March 29, 2006

National Poetry Month - do some poetry reading online

Here are a few of my favorite places online to read poems online:

Poetry Daily is at and you can find a new poem every day

Poetry 180 at the Libary of Congress site is a project by Billy Collins intended for teachers to use each day with their classes.

Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac- is a daily almanac about writing and writers hosted by Keillor who reads a poem and talks about what occurred in (mostly literary) history. Check out what happened on your birthday.

Lifelines is a project at the Academy of American Poets where they ask poets and readers to share lines of poetry that are vital to them. Kind of like the "Favorite Poem Project" that Robert Pinsky did, but with only a few lines. People also add some notes on what the lines mean to them. along with notes about the precise situation that summoned them to mind. A selection of the lines collected will be published online throughout the year.

The Academy site also has a good search for poems & poets, so you can type in a keyword and find poems - so I can type in "peach" and find Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm by Carl Phillips and Couple Sharing a Peach by Molly Peacock. Google won't do that.

Got a site that you like for reading poetry online? POST A COMMENT HERE with the link!

Magical Thinking with Naomi Shihab Nye

Magical thinking is a term used by historians of religion like James George Frazer to help explain their theory that magic is more like science than religion. Societies with magical beliefs often had separate religious beliefs and practices. According to Frazer, magical thinking depends on two laws: the law of similarity (an effect resembles its cause), and the law of contagion (things which were once in physical contact maintain a connection even after physical contact has been broken).

People may use magic to attempt to explain things that science has not yet explained, or to attempt to control things that science cannot control. We are not talking here of the pull the rabbit out of the hat kind of magic.

Magical thinking is that belief that we can somehow cause something to happen in an unscientific but magical way. It's a kind of faulty reasoning that confuses correlation for causation.

Someone may believe a hat brings luck when it is worn, and even if some hatless days go fine, and hatted ones go badly, the belief remains.

The primitive culture that sacrificed to ensure a good harvest and the parent who sits in the stands wishing for their 12 year old child to hit a homerun to win the game are both employing magical thinking.

Magic could be considered a way of making coincidences meaningful in social terms. Carl Jung coined the word synchronicity for experiences of this type. You are thinking of a friend you haven't seen in many months because you came across a photo of her. The phone ringa and it is her. Synchronicity?

Probably, magical thinking is more common with children. I recall believing once that I could somehow get a teacher to ignore me in class by willing myself to be temporarily invisible. It didn't always work, but there were definitely times that I did not get called upon to answer.

This type of thinking also manifests itself strongly in people suffering from some mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Not all cultures see their beliefs as being magical. In Asia, what we call coincidences might be explained in terms of karma (your actions in a past life affects current events).

I'd rather avoid talking about this topic and mixing in religion, but in most writing about magical thinking, religion plays a role. Some might believe that their thoughts can influence events in a positive way or for the worse (as in divine punishment for "bad thoughts"). or that prayer influences a deity to alter the course of events. Opponents of magical thinking will say that it has an adverse effect on a person's faith, even in himself.

You can swing over to analysis and posit that people tend to seek confirmation of their hypotheses, rather than seeking refutation (as the scientific method would have you do). Most people are reluctant to change their beliefs, even when presented with evidence (see cognitive dissonance).

There are those who say that practices such as homeopathy are a type of "sympathetic magic" as found in James Frazer's The Golden Bough. I'm a believer in the placebo effect which certainly enters a kind of magical faith in the treatment in order to produce an outcome.

So when I read Naomi Shihab Nye's poems " The Rider" and "Making a Fist" I didn't at first see a connection - then it came to me. Magical thinking.

I had recently read Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking. It tells her story of the year that followed the death of her husband, while their only daughter lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. For Joan Didion, in her magical thinking she "believed that given the right circumstances he would come back." The psychological influences on a person's body, mind or behavior are very complex. Even serious scientists cannot dismiss that magical thinking is capable of having measurable effects on the believer.

In Nye's poem "The Rider", a boy believes that if he "roller-skated fast enough, his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him" and subsequently the narrator considers whether it would also work as she rides a bicycle. In the second poem, a child is told - and believes - that you will die when you can no longer make a fist, and so "logically" concludes that as long as she can keep making a fist, she cannot die.

For our April writing, we are using magical thinking as a starting point.

March 12, 2006


bookcrossing - noun. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise. (added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004) is a community site that gives something back. It's a book-lovers' community. People who love books and love to share them, let them go—into the wild—to be found by others.

The world as library.

BookCrossing is a book exchange of infinite proportion, the first of its kind.

So what do you do?

Read a good book.

Decide you want to share it with others.

Join up (free) at

Register the book and add a little comment about it. You'll get a unique BCID (BookCrossing ID number) to put on the book. Most people print out the labels that the site offers and put them on their book. It says that this is a free book and explains how they can report that they picked up the book and journal it online.

Then you release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, "forget" it in a coffee shop, etc.), and you'll get notified by email each time someone goes to the site and records journal entries for that book.

Fate, karma, serendipity takes over. A person who loves to read discovers your book and makes a journal entry. Sometimes, people take them and never make journal entries - that sucks - but at least your book found a reader. I suspect there are plenty of books (and noy just poetry) that Poets Online users have at home that they could send into the wild.

There are almost a half million Bookcrossing users now, with about 300 added per day.

Here's a sample from my own bookshelf account-

I registered a copy of Virgin Suicides and released it 9/29/2004 at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Somerville, New Jersey USA.

Then I put my own journal note about it.

Someone found it and was good enough to go online and add an entry:

"The book lay on the folding chair for quite some time, unclaimed. People glanced at it, but skirted it, as if they were respecting that it might be someone's property. The poetry reading began, the chairs filled, and I wanted a place to sit down. I hesitated, because I thought it might be "saving" the seat. But then I sat down, holding the book on my lap, in case the owner came to claim it. No one did. I enjoyed the poetry reading a great deal. Then opened the book, as I was about to leave, because of the note taped to the cover. I saw that, strangely enough, the book was meant to be taken, and so I carried along with me."

I guess anonymous didn't get to read it for a while...

"October 02, 2005 - I'm sorry I waited a whole year to read this book. This is one of the best "first books" I've read in a while. About the Lisbons, a troubled family of five sisters in a Detroit suburb. The first thing that struck me, aside from the wonderful writing, is the voice. This book is told in first-person plural (as "we"), in the collective voices of the boys who were watching the Lisbon sisters growing up. First time I've seen this since Faulkner's story, "A Rose for Emily," which is also told by a sort of Greek chorus of townspeople, witnessing death, sex and tragedy from the outside.
I am going to pass this on through There's a waiting list for the book, so I'm sure it will be out traveling into the world again in just a few days."

Then it was found/caught in Mount Vernon, NY and was passed on again through that other service to New Hampshire to continue its adventure.

You can check out my own little "bookshelf" without going through any registration at and you check out some other users who have more books out there in the world.

March 2, 2006


He is called Hotei, "The Cloth Sack Buddha" in Japan. The Happy Buddha, or Laughing Buddha is probably the most popular of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. He is worshipped as the God of happiness and contentment, and also looked upon as the Protector of Children. Hotei was thought to be a 10th Century Chinese monk, an eccentric wanderer with a large belly and an empty sack. It's note worthy that his large belly isn't from a result of excessive eating, but rather an indication of his life force, which in Chinese is known as Qi (chi). In addition, his empty sack is actually a treasure bag. Hotei is believed to dispense riches to the poor and needy at will.

This month we are looking at Wendell Berry's poem "The Wild Geese" which I was surprised to find online as part of a number of web pages about sermons. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since the poem has a strong spiritual (if not religious) tone to it.

I linked to one one sermon that quotes the lines "And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” The sermon compares that to Jesus recognizing that faith might stumble as devotion and love hit the realities of life. When people are distracted from their religious beliefs they may turn to "others gods, to traditions with greater or lesser demands, and to the fads and fancies of culture and times. " Is this sermon saying that the weak turn to things like Hotei, Zen, meditation and others? Is it saying that this is a bad thing? That's how I read it. I think what we need is here, but I don't believe there is one way to find what we need.

Another sermon (delivered the week after Thanksgiving) looks more at contentment and at being at peace with what we have - which is not the same thing as having what we need available here and now.

I mentioned a "Biblical filter" that you could use to read the poem but I probably shouldn't have used "Bible" if that means that readers would limit their explorations to certain religions or philosophies. In fact, what I really think of when I hear the word contentment is meditation. Whether I think of Thomas Merton or Thich Nhat Hanh is not really the important part.

"The Wild Geese" is anthologized in a number of books, though I would highly recommend Wendell Berry's Collected Poems and his collection A Timbered Choir; the Sabbath Poems.