Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Columbia Poet’s Society


I put out a call for poets yesterday. Not just any poets, but ones whose names are referenced in the street names of Columbia. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of the response. The original street naming team of the New American City would be proud. 

I was inspired by this invitation posted by HoCoMoJo for an online event:

We invite all Columbians and Columbia faith communities (churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and houses of worship) to join in a community of silence on Tuesday, January 24 at 6:30 pm to bring our collective energy together to pray for a peaceful and compassionate resolution to the Columbia Association’s dispute.

Columbia residents have experienced months of unsettling reports regarding the relationship of the elected body known as the CA Council and the President, the person selected to lead the organization. No matter your perspective on the situation, as persons of faith, we know the tools of division and dissension do not serve to create harmony and respectful relationships within the community.

What if you’re not a person of faith? What if you’re a Columbian of good will but no prayers to offer? Maybe you want to gather in solidarity with people who care about positive solutions without name calling and blame. You don’t necessarily have to have religion to participate. I feel sure that the organizers of this event want everyone to feel welcome.

I offer for your contemplation some snippets of poetry written by our very own “Columbia Poets Society.” They may be good company for you during twenty minutes of contemplative silence.

To begin with, here are samplings from Bryant and Tolkien which bring to mind the beautiful natural setting of Columbia, especially her wooded spaces and pathways.

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs No school of long experience, that the world Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares, To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood And view the haunts of Nature. The calm shade Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm To thy sick heart.

- - William Cullen Bryant

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say

- - J.R.R. Tolkien

From Amy Lowell, an invitation to silence:

No, do not talk; but let us rather seize This intimate gift of silence which we know.

Walt Whitman offers resistance to expected religious norms:

Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be ceremonious?

And then, the heart of our concerns:

The single clenched fist lifted and ready, Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.


For we meet by one or the other.

- - Carl Sandburg 

How will Columbia move forward?

We have not wings, we cannot soar;

But we have feet to scale and climb

By slow degrees, by more and more,

The cloudy summits of our time.

- - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Do we want to build walls or bridges? 

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.

- - Robert Frost

Is this a battle for the soul of Columbia or the scramblings for personal power?

Others shall sing the song,

Others shall right the wrong,

Finish what I begin, And all I fail of win.

What matter, I or they?

Mine or another's day,

So the right word be said

And life the sweeter made?

- - John Greenleaf Whittier

Dickinson might be suggesting we get in our own way by taking ourselves too seriously.

I'm nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there 's a pair of us - don't tell!

They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

Jeffers speaks to our feelings of hopelessness.

I have also seen doom. You can stand up and struggle or lie 

down and sleep - you are doomed as Oedipus.

A man and a civilization grow old, grow fatally - as we say - 

ill: courage and the will are bystanders.

- - Robinson Jeffers

And, now, the People Tree. What does it mean to you? How does this image - -  shared by event organizers - - suggest new or different perspectives?

All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.

- - William Carlos Williams

Living in this community and wanting it to continue successfully feels like an endless struggle these days. Dunbar offers some simple but encouraging words:

If the hills are high before

And the paths are hard to climb,

Keep a-pluggin' away.

And remember that successes

Come to him who bides his time,

Keep a-pluggin' away.

From the greatest to the least, None are from the rule released.

Be thou toiler, poet, priest,

Keep a-pluggin' away.

- - Paul Laurence Dunbar 

But, how? We know it won’t be easy.

There is only one way to forgive-

With a whole heart.

There is only one way to forgive, 

Take a new start.

- - Vachel Lindsay

To learn more about tonight’s online event, visit the event page. 

To learn more about Columbia’s street names, the book “Oh, You Must Live in Columbia!” by Burke, Emrich, and Kellner is the most comprehensive resource. It’s available at the Howard County Library.

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