“Poetry will make your life infinitely better,” said a teacher.

“Take it with you in your heart and in your backpack.”

Most students scoffed.

From the box in the basement project. A book I read to our children.

From the box in the basement project. A book I read to our children.

This week five friends, ones who believed the teacher,

converged on a country road

and moved into a meadow

Meadows have always called forth poems.

Green pastures have always called forth poems.

Up the hill they went with one purpose:

to read poems to each other as the sun went down.

The grass flamed out like shook foil.


The light at sunset illuminates the leaves of grass.

The best part of all was walking in beauty as the night fell.

They continued eating and drinking the Precious words.

Reading Rumi by candle light.

Reading Rumi by lamp light.

Has poetry made your life better? Or are you still skeptical about the teacher’s claim?

Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists
steal.” I’ve stolen and borrowed from famous poems above. How many did you spot?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Laurie Buchanan on October 8, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Shirley —I love poetry. Mary Oliver is my all-time favorite. We had the opportunity (while still in Chicago) to listen to her read her own poetry. What a treat that was!

    Like “Where’s Waldo,” I spotted a borrowed snippet from God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Laurie, you would have loved this night also. We read quite a few poems from Mary Oliver.

      And good for you on finding Waldo, er, Gerard Manley Hopkins. They make a great pair!

  2. Marian Beaman on October 8, 2015 at 10:36 am

    You hit my literary sweet spot with this one. Gerard Manley Hopkins'”God’s Grandeur” has always been a favorite of mine with its sprung rhythm: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. /It will flame out, like shining from shook foil . . . ”

    “Walking in beauty” has the scent of Lord Byron and I think I smelled some Frost in there. I’ll let other readers ferret out the hidden nuggets I missed.

    Of course, poetry makes life better, the oil in its machinery. I especially like reading memoir or fiction by authors who are also poets,obvious in their rhythm and word choices.

    Clever idea for this season! You will never not be a teacher, Shirley. 😉

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 11:13 am

      “You will never not be a teacher,” either, Marian. That shook foil reference caught both you and Laurie above. That’s what happens to a rare and vivid image. People remember it centuries later.

      And you caught one of the more subtle references — Byron “she walks in beauty like the night.”

      The Frost you smelled wasn’t intentional. But anytime we are out in nature, we are in Frost territory. I did think of Frost when one of our group talked about looking face-to-face at a grey fox.

      You just reminded me that I wanted to send “Two Look at Two” to Vi. Thanks!

  3. Elaine Mansfield on October 8, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Wild nights – Wild nights!
    Were I with thee
    Wild nights should be
    Our luxury! ~Emily Dickinson (and eating and drinking the precious words)

    I’m a big fan of poetry, as you know. It touches the heart of grief and love as nothing else does. Dickinson, Oliver, Neruda, Rumi, Rilke, Chuang Tzu. My poetry shelf overfloweth with books.
    What a glorious gathering of women and poets. It’s inspiring to read about it and gives me ideas. Thank you.

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Ooh, it gives you ideas. Good! More details in case they help:

      The location is sensational: a hut on top of a ridge overlooking a valley and mountains beyond. (Probably no more wonderful than your own views, however.) We sat outside on the deck, wrapped in blankets, and drank wine, ate cheese and crackers, and chocolate. How could that go wrong?

      Each person was asked to bring one poem and the story explaining why it was important to her. Much laughter ensued! A few brimming eyes and hearts, also.

      • Viola Stahl on October 8, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        At Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community a group of us gather monthly every second Tues afternoon for a Poetry Read. What a rich time though we do not have the exotic atmosphere you described. Some share old or new favorites; others bring their own. Poetry stirs one no matter our age!

        • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 9:35 pm

          It’s so neat that you have a group like this, Viola. I have a suggestion for your group. In the little woods between EMU and VMRC there is a cabin owned by EMU. Maybe you can get permission to host a special meeting of your group in the cabin before it gets too cold. The outdoor setting adds a whole new dimension.

          But even if you don’t go to the woods, you can do so in your imaginations. And you can keep learning and growing from the wisdom of the ages this way. Kudos to you and all your group!

  4. Ruth Naylor on October 8, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Wow! The shook foil shook my soul once again. Who, having once read GMH’s image, could ever forget it? And “she walks in beauty like the night” was familiar though I could not have named the poet without looking it up. I also caught Whitman’s “leaves of grass” in one of the photo captions. Your experience of poetry in the night would be intoxicating in itself. Did your sips of wine help you explore some new poetic dimensions of the evening? 🙂

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      You found a new one, Ruth. It takes a poet to ferret out the words of other poets — and to look in the captions to find them.

      A good glass of wine always helps, I think. A great aid to appreciation of all kinds. But it was the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

  5. Joan Z. Rough on October 8, 2015 at 11:56 am


    Poetry is the be all and the end all. Especially on a night like you describe. I have many bookshelves stuffed with books of poetry and I am looking forward to getting back into writing poetry again once my memoir is published.

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      I’m excited to know that you are a poet as well as a visual artist, fiber artist, and memoirist. Did I get most of your art forms? You are an amazing woman, Joan, and I’m honored to know you.

      I hope some poems emerge as your book comes out into the world. Poems are always a sign of new life in the interior.

  6. Katie on October 8, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    This sounds so lovely! I’ve spent the last few years mostly without poetry (forgetting it existed?) and I am coming back to it lately– such power and beauty in the words.

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Oh it was, Katie! I’m glad to know that you have rekindled your old love. Poetry is a friend who will always be there for you. A good poem heads straight for the heart, soul, and unconscious mind.

  7. Linda Gartz on October 8, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    The photo of The Random House Book of Poetry for Children just sent shivers up my spine. Our cover is now a bit ragged (I’ve saved this along with several other of my sons’ fave books from childhood in case they ever have kids and I pass along.) We often read this poetry, some of which I have memorized (The Moon’s the Northwind’s Cookie…” and “The Owl And the Pussycat.”
    I took an online class, Modern and Contemporary Poetry, online through Coursera 3 years ago led by Al Filreis, the rockstar of ModPo, as we call it. Check it out, everyone. Offered every year and you can take with or without credit. I learned so much, and it’s set up beautifully. All kinds of ways to participate!

    • shirleyhs on October 8, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      I have the cover too, Linda, but I took it off because it too is a little ragged. 🙂 And I took ModPo too last year — very much an “auditor” but enough to have my opinion transformed about the potential of online education. Wow! It was so intimate and deep. I wished I could have had the time to take it like a grad student, but I saw enough to know that I want to put it on my list for later. Good to know that Filreis teaches it every year.

      I was impressed, when I revisited the Random House book, at how much literary poetry was included without making the poems seem stuffy or obscure. Really good selections for all ages.

  8. Kathleen Pooler on October 10, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Shirley, I’m always amazed how poetry captures so much in so few words. Your “wild night” sounded very enticing and the photos are exquisite. I don’t read poetry as much as I could. Your lovely post certainly motivates me to give it a try.

    • shirleyhs on October 12, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Kathy, the full poem “Wild Nights” is quoted by Elaine above and seemed appropos for this setting. I read a quote recently that claimed all writing depends on poetry. If it doesn’t have good rhythm and imagery, we get bored reading prose. You might want to try subscribing to The Writers Almanac. You’ll get one good poem every day, and that will get you started. Cheers!

  9. Marylin Warner on October 10, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    One of my favorite poetry teachers was a substitute teacher who came in at the last minute when the 4th grade teacher got sick. The sub brought along a book of children’s poetry filled with a variety of poems. She wrote the first few lines of eight poems on the front and back boards and then set out chalk. We went around and wrote the next line or two after our favorite poems, then went back to our seats until we could add more lines to those written by our classmates. The rest of the day flew by, and after recess the teacher read aloud to us the real, complete poems.

    • shirleyhs on October 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      Absolutely brilliant lesson plan, Marylin. And what a testimony it is that you remember this substitute teacher and this activity after all these years. Love this story. She must have had a talent for teaching, but she also knew that every child can be seduced by words and rhythms. Thanks so much for sharing this story. Brightened my day.

  10. Sherrey Meyer on October 14, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Shirley, I vicariously enjoyed your wild night, and as you ask about favorite poets, I knew immediately the poet I’d mention–William Stafford named Oregon Poet Laureate in the early 1970s. My personal favorite is When I Met My Muse:

    I glanced at her and took my glasses
    off–they were still singing. They buzzed
    like a locust on the coffee table and then
    ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
    sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
    knew that nails up there took a new grip
    on whatever they touched. “I am your own
    way of looking at things,” she said. “When
    you allow me to live with you, every
    glance at the world around you will be
    a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

  11. Shirley Showalter on October 15, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Sherrey, Thanks so much for sharing another favorite poet. In fact, I read two William Stafford poems to the group that night under the stars. I love his work. He evidently wrote a poem every day.

    I love the seduction of the muse combined with an almost fairy godmother-like power in this poem.

    May you be visited by a powerful muse yourself. Today and always.

  12. Richard Gilbert on October 16, 2015 at 10:27 am

    This is absolutely lovely, Shirley. And such a good reminder to get and read this book and other poetry collections to my granddaughter. She’s only 10 months. But it’s not too soon to build her library!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 16, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Right! Early reading, especially rhythmic reading while cuddling on a lap, goes deep into a child’s body, mind, and spirit.

      I just know what a wonderful grandpa you are, Richard.

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