north of oxford

The Path to Kindness – Poems of Connection and Joy

path
By John Zheng

The title of The Path to Kindness suggests that kindness is a goal or a destination to reach for an individual’s self-cultivation and for a society’s harmonious environment. Although dictionaries provide descriptions of the word meanings, they don’t offer a sensible opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the thingness of kindness. Therefore, the core of kindness lies in the act of doing things in kind ways. Also, kindness is not an innate virtue; it is what one learns and possesses; it is part of a person’s life; it is an act flowing like water, as in Lao Tzu’s words from Tao Te Ching: “True goodness is like water.”

This anthology is a gathering of voices worth hearing. Poets share their ideas and stories about kindness with vivid and concrete descriptions. In “Small Kindnesses,” Danusha Laméris tells that kindness can be as small as “when you walk / down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs / to let you by.” It can also be as common as a kind word, a touch, or a smile, which is, however, “a bit of beauty” planted in someone to grow, as expected in Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s “Kindness”:

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And years later, in that inner soil,
that beauty emerges again,
pushing aside the dead leaves,
insisting on loveliness,
a celebration of the one who planted it,
the one who perceives it, and
the fertile place where it has grown.

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Truly, small or common things can tell a lot about a person’s personality. On the other hand, Kindness can be a bittersweet ordeal before one knows its true value, as Naomi Shihab Nye says philosophically in her poem “Kindness”: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” In other words, kindness can be a poignant experience one must gain before celebrating it. And there is no shortcut or expressway to reach it.

However, it is important to realize that kindness, as a human virtue, is an idea in things that can be done in a child’s coming of age. Planting it as a seed in oneself should start early as part of a child’s education. A child who grows up to be a kind person learns to possess this virtue from his parents, so it is a like-father-like-son relay from generation to generation. In “Most Important Word,” Laura Grace Weldon regards love as the first word to learn so the child will be kind to love. She shares her story of teaching her four-year-old son how to write and speak the word love because she believes learning to love is the first step to becoming a kind person. She further describes that love remains the same “first magical word” to learn for her granddaughter who “concentrates, / lines rollicking onto the paper, / tongue curled against her lip.”

Further, to love and be kind should be an inseparable part of a person’s life, and doing kind things does not mean expecting recognition from others. Rather, it is a voluntary way to enrich one’s spiritual life, to keep “a little warmth” within the self, and to give “a little warmth” to faith and time, as related by Ted Kooser in “Filling the Candles”:

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The eight candles that stand at the altar
aren’t candles at all, but oil lamps
in the waxy white raiment of candles.
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A woman has come, through snow, alone
on Saturday, to fill them, a plastic jug
in one hand, a funnel and rag in the other.
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From a high window, soft hands of light,
in reds, blues and greens, pat snow
from the sleeves of her winter parka,
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brush flakes from her silvery hair
as she moves from wick to wick to wick,
lifting the brass caps, trickling the oil.
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The church is otherwise empty, dark
and cold, but now those eight flames burn
within her as she caps and tilts the jug
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into the light to see how much is gone,
the day, too, halfway gone, not spilled
but used, a little warmth within it.
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When people do kind things without letting others know, the community will shape itself in a better way, and human beings will wear more smiles than concerns.

There are all kinds of poetry anthologies, but The Path to Kindness is a timely pocket anthology with a single, important theme since kindness is needed for an individual, a community, and the country especially when hate crimes and racism have erupted in and smeared the cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and elsewhere, showing the absence of goodness, peace, harmony, and safety in these places dominated by fear, disorder, and murder.

Reading is a beautiful act and can make a person mindful. This anthology gathers different voices about kindness, love, and connection. Of 112 poets, 13 have two poems, 4 have three, and 1 (the editor himself) has four. It would be kind to include more poets if each has just one poem in the book.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Path-Kindness-Poems-Connection-Joy/dp/1635865336

John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

This Rare Spirit- A Life of Charlotte Mew by Julia Copus

spirit

By Byron Beynon 

As a child Charlotte Mew’s imagination “thought the stars were God’s angels”.  At school she was fortunate to have a teacher who had a heartfelt enthusiasm for books, her name was Lucy Harrison, and Mew became strongly attached to her.  One former pupil remembered “just how it felt when Miss Harrison came into the room, bringing with her, as she always did, a serene sense of freshness and space and of august things ….. she had the power not only of imparting knowledge but of communicating atmosphere and beauty, with the result that she made many good lovers of poetry, eager to read and glad to learn by heart. I think that was one of the greatest things she did for us. One learnt how profoundly poetry counts, or should count, in life.”

Mew would develop into a great poet despite having a deep desire for privacy and keeping herself apart from literary groups and cliques. Alida Monro, the wife of Harold Monro who was to publish Mew’s first book of poems The Farmer’s Bride (published 1916, expanded edition 1921) described Mew as “very small, only about four feet ten inches, very slight, with square shoulders and tiny hands and feet.” Monro also described her first meeting with the poet at the poetry bookshop she ran with her husband, she asked, “Are you Charlotte Mew?” and Mew’s reply was “I am sorry to say I am.”  Mew saw herself as an outsider. Others like Thomas Hardy thought she was “the greatest poetess” he knew of. Virginia Woolf thought her “the best of poets alive”, Siegfried Sassoon also admired her work and Ezra Pound accepted Mew’s poem “The Fête” for publication in The Egoist (May 1914). Marianne Moore also warned that “If we choose to leave the poems of Charlotte Mew out of our literary heritage, we are leaving out an original”.

Born in London in 1869, the third child of an architect named Frederick Mew and his wife Anna Maria.   Her childhood was devastated by the death of three of her siblings and two others fell victim to mental illness and hospitalisation. She and her beloved sister Anne renounced marriage for fear of passing on insanity to their children. Her first publication was a story entitled “Passed” which appeared in the second volume of The Yellow Book.  Most of her surviving poetry dates from 1912 and later.

In the 1920s the Euston Road in London was widened opposite Euston Station, and the great plane trees were torn down by the developers.  Mew’s poem “The Trees Are Down” describes her feelings when the plane trees at the bottom of her garden were felled. These are the final two verses of the poem:
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“It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the “Whoops” and the “Whoas” have carted
         the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.
It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts
         of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
     In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from
         The great seas.
     There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
     They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were
         lying –
     But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
         “Hurt not the trees”.
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Copus is also good at interpreting and explaining the mood of the poem when she says ““in the final five lines, she does something that lifts the poem beyond being a reflection: with an eerie sense of theatre, she cuts out all background noise – the gales and the incessant blows of the axe – and locates us inside the felled trees themselves as they lie dying in the grass, so that we hear with them “a quiet rain”, “the sparrows flying” and “the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying””.

This is the first comprehensive biography of Mew and Julia Copus has been able to draw on a wealth of previously unseen materials, including letters, photographs, medical records, diaries and testaments of friends. Copus has written a fine biography with the understanding of a poet enabling the reader to gain fresh and interesting insights into Mew’s private and public life and work.

You can find the book here: This Rare Spirit: A Life of Charlotte Mew (Faber Poetry)

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Byron Beynon coordinated Wales’s contribution to the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). His work has featured in several publications including North of Oxford, Jerry Jazz Musician, The London Magazine, Wasafiri and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). His most recent collection is Where Shadows Stir (The Seventh Quarry Press).
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Regular Submissions are Always Open

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Submissions to our regular monthly schedule are always open. Please view the guidelines on the about page here relating to poetry, book reviews, essays etc. https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

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An Interview with Poet and Promoter Bob Zell

zell1Robert Zell is the author of two chapbooks (One and Reflections). His poems have been published in Whirlwind Magazine, Danse Macabre, Poetry Ink and others. Bob has a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. Zell hosts monthly readings at the historic Pen and Pencil Club in Philadelphia.

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Interview with g emil reutter

GER: Did your background in philosophy have an impact on your poetry?

BZ: When I was younger, I thought the purpose of philosophy was to clarify language and search for truth (Logical Positivism), but then I took a course on Friedrich Nietzsche and that kind of twisted my brain inside out. He wrote about subjectivity, hidden motives behind people’s beliefs, highlighting the many nuances and limitations of language. In particular, I think his writing of aphorisms was what eventually (many years later) led to my writing poetry. He’d write these bite-sized, little nuggets of wisdom or come at you with a unique and highly original perspective that you could meditate upon. I experimented with aphorisms, then later, much to my own surprise—poetry—during a difficult time in my life. Frankly, I had no interest in poetry and never read any except in high school when I had to, until I started writing it myself. My only inspiration I can imagine is song lyrics, especially Ronnie James Dio and some other metal artists who wrote songs that had a lot of meaning behind them. Listening to music is a great inspiration to me.

GER: Why poetry?

BZ: First, I wrote for catharsis, then I shared some of my early pieces to friends who encouraged me to write more, and I found it came relatively easy to me. I had worked on my vocabulary over the years and found a way to inject some improvised structure into my writing. I have a background in psychology and hypnosis and there’s almost always a line or two (sometimes almost entire poems) which were informed by those fields. Nietzsche was a multi-level writer who explored a lot of unconscious themes and I kind of follow in his footsteps. But I don’t ever think I made a choice to be a poet, it just bubbled up from inside.  

GER: It wasn’t too long ago you took a road trip and reconnected with nature. What impact did it have on you as a person and as a poet?

BZ: I live in South Philly and there’s not a whole lot around me or in my everyday travels that allows me to get away from the hustle and bustle of modernity. When I get out into the woods, hiking and photographing, I feel like I’m in an altered state. My senses awaken, my mental chatter diminishes, and I look at my surroundings almost from a child’s viewpoint, and I feel at peace. I think being in nature enhances your powers of observation and you sense details you never did before, and then you can bring those details and imagery to your poems. And as a person, you become less self-absorbed because you realize there are so many experiences you can open yourself up to and that the world is enormous and often beautiful once you stop focusing on the negatives in your life.

pen an dpencil

GER: How long have you hosted the Pen and Pencil Poetry Series?

BZ: It’s been almost 8 years from the first reading until now (we didn’t have reading for almost two years during the height of the pandemic).

GER: How would you describe your interaction with poets who visit your series?

BZ: I love it. There’s a real positive energy in the room during the reading and the conversation afterwards is always lively. P&P transforms into a super supportive environment with everyone encouraging each other to write more or read at the open mic. I’m hoping to continue building a sense of community and continuity by doing readings every First Sunday.

zell2

GER: You have recorded over 300 poets reading in Philadelphia at various venues, but mostly at your series at the Pen and Pencil Club. Your YOUTUBE channel is a historical record of poets in Philadelphia. Have you ever viewed yourself as a poetic historian?

BZ: No. I thought it would be nice for everybody to have a record of themselves reading so they could share it with their family, friends, and fans. It also helps with promoting everyone’s material and readings, including my own. But you are correct in pointing out the channel is a historical record, as I pat myself on the back. 

onereflections

GER: You have published a few collections. Can you tell us about your collections, One and Reflections?

BZ: One was a collection of poems from my first year of writing poetry. Reflections was from the second year. I planned on doing at least one chapbook a year, but that plan didn’t quite unfold the way I hoped. I love the creative act of writing poetry, but I’m not as dedicated to the editing and publishing process. I don’t know if there’s any themes I had in mind when I compiled the collections; I just selected what I thought was my best work during those time frames. Both collections are quite diverse. I have a sonnet in each, I have several storytelling poems that were created out of thin air, and some based on my life experiences, I have some confessional poems and some that are isomorphic metaphors for something in my life that I disguise. I think the one thing that ties most of my published work together is there’s a positive message by the end however dark and gloomy I veer off along the way. That’s as much for me (who probably reads my poems more than anyone else) as it is for the audience.   

 GER: How many poems have you written, and do you plan on developing another collection for publication?

BZ: There was a point several years ago where I was writing at least 10 poems a week (most not very long). I haven’t approached that pace again, but I still have a huge number that I thought were worth keeping at varying degrees in the editing process. I probably have about 100-120 poems close to fully edited. I have several hundred more which may or may not be worth revisiting. 

GER: What poets do you look to for inspiration in your own writing?

BZ: John O’Donohue, Diane Ackerman, William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, the Romantic Poets, William Blake, Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, and several local poets who have read at my series (no names).

zell 3

GER: Where is Bob Zell heading?

BZ: I’ve been working a lot between bartending and bouncing, and I’ve been burning out, especially from the latter. I’m planning on opening a hypnosis practice in the coming months and I’m hoping that if I start getting clients, I will not continue to work three part-time jobs and I’ll have more free time to edit and hopefully publish a chapbook or a full-length collection by year’s end. I will continue to host the Pen and Pencil reading series for the foreseeable future and I think I’ll be going to many more readings elsewhere now that things have opened-up again. And I’m opening-up again, writing more, and welcoming positive changes into my life.

Find Bob Zell at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Robert-Zell/dp/1530220165

https://www.amazon.com/One-Robert-Zell/dp/1530054567

Bob Zell’s YOUTUBE channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVXeHjv2E1a8UBWCIS6OcAQ/videos

You can contact Bob at: zellpoetry@gmail.com

g emil reutter can be found at https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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If you harbor in my safe house by P.E. Sloan

sparrow
If you harbor in my safe house
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You will cut a page from the book of life
You will walk along a highway that belches ozone
You will ignore the cars and focus on stymied lives of bare branches
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You will stop mid-page
And examine a petal of memory
You will wonder where you meandered
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You will turn to her as she sleeps peacefully
You will stroke her bare flank
You will inhabit her exhalation
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She will throw an arm around you
Her breast will breach the coverture
You will embrace as you have for ten thousand nights
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As snow falls in deformed pellets
You will remember your father
Up before dawn to shovel a path
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You will toss and turn
You will remember that you miss your father
That he always seemed to know the way
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The early dawn birdsong will remind you
That you did not sleep well
You will be anxious for the day that will unfold
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You will consider what to write on this page that you have cut
You may question what a book of life might be
You will long for soft snow that has no need for clearing
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You will think that you have crushed
The afterimage but you will remember
Too late, perhaps, that the palimpsest remains
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Like your baby son’s face that holds
The emotion after it passes
You will harbor an unstruck image
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You will cosset in your chimera of dreams.
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P.E. Sloan is a writer who lives in Northern Virginia and Brooklyn with his wife, Donna Cameron.  Originally from Chicago, P.E. attended college on the East Coast and then worked as a reporter and photographer and, occasionally, clueless deckhand in New England and the Florida Keys before getting some additional schooling and settling in for the pleasures of the long haul. His poems have appeared in Third Wednesday, Poetica, Cathexis Northwest Press and District Lines.

Mirror by Robert Beveridge

blood
Mirror
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Black
under ice
complete
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choked
chain studded inward
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brainpan boils
heaves black rot
strike
strike
fist sinks into flesh
finds first
organs
then bone
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bile burns black
in black light
fingernails tear
scars in yielding flesh
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blood
melts
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swc (1)

Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Ricochet Review, Poetry Pea, and Cattails, among others.

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Near-End of Day by Martin Willitts Jr.

owl
Near-End of Day
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We arrive at the near-end of a day,
its rush of sundown, a deep current
searching to root in the earth.
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The moon shines on a door,
through extended shadows
like a storm walking into a field.
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We must hurry home
when night tethers to the ground
its last breath of light.
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An owl swerves in the silence,
sharing with an unfortunate field mouse
what he’s learned from the darkness.
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We hear what is taken, what is missing.
On any given day, at any moment,
suddenness happens —
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Something is out of place.
In winter, light goes so far out,
we think it may never come back.
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Martin Willitts Jr, edits the Comstock Review, judges New York State Fair Poetry Contest. Nominated for 17 Pushcart and 13 Best of the Net awards. Winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2015, Editor’s Choice; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, Artist’s Choice, 2016, Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, 2018; Editor’s Choice, Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2020. His 25 chapbooks include the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections including Blue Light Award “The Temporary World.” His new book is “All Wars Are the Same War” (FutureCycle Press, 2022).

 

Chimney Swift: A Grammar by Cleveland Wall

chim
Chimney Swift: A Grammar
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In my spare time I am learning
the language of chimney swifts.
It sounds like constant flight
and indeed most morphemes are verbs,
expressed as a series of dips and swoops,
modified by a wild flutter of siku—
siku, song of southern haunts,
the steeps of Machu Pichu—
which functions as adverbial phrase
and/or coloratura.
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As with Spanish, I understand
a little, can read passably.
But to speak this language
requires wings.
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I study as best I can the few months
they are here. The conversation
is hard to follow, as native speakers
are airborne all day
and roost in a chimney at night.
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Round the old Masonic Temple
they gather at dusk and rise
to a crescendo before dropping
into spittle-woven nests.
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Cleveland Wall is a poet, teaching artist, and maker of things out of other things. She performs with interactive poetry troupe No River Twice and with musical combo The Starry Eyes. Her first full-length poetry collection, Let X=X , was published by Kelsay Books in the fall of 2019. She is also the sole librarian at Books on the Hill, a mighty twig of the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Last Call – Pandemic of Violence II – Poets Speak

Submissions close on July 30th 

As we hope to emerge from the Covid Pandemic that continues to swirl about us, we are faced with the continuing disregard for human life and dignity in record violence in our cities and towns across the globe. Coupled with sinister wars across the globe; internment camps; forced labor, (slavery), systemic poverty, what was once unspeakable is now considered the norm. We must speak up, this violence is unacceptable and unjustified.

This is our second call for Poets to speak up; call for an end to the violence; restore normalcy; document the atrocities.

Send your submissions to: sahmsguarnieriandreutter@gmail.com Up to four poems in one word doc. include your brief bio in the word doc. and send a photo in jpeg. Submissions are open until July 30th with anticipated publication in October. Please include in the subject line of your email: Pandemic of Violence Submission.

Our previous Pandemic of Violence I – Poets Speak can be read here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/12/27/pandemic-of-violence-anthology/

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