Unbelievably, we’ve come up to the one year anniversary of Found Poems. I sent the first issue as an experiment, at a time when I was grappling with a lot of changes global and personal. I pushed the ‘send’ button despite a lot of self-doubt (“who really wants poetry newsletters anyway?”) Turns out people do! Thank you all for subscribing, supporting and reading Found Poems even through a collectively difficult year.
Having spent a majority of this past year inside my house and outside the corporate machinery, witnessing a healthcare crises in a country that has handled it terribly – the focus on individual benefit rather than collective responsibility has never been more clear to me. It’s everywhere - unequal distribution of wealth, new “disruptive” technologies, anti-maskers, white supremacy, the #notallmen gang.
My small hope for Found Poems was to connect us as individuals to other thoughts, ideas, worlds and people so we may be able to feel more closely the invisible threads that tie us all. There is a concept in ancient greek philosophy called Oikeiôsis, which places the self at the core of one’s world, but expands into our family, community, country and the whole of mankind. Our current systems disregard our ethical duty to connect and feel kinship for the collective good as well as bring them closer to our central self.
Today I want to share with you a poem by Ellen Bass. Ellen is an American poet. Her poems are courageous, intimate and quietly disruptive of the systems we operate with in. Her non-fiction work is often written for survivors of oppression and abuse. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman's Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, three Pushcart Prizes (2003, 2015, 2017), a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a fellowship from the California Arts Council.
The World Has Need of You
by Ellen Bass
seems to need us
Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.
“What if you felt the invisible / tug between you and everything”… I love how nuanced this poem is, in navigating the tension between individual need and that of the earth, the world that we live in.
Ellen deftly marries the weight of our collective heritage (“ancient prayer of my arms”) with a desire to move and progress for ourselves (“swinging in counterpoint to my feet”). This push and pull is only human, and we can often fall into the trap of disenchantment, of thinking that our choices don’t matter. “If you’ve managed to do one good thing / the ocean doesn’t care.”
But they do. The world at this moment, especially as it starts to open up, needs each of us to think intentionally about what we refuse, share or perpetuate. The world has need of you.
Thank you for a whole year of sharing poetry with me.