Poetry

Poetry

Counter Narrative

One of the themes of the 2016 Trinity Institute conference, Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice was the idea of Counter Narrative. It is an idea that people talk about, in certain circles, but perhaps do not do enough to foster. There is the official narrative, the stories we learn in school or read in the mainstream media; the stories of America as uninhabited or inhabited by barbarians, when Westerners came, the stories of Westerners being welcomed at a great first Thanksgiving meal, the stories of southern plantation life which overlooks the suffering of slaves, the stories of a city on a hill and manifest destiny. A good way to understand the problems of this is by listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story.

The dominant narrative of the day seems to be one of consumerism, where what matters is getting whatever you can for yourself, and the rest be damned. It is a narrative based on fear; sending troops and building bigger walls. It is a narrative where all people are not created equal, let alone created in the image of God Some of seen as more or less deserving than others, perhaps because of their skin color, the location they were born, or how wealthy their family was when they were born.

I thought of this when I listened to a book on tape by Barbara Kingsolver where she said that $100 is spent every year for every person on the planet, trying to get them to buy more stuff. Friday, I heard Dr. Gail C. Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg foundation say, at a forum on health equity and access, talking about what you see on television and movies, “We are entertained these days by the destruction of life".

The master narrative is about consumerism and inequality, it is about the loss of creativity and spirituality. People talk about counter narratives at conferences. Perhaps they tell some of the other sides of the story, like those talking about the Middle Passage are doing. Maybe they are telling some women’s history, talking about the domestic arts with as much respect as has been shown to the “fine” arts, or highlighting great black and/or women artists and scientists.

Yet what about countering the master narrative in daily life? Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I set for myself a goal to write a poem a day during the month. When I’ve done this in the past, there have been days that I could find nothing to say, and wrote pieces that weren’t all that great, that were throw aways, just practice pieces. This month I did a little better. I didn’t always get the poem for each day posted on the day I wrote it. Sometimes, I’d let it sit for a day or two before editing and posting, but I did get my thirty poems done. I’ll probably edit my last poem of the month and post it tomorrow.

I’ve also been participating in a Modern Poetry class online. I’ve been reading Frost, Sandberg, and Masters most recently. I’m listening to a book about the transcendentalists in Concord during my commute. Next up is Spoon River Anthology or Big Magic, depending on when I finish the transcendentalist book and when Big Magic becomes available from the library.

All of this shapes into an idea for a counter narrative. Can I write a post, more or less daily, often as poetry, but not necessarily always, that celebrates spirituality and creativity while giving voice to people and things too often overlooked? Can I find others who are willing to write along with me? Can we listen to one another and by listening and writing shift the narratives?

#NaPoWriMo 29: Fragrances

At the corner of the house
a lilac bush stood
filling the spring evenings
of childhood
with sweet smelling
memories.

These memories
came flooding back
as I walked down the street
and the smell of mulch
echoed the smell
of what?

A freshly sharpened pencil?
The fairground
where the lumberjacks roundup
had just ended?
The carefully tended gardens
on the college campus?

When all of a sudden
another olfactory memory –
where was it from?
I looked around for a clue
I search my mind for recollections

It was the perfume
that one of my grammar school teachers
wore
when we had big tests.

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#NaPoWriMo 28: The Tyranny of Time

It is after my bedtime
as I get in one last phone call
on my drive home
from the meeting I did make it to.

After a quick bite
as I sit down to write
having missed my reading time
I see an update
about one of the meetings I missed
and wonder
how a different meeting went.

I look at the schedule
of back to back meetings
tomorrow
and look forward
to a day of rest
afterwards.

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#NaPoWriMo 27: All That Remains Unspoken

He couldn’t find the words
to speak about his illness
or find the right people
to say them to.

She couldn’t find a way
to express
how upset she was
or people
she trusted
would understand.

He gazed out the window,
his concerns remained
unspoken
and others didn’t seem
to notice
or care.

There are no words
to express
the struggle
of getting up each day
she thought to herself.

Bob had plenty of words
to tell his stories
over coffee
in the basement
of a local church,
but only used
his first name.

Her confusion grew
every morning
when the new nurse
took her
into a new room
that she couldn’t remember
having been in
yesterday.

A small flower
struggled up
from the cracks in the concrete
as the hurried man
stopped to notice.

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#NaPoWriMo 26: The Words of the Poets

The words of the poets pour down
like the spring rain
holding the promise of summer warmth
but still cold,
cutting to the bone.

They pool up in puddles beside the road
or wait in looming black clouds.

Summer will come soon enough
when there is time for poetry
pouring over us
like the waterfall in the forest
or the waves
pounding the beaches.

Until then
we wear our slickers
and step over puddles
as wait for more time
and warmer days.

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