Collaboration. Combination. Crossover.

Call it what you want. I just know I like it. It’s fresh and invigorating and blooming all over: the cross-pollination of art and life. Art and politics. Art and poetry. Art in the everyday.

I love it.

We don’t live vacuum-sealed lives, with clear divisions between topics and concerns, passions and hopes. Why should art? Or poetry? Or politics? I say, take it out of the courthouses, the museums, the academic books. Blast poetry across busses and airplanes, write it across sidewalks and on grocery store floors. Wrap buildings in color, landscapes in cloth (e.g. Christo). Blend words and art and ideas together. Explore the push and pull of emotion and movement, reason and whimsy. Let it get messy and interesting and fun.

That’s just what a group of Denver artists have done with Dems Do Denver. To celebrate the Democratic National Convention in Denver (August 25 – 28, 2008), a handful of notable Denver artists have created donkey-themed, limited edition political buttons. The collectibles are just $4, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the Denver National Convention Host Committee. (My faves are by Tracy Weil and Hadley Hooper.)

These aren’t the staid buttons of the past. It's politics retooled to reflect today’s willingness to try new things. With these buttons, and in many artful collaborations, there is a suggestion of hope, a willingness to see things in a new light.

Though really quite simple, these crossovers have the power to make real and tangible change. Art invigorates the soul, strengthens the mind and helps generate other art forms. Ideas are born and an audience grows. A momentum feeds movement and, ultimately — hopefully — a greater good.

And all that for just four bucks.


In the everyday

Poetry lives in the everyday, I tell my young students. In what you feel, what you see, and what you say. They want to be poetic, and so they’ll use words like regret and sorrow. They’ll force rhymes and take a brooding tone. At just 10 to 13 years old, they believe — like many adults — that poetry is a string of forlorn verse.

But I take the Naomi Shihab Nye perspective. Nye, an Arab-American poet living in Texas, has been called “a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart” (by William Stafford, another great poet and an Oregon icon).

Nye believes poetry resides in the little things, the big things, and in the ordinary spaces inbetween. In Valentine for Ernest Mann, she writes:

. . . So I'll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them . . .

And so, with Nye as an example, my young charges and I look for poetry in shadows and shoes. We take walks to experience ordinary life with fresh eyes. We gather words and sounds and listen for poetry in traffic and horns, in shouts and silence.

A few weeks ago, I shared Nye’s collection, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls with my 10 year-old niece. Kimberly is a bright and curious girl who loves nature and science. Within 10 minutes of cracking the book, she was inspired to pen her own poem. Now, that’s the poetry spirit!

The sun is high
The moon is low
The day is bright
And the night is cold
The stars are my nightlights
so I don’t get scared
My father said, don’t burn
out the lights
so that is why I
use the sky.

I love this piece. It’s fresh and unaffected. It doesn’t try too hard. Kimberly saw poetry in light and stitched words from the sky — and we can too. When we pay attention and write from everyday experience, we're all poets, at any age.


Simple beauty, well told

Oh, My Love

Nizar Qabbani

Oh, my love
If you were at the level of my madness,
You would cast away your jewelry,
Sell all your bracelets,
And sleep in my eyes


What does it mean?

How does a poem arrive? Develop? And what does the string of words -- placed this way and that --- mean, anyway?

I don’t know. Again and again, I don’t know.

And sometimes, even as the author, I don’t know what a poem means. Often the tone, the mood, is more important than the meaning. And sometimes meaning surfaces long after the pen rests and the page turns.

I wrote this poem over a year ago, but it is only now — as I experience friends and family in the throes of pain – that I understand what's been said.

Wounds that Bind
for Cindi

The hand that feeds the fire has no recipe.
You don't know what you're fighting so you
fan out      like a surgeon, mend endlessly,
step across hard shadows to stitch the awkward girl
in the corner.

Awake for days, walking through meals,
the moon births new     chaos
You hear lullabies.
You, baby flame, extract conscience
but mandate sedation
You know the price of wide awake.


Words rise

We’re in a bout of sadness. Loss swirls around our house, hits family and friends and turns a breezy summer into a deep, dark season of sorrow.

In the midst of beach vacations and late-night parties, sorrow seeps into happy occasions and my mind worries on the recent string of life-changing events. Just one is devastating enough but this time they come in a clutch, one tragic turn after the next: a young girl raped, a teenager killed, a trio of youngsters taken in a fire, mothers mourning, fathers angry.

In this conflicted season, I am out of words that will assuage events that make no sense, that break rules and wreck lives. And so my mind can only pick words from stilted air, settle on sounds that will describe what my spirit is too heavy too hold.

Words rise, not in a string of sense but in single sounds: tragic, inconsolable, broken. I’m collecting words and applying them like a balm, a gentle rub to every aching thought.

It’s not the direct hit that hurts but the inability to make things better for those I love.

Once, when I was distraught with slow change and my powerlessness to do anything of immediate value, a friend offered a simple solution: Be present, she said.

It seemed so simple. Too simple. But it was the best and most I could offer. I was present. I showed up. I paid attention. It showed dedication and interest. And it worked. And soon, being present turned into being useful.

I don’t know what to do now with the grief that consumes my family and friends, my heart. I’m standing here, waiting for words and action to rise again.