Unveiling Our Collective Poem

It was a gift to share in poetry-making with you all and celebrate National Poetry Month in a special way this year. Big thanks to everyone who played a part in Voice & Vessel's poetry giveaway and collective poem project!

Want some new voices and fresh writing on your shelves? Here's the complete list of books I chose for the giveaway.

In the end, more than 70 writers added their voice to our collective poem. Twenty books were purchased from my favorite local indie bookstore, Books & Mortar. Eleven of those were given away through the studio letter giveaways, and nine books were given to writers in Voice & Vessel's revision circles.

Many of the books I shared were the poet's first book or books by poets early in their career, picked with the hope of helping folks discover a new favorite. I also heard from a number of people that this would be the first book of poetry they ever owned... an extra thrill for me and a great bonus of this little project! 

And now... our collective poem.

The poem below is the incredible result of everyone who added their voice to this project. And it was a true honor to hear so many voices! Your excitement for this project was a light in my inbox during April. Thank you so much.

More than 100 lines were shared, which I brought together, shuffled, and ordered into the final poem. I hope you'll celebrate this beautiful, sometimes quirky, poem with me. I'm amazed that strangers writing together can still find their way into a shared story! For instance, none of the prompts asked for a specific character or a certain pronoun, but when all the lines came together, at least two characters seemed to have stepped forward.

A few notes on my approach, as I tried to honor your individual voices while listening for our collective chorus: No edits were made to the words themselves. Line breaks and stanzas were added to help the poem take a consistent shape and create breathing room. In the end, I felt numbered sections made sense for this poem. The sections are tied together by a common thread, but there were aspects of your writing that felt like smaller vignettes or stories, so I wanted to lift those up with sections. I also created the title for the poem, which emerged after the sections took shape and as I listened for the patterns across the different voices, lines, and images you shared.

Eight Ways of Knowing the Blue: A Collective Poem


1.

This is only the beginning.
The map on my wall is robin egg blue. 
Everyone's at home with Blue.

I know today's blue sky inspires bird songs.
turbulent currents twist into whirlpools,
marking the edge between calm and chaos
(in the dark blue deep edge of the river)

I know that the well of creativity is bottomless. 
Water: that’s where the expanse of Lake Michigan starts
and ends and also where I stand, current lapping
at 8 year old toes, too cold to hop into
and also warm enough to approach.
I know I can do anything I desire,
but taking the first leap of faith is tough.

I know how the eagle searches out each sentence, hungry.
There are hands that know the way,
eyes that speak in riddles.

I fall into your indigo, I rise into your sky
The thing we sought only required our dreams reach farther than our fears.
I know that slowing down allows me to see the beauty
that is literally sparkling all around me.  
It matters not what comes out, only that we go in.

I know things get better if they do not have an ending;
when you know you’re not pretending. 

2.

Only steady, intense listening goes beneath words…
within my heart, seeds of growth for a new garden, vibrant and fresh

I know nothing until I have hurt from the thing worth knowing.
I know you think you know but the answer is still no.
Only your yes is needed

I know by the way the sun is shining that winter will soon burn off,
making way for the joys of summer, but my carpet is worn and dirty,
boots are lined up on the rug by the door, and today I’m tired of it all.
Roads no longer felt the rubber of the tire,
only the soles of the weary traveler. 

I know my son's disability is not all he is. It may not even be any of who he is.

Blue at birth and blue by boyhood. Yet fury billowed out like smoke.
And from such a fire! A fire that now burned about inside the quiet place.

I know how far the rain falls. 
I know that the hidden waters still run.
I know that child inside you listens through the noise.

3.

I know two parrots stationed on a late in the day pajama wearing,
lounging body still can’t make it fly off the couch, but we try anyway.
I was only kidding.

It used to be that the first part of me to sleep was my head or eyes,
drooping while still watching late night tv, but lately, my feet fall asleep
if I sit cross-legged—a sure sign of aging, I presume.

I know I have more in me, then these days in which I am lingering time.
Blue shatters my life into sapphire-sharp shards that glisten in the sunlight
I know there are more ways to wander than paths to follow.

4.

If only I understood Portuguese...
If only she had told me…
…if only I had read this book two years ago. 

Only with me, I am free. 
I only eat pickles from a jar. 
A toe to dip, a sight to see, all is eternal and beautiful, surrounding me

Rain running in rivulets down the window,
cool against her forehead pressing against the glass
The expansive sky’s liquid blue spilled through the oak branches,
pierced the lattice, and tumbled past the stoney walls of my heart.
So the blue that was felt wasn’t anything more than the rain outside
on my window, tapping like the pulse of my own dreary heart. 

My hearts says, “Oh, yes,” but my foot stomps out
an unmistakable kick to an imaginary groin.

5.

I see her sitting there, alone, not lonely
I hear her hum a little tune
Now each note begs to be her one and only
but she knows there’s plenty of room...

A sprinkle of freckles graced her wrinkled nose
She touched her face with furrowed brow
A dab of worried care
To lift the world's unceasing strain
That had been gathered there

Her thoughts reflected the color of the sky. 
Her eyes were the same as all the ones before her. Except mine.
They coined only-Child.
as the suburban blinds close with judgment to your abundance.

my eyes are hazel, like my father’s
It amazed me how her eyes stared through me
Never blinking, although sunshine demanded I close mine.
Her feet and shoulders aligned, hands on hips, left eyebrow arched,
mouth locked in a grimace—I knew this wasn't going to be a good day.

I know I will eventually have to face myself.

6.

I know where the earth sings. 
There is a kind of blue that dreams underground
lay only with open hands

Every time those beautiful blue waves rush away from me,
I am not sad - for they will return again and again.
searching for the sky each day I wake

While the forecast changes for the day,
the prognosis for my eye remains cloudy.
A "clear blue sky" does not guarantee a beautiful sunset;
the sun enjoys a textured canvas.

7.

I know your future is shrouded in fog, but be still,
it will lift and you’ll see clearly again.
I know that one day it will all come clear.

In his hospital bed, at home, his last breath and only,
no regrets that I was with him...
I know more about myself today than I ever dreamed of yesterday.

I know that if my dog could talk he would tell me
all about the mysterious world he inhabits with his nose.

The heel of my palm shields your third eye,
discomforting though that may be
I know this much is true: life's meaning is imbued
with crafted words that help describe the ineffable.

Only squirrels would forgo sunflower seeds lying atop
the ice-crusted snow and, instead, go all willy-wonky
while climbing the bird feeder, hanging upside down on it,
then squeezing their front paws inside the quarter-inch opening
and teasing out one lone seed--which then drops to the ground.

I know the moon will follow the sun, as I to you,
an invisible tether. 

I know war wounds all beings.
Only love defeats hatred.

8.

Only then did she understand the significance of being well
Only in his absence did she come to see him clearly.

Briefly suspended in that moment between request & reply,
and then humbled by the tree trunk embracing, melding with my spine

And there did she remain until she could see with her ears and hear
with her eyes that which only the heart had perceived.

The heart of her took a thousand steps up, to get here took only a lifetime.
It was the way he spoke from under the brow that pulled an answer from her gut.
It’s only a sprain she thought, for nothing can break her. 

There is meaning in the faintness of his upturned half-smile,
a pang of delicate grace and joy found only in places full of sunlight and birdsong.
When he thought of her his mouth twisted up tightly
like the knot at the end of an inflated balloon
a button in the middle of his belly

A shimmering light, blue like a frosted flame, caught the eye of the boy.
It was them, again...ᐧ

Her hands fluttered like butterflies in a language all their own.
Her teeth chattered uncontrollably as she lay tranquilly on her back,
drinking in the stars and waiting for light to replace the darkness.

This heart whispers and its love echoes
The wave crashed so gently against the shore
like a bead of sweat running down the small of your back.

Her light brown hair captures the sun and sparkles like spun gold.  
Her lovely brown-green eyes look up at me, holding my gaze and heart at once.
The scent of sadness is a chocolaty blue murmur in her ear.

I can't tell if that curled love-me-not on your thigh is the same tattoo
I have on mine and from this vantage point, I may never.
Just remember my heart, my eyes, my smile.

We become only the stitching in the leaves,
the melody in rainfall, the stillness in this moment.