Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection

Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection

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This anthology features poems by Mark Doty, Ross Gay, Donald Hall, Marie Howe, Naomi Shihab Nye and many others. These poets, from all walks of life, and from all over America, prove to us the possibility of creating in our lives what Dr. Martin Luther King called the "beloved community," a place where we see each other as the neighbors we already are. Healing the Divide urges us, at this fraught political time, to move past the negativity that often fills the airwaves, and to embrace the ordinary moments of kindness and connection that fill our days.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781732743458
Publisher: Green Writers Press
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 150
Sales rank: 86,707
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

James Crews’ work has appeared in Ploughshares, Raleigh Review, Crab Orchard Review and The New Republic, among other journals, and he is a regular contributor to The (London) Times Literary Supplement. His first collection of poetry, The Book of What Stays, won the 2010 Prairie Schooner Book Prize and received a Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award. Other awards include residencies from the Sitka Center for the Arts and Caldera Arts as well as two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes. He holds an MFA in creative writing / poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in writing and literature from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he worked for Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column and grew to love the Great Plains. He now lives on an organic farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, just a few miles from the Robert Frost Stone House.

Ted Kooser, 13th United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006), is a retired life insurance executive who lives on an acreage near the village of Garland, Nebraska, with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge. His collection Delights & Shadows was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2005. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Hudson Review, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review and dozens of other literary journals. His memoir, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, a Barnes & Noble Discover finalist in nonfiction, also won the 2002 Friends of American Writers Award and ForeWord Magazine’s Gold Medal recognition for autobiographical writing. His newest collection, Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2018


I’ll never forget that day before Thanksgiving when I had to fight my way through a crowded grocery store to pick up the last few items on my list. Everyone was in a hurry, carts clanging into each other like bumper cars, the air charged with frenzied energy. As I edged through the produce section, looking for a head of lettuce, an older woman nearby ran into a stack of plastic cartons filled with strawberries that spilled across the floor. I looked around for a moment, then knelt down and helped her pick up the strawberries and re-stack the cartons.

She protested at first, said I didn’t need to do this, but I could tell she was flustered and grateful not to be alone on the floor anymore. Just as we were about to finish, she held a single, ripe strawberry up to me. “Don’t they smell great?” she asked. I said they did as I deeply inhaled and smiled back at her. It was as if, in that brief instant we shared together before going our separate ways, some very real gift was being exchanged between us.

Points of connection like this, whether with strangers or loved ones, might seem more and more rare nowadays, but they are undeniably still occurring. The project of this anthology began as something I needed to do first for myself. Because of the barrage of blame and shame streaming daily from our screens, and because the media seems intent on convincing us all how divided our country has become, I desperately needed to find more stories like these—of people coming together, bridging the gap and healing that so-called divide between us to share instances of kindness and vulnerability. Soon, as I began to show the poems I’d gathered to friends and post them on social media, it dawned on me that a whole anthology of such poems could be a useful reminder that the divide—if it exists at all—exists mostly in our hearts and minds. As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has famously said: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” It helps to hear stories about how others have awakened, even briefly, from that isolating illusion.

Poetry, with its intimate focus on everyday moments in time, is an ideal medium for uncovering the grace that is always available to us, especially when we choose to take care of each other in whatever ways we can. I have always loved Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Shoulders,” about a man carrying his sleeping son across a rain-slick street. I think often of her final lines: “We’re not going to be able/to live in this world/if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing/with one another.” We need to bring this same compassion into all of our interactions so that we are never again tempted to ignore the suffering of others. We must do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable, even if we must inconvenience ourselves at times. And we must embrace the worldview of harmony among all forms of life, embedded in the traditional Lakota phrase, “mitakuye oyasin,” often translated as “all my relations.”

In “Small Kindnesses,” Danusha Lameris illustrates that, though we are “so far from tribe and fire,” we are nonetheless still seeking the same exchange of attention from one each other that we have always needed to feel more connected:

Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder . . .

Alberto Rios also makes a similar claim in “We Are of a Tribe,” when he argues that we all belong here, regardless of artificially imposed borders: “This place requires no passports./The sky will not be fenced.”

These poems, and the many others like them by well-known and emerging poets alike, invite us into a closer relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world around us. They ask us to see strangers, partners, family members, pets, and the natural world as worthy of our close attention and kindness. These authors, from all walks of life, and from all over America, prove to us the possibility of creating in our lives what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “beloved community,” a place where we see each other as the neighbors we already are. Anyone who approaches these poems with an open mind and heart will find themselves feeling grateful for the seemingly minor moments of blessing that occur every day, often beyond our noticing. Whether standing in line, waiting in traffic, or having lunch at a restaurant, we can always seek out the glimmer of a stranger’s smile or the miracle of two souls sharing a very public kiss at the airport, as in Ellen Bass’ “Gate C22.” We can remember moments of kindness from the past, as Ted Kooser does in “Those Summer Evenings,” when he recalls the way his father would “turn on the garden hose, and sprinkle/the honeysuckle bushes,” to cool off the house while his family slept. Or like Jane Kenyon in “Otherwise,” we can acknowledge the pleasures of the flawless present moment—”the two strong legs, cereal, sweet milk” and “ripe, flawless/peach” that remind us, “It might have been otherwise.”

When we focus on the moments of kindness and connection captured in each of the poems gathered here, we become kinder both toward ourselves and others. We feel less alone and find the world a more welcoming place.

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