Whalley points out in her appreciation of this book, “At their core, love poems,” “almost apologetic that [her husband] must be both witness and participant to her dying.” Her husband is an important character here. Consider the prose-poem, “Letter She Wrote Him,” where Albiso concludes, “Stars here, the sky a great camp with its fires lit, and daily the winter wren serenades, body turned to plea. Do you know the origin of mercy? From the Latin merces—the price paid for something.

If I could I would write a whole essay on how, in the second half of the book, Albiso delicately leaves a trail of salt, glimpses of Lot’s wife, as if reminding her beloved—and us—to keep our faces forward and not look back.

The poems lead us forward. Hope in the dark. A promise of light.

I reviewed Albiso’s 2018 book, Moonless Grief, in 2023. You can find out more about her at her page at MoonPath Press, and at Finishing Line Press.

Catherine Carter’s GOOD MORNING, UNSEEN

GOOD MORNING, UNSEEN, Catherine Carter. Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712, 2023, 28 pages, $14.00 paper,

This week, you can read my weekly review at EIL (the online journal Escape Into Life):

I hope your National Poetry Month has been amazing! (Mine has.)