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:]





Frank Paino, PIETÁ

PIETÁ, Frank Paino. Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712, 2023, 46 pages, $14.00 paper,

Winner of the Jacar Press Chapbook Prize, 2023, chosen by Saddiq Dzukogi, author of Your Crib, My Qibla

This is the review that catches me up for the year (18 weeks, 18 poetry books read and written about). See the review here:



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.

Risa Denenberg: RAIN/DWELLER

RAIN/DWELLER, Risa Denenberg. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2013, 96 pages, $16.99, paper,

Yes, it IS National Poetry Month. Instead of my usual every-day-in-April poetry-binge, I am committed to reading a book of poems each week this year, and posting a review here. So far I think I’m 13/14, but this week I’m determined to catch up.

For the last couple of days I have been reading Risa Denenberg’s Rain/Dweller. The poems are, as Rena Priest says in her cover blurb, “honest and unflinching.” They are also, Priest continues, “temper[ed]  with tenderness, vulnerability, beauty, and delight.” Indeed. David Guterson says of reading these poems: “Part of the loveliness for me was the expectation of arriving at yet another arresting line—of being brought to a halt by something piercingly true.” These 71 poems remind us that if difficult truths are … well, difficult … there is something beautiful about looking closely, unflinchingly, at them.

Rain/Dweller embraces loss; AIDS and Covid play important roles here, as does aging, parenthood, and climate change. “I dreamt you went missing, left without luggage” one poem begins (“Selfie with Baggage”); another, “Start with the cracked teapot” (“Intestate”). A family nurse practitioner, Denenberg writes in “The Fragrance of Crushed Fruit”:  “O death: you are not a river, but I have careened your banks / my whole career, studying your silences, / submitting to your elegies.” In “Remembering Rachel Carson”: “I can’t revive my dad or MLK, all my corpses, the / homeless sleeping in parks under statues, the ruined / earth, Rachel Carson’s eyes.” Were it not for the tenderness, the beauty and delight, it would be too much to take in.

As an example of the “unflinching honesty,” I want to share one poem from the sonnet sequence, “Post-Human.” This is a 19-poem chronicle where Denenberg calls things by their right names, and calls us to accountability:

We know we’re unprepared for what’s in store.
We won’t be going home again. What was home
anyway? Wonder Bread and Log Cabin syrup?
Pabst Blue Ribbon and Twinkies? Or was it where
we learned that the birthday balloons we released
did not go to heaven; they killed turtles. We buried
pets in the backyard and fled across continents.
Too late I saw it was I who colonized, sanctioned
slavery, flattened Hiroshima. Our bodies contain
sewage, double lattes, oncogenes. We angst about
the planet and fill our homes with shit. We plug
the ocean with plastic and expect lunch at noon,
milk and crackers at bedtime. Truth time:
we’ve committed the unforgivable and buried it.

—Risa Denenberg, from “Post-Human” (p. 31)

In the first poem, “Old Trees, Old Lovers: A Postscript,” Denenberg writes, “I love what is gnarly, what is braided— / banyans and mangroves, the hued peeling bark of madronas— / in the same way I love my worn, battered boots. / I know my position. I’ve unwound my watch.”

Owning and owning up to what is gnarly, braided, battered, unwound strikes me as a good place to start if we want to effect real change in the world.

Denenberg has written eight collections of poetry. To read more about her, begin with her website (and read one of my favorite poems in the book, “Enough Beauty in This World”) at