Pocket Poetry: What We're Reading for National Poetry Month | Sojourners

Pocket Poetry: What We're Reading for National Poetry Month

In recognition of National Poetry Month’s “Poetry in Our Pocket Day,” and in celebration of Sojourners’ historical love of poetry, our staff selected some favorite poems below.

Sojourners has published poetry — the language of praise, lament, psalm, scripture, love, and prayer — in our magazine pages since our earliest years. In recognition of National Poetry Month’s “Poetry in Our Pocket Day,” and in celebration of Sojourners’ historical love of poetry, our staff selects our favorite poems below. And be sure to check out the poem published in our May 2015 issue,“This Is Praying” by Lisa Dordal.


Karen Lattea, Vice President, Human Resources
"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" by Wendell Berry

“Ask the questions that have no answers. / Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. / Say that your main crop is the forest / that you did not plant, / that you will not live to harvest.”

For a person of faith fighting injustice, these words can lift heart and soul. Desmond Tutu likewise said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” echoing Pete Seeger’s philosophy that the accumulation of many small deeds adds up to big change.


Charissa Laisy, Mobilizing Assistant
"i believe in living." by Assata Shakur

“And i believe that a lost ship, / steered by tired, seasick sailors, / can still be guided home to port.”

Shakur’s life as a targeted, criminalized, and exiled woman makes her pained yet hopeful poetry all the more moving. Her conviction that justice can be achieved with movements led by “tired, seasick sailors” gives me hope on my most pessimistic days.


Rose Berger, Poetry Editor and Senior Associate Editor
"A Ritual To Read To Each Other" by William Stafford

“And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, / a remote important region in all who talk: / though we could fool each other, we should consider— / lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.”

I use this poem when I lead retreats. It speaks to the nuances of love — threads so easily frayed and broken. Stafford, a conscientious objector to WWII who spent three years in CO camps around the U.S., kept his heart fleshy despite the stone-cold abuse he got for refusing to fight. “Awake people should be awake!” he says. I’m not sure there’s a better call to becoming children of God than that.


Ryan Stewart, Online Assistant
“The Tables Turned” by Williams Wordsworth

“Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: / Come, hear the woodland linnet, / How sweet his music! on my life, / There's more of wisdom in it.”

I love how “The Tables Turned” praises wisdom in the natural world, but I also love that Wordsworth questions words with words. How many books did he have to read to write about nature like that?


Betsy Shirley, Assistant Editor
"And I said to my soul, be loud" by Christian Wiman

"For I am come a whirlwind of wasted things / and I will ride this tantrum back to God / until my fixed self, my fluorescent self / my grief-nibbling, unbewildered, wall-to-wall self / withers in me like a salted slug"

I like this poem because Wiman reverses T. S. Eliot's famous line: "I said to my soul, be still." Sometimes I tell my soul to be still, but it rarely cooperates. Grace, I think, is when God shows up despite our billowing self-absorption.


Sandra Sims, Director of Advertising Sales
"The Perfect Cup" by Joyce Rupp

“it is time for me / to embrace / my humanness / to love / my incompleteness”

As I read this poem, the self-imposed weight of perfectionism seems to lighten. If I can love the imperfections in myself, I can be better prepared to show love to others.


Cindy Martens, Director of Circulation
"Trees" by Joyce Kilmner

“Poems are made by fools like me / But only God can make a tree.”


Rachel Buller, Resource & Circulation Assistant
"Daynight, With Mountains Tied Inside" by Alice Fulton

“Noon upon noon, / you customize this solitude / with spires / that want nothing from me / and rise with no objective / as everything does when happy.”

I like this line because the subject’s description is similar to how I imagine God as a Creator, carefully putting joy and life into each tree and every mountain. It explains why I find God so easily in nature and reminds me of the beauty that exists in the world.
 

Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications
"Journey of the Magi" by T. S. Eliot

“I had seen birth and death, / But had thought they were different; this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”

This poem takes Jesus’ birth off the page and frames it as an all-too-real event—visceral and dangerous. No cute little kids dressed like sheep at the Christmas pageant here. Instead, there are cold winds and hard-drinking men and pissed-off camels. Life.


Kaeley McEvoy, Campaigns Assistant
"In the Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

“To live in this world / you must be able to do three things: / to love what is mortal; / to hold it against your bones / knowing your own life depends on it; / and, when the time comes to let it go, / to let it go.”

Mary Oliver’s poetry will always have an incredibly special place in my heart. This line is a beautiful reminder of the importance of deep love and detachment. This line has reminded me to find joy in letting go of the many things in life that cannot be controlled.


Julie Polter, Senior Associate Editor

"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine

"You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there."

This book opens with a series of poems describing racist encounters that use the second-person “you.” This pulled me, a white woman, into another’s skin and the experience of receiving offhanded racial insults and hostility — even as I recognized my own sin and cluelessness in some of the aggressors. This is an engaging and deeply convicting encounter with truths most of us don’t like to talk about.


Lani Prunes, Editorial Assistant
"The Pomegranate and the Big Crowd" by Alberto Rios

“So much noise in this moment, / This quick lending of herself / To his cheek, the way Ventura would later kiss / All these impatient children of theirs. The kiss / Seemed so small, but was filled with itself.”

Rios is speaking not only of the power of family in this poem, but also of each moment of our lives, and the impact our choices have on ourselves and that of generations after.


Greg Williams, Communications Assistant
"Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person'd God" by John Donne

“Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain, / But am betroth'd unto your enemy; / Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, / Take me to you, imprison me, for I, / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

I really like this poem because it captures really well how powerless I am in myself to seek God. I long after God but find myself incapable of reaching him in myself. God needs to act on me because I’m dead in my own sins.


Janelle Tupper, Online Organizing Associate
"The Place Where We Are Right" by Yehuda Amichai

"From the place where we are right / flowers will never grow / in the Spring."

I love this poem because it reminds me to hold on to my beliefs loosely — walking with grace and living with joy are more important than the right policy answer or the perfect theological understanding; no need to burn bridges with beautiful friends because they don’t share our exact same theory of atonement.
 

Jenna Barnett, Editorial Assistant
"The Big Heart" by Anne Sexton

“And God is filling me, / though there are times of doubt as hollow as the Grand Canyon, / still God is filling me.”

I’m thankful to Sexton for explaining so beautifully how both doubt and devotion can exist next to each other, especially in a world with “so much abundance” — both an abundance of joy and of loss.

Simon Oh, Office Manager
"Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by W.B. Yeats

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

Ari DeNardo, Donor Services Assistant
"What the Wing Says" by David Swanger

"Think how roots find their way, how hair spreads / on the pillow, how watercolors give birth to light."

The "wing" of this poem is a holy thing — a god tangible and immaterial, nesting warmly in our earths from nightmare to noon. This is a dangerous suggestion.

What’s your favorite poem? Tweet @Sojourners using the hashtag #pocketpoem or share in the comments below!

This appears in the May 2015 issue of Sojourners
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