Friday, June 9, 2017

Moonlight Musings

One Poem at a Time

A while back, you may recall, I was musing on whether – and how – poetry could save the world. I postulated various possible answers to this question, one of which, 'one poem at a time', I labelled as the 'smart rat' answer.

Well, maybe it was simply the smart answer. And maybe, rather than saving the whole wide world all at once, our poetry can save a bit of it at a time.

Last week we saw how Tony Walsh's Manchester poem, 'This Is the Place', helped give heart and inspiration to a city reeling from a terrorist attack. This poem was not the only thing that did so, but it was seized on by the public, almost as a rallying cry. This effect was beyond the poet's wildest dreams, particularly as he wrote it before the attack, but what a wonderful effect for any poem to have.

The latest on his fb page is this:

In the foreword/manifesto to my book I wrote about trying to reach ordinary people with my poetry. Last night people chanted for about 10 minutes on a packed, boisterous tram until I did this, then chanted my name all the way home, including when I'd sat down and they thought I'd got off.
Some of the news and buzz sites are starting to share this now, I've got an email from CNN here, so Lawd knows where it'll end up.
There'll be other videos too, lots of people filmed it on their phones, some of them were crying. So many hugs/kisses/selfies yesterday and around town at the moment. So many people re-thinking what a poem is and what it can do. Overwhelming. Confusing. Surreal. Beautiful.

(This is accompanied  by a photo-tweet from a member of the public – which unfortunately I am unable to transfer here –  of Tony reading the poem on the 'packed, boisterous tram', to a background of shouted applause and people chiming in on some of the most stirring lines. They know and love it so well already.)

In a different way, here is another wonderful example of 'what a poem is and what it can do'. Do you recall Leigh Spencer's 'Freedom Ride' poem about a rescue dog? I used it in 'I Wish I'd Written This' in March last year. Let me  refresh your memory: 

Freedom Ride

They know, you know

When you slip that temporary leash on them
they vibrate
while you sign their release papers

The lap they sit on
in the getaway car
belongs to the new
love of their life

They know
a savior
when they see, lick, and smell one

Susie was a skeletal Chihuahua mix
two years old and e-listed
for being a stray and too thin

My son’s was the lap she sat on
and the pillow she slept on that first night
wrapped around his sleeping head

Seven years later
she has her own staircase
to reach the top bunk
where my teenager 
HER teenager

She hangs over the edge
protective gargoyle

Never doubt
all twelve healthy pounds of her
would face any threat, real or imagined
for him

Sarah was fifteen
same owners her whole life

They couldn’t afford to have her teeth cleaned
so they dropped her off to be put down

Spry, adorable, and surprisingly quiet
Jack Russells usually bark
but not when their vocal chords are cut

I guess that surgery was affordable
when she was a pup

Sarah had her head out the open window
worshipping the sun and wind on her smiling face

When we stopped at the park,
she nearly wrenched my arm out of the socket
tearing off to run in the grass, chase pigeons, 
and play with ALL the children

Apple was twelve, fat, and blind

She literally pranced to my car
proud and happy, past all the other dogs and kennels

She wedged herself between me and the steering wheel
smiling, clumsy, endlessly goofy

My lap and then my heart
claimed as hers

Before they know
about ample food and indulgent treats
about soft, warm beds
about pats and scratches and belly rubs
about people who will never leave them
scared, hurt, or alone
about HOME – a safe place to FINALLY 
share their divine, unconditional love

Before they know any of that,
they know their greatest joy 
with that temporary leash
that welcoming, open door
that savior’s lap

of the freedom ride

© Leigh D C Spencer 2016

It still makes me cry good tears.

You may recall that this poem was commissioned for a fund-raiser for shelter dogs. Now, with her permission, here is a recent facebook post of Leigh's:

So, I got this little email today:

Hi Leigh,
Something amazing happened last night that you need to know about.
Last year, you donated your original poem Freedom Ride to my local Humane Society event. The piece was framed and decorated with paw prints of one of our pups before they found their forever home. Well that piece was purchased by our board chair and gifted to the volunteer who adopted the pup who did the paw prints.
Fast forward to last night - we held our annual auction once again and our board chair had a spot in the program to speak to the crowd.
Unbeknownst to me, he told the crowd that he was not going to bore them with stories about our organization and all that we do, instead he announced that he wanted to read an original poem written for us by Leigh Spencer titled Freedom Ride!
Leigh, he didn't read it, he had MEMORIZED IT and spoke your words with such passion that you could only hear his voice in the room speaking your words. I'm sorry I was too shell shocked to pull my new iPhone out of my purse to record it for you. . . but then again I think I have saved you a box worth of tissues.
His name is ************ if you feel you would like to reach out to him.
Just wanted to let you know what your wonderful gift has done a year later.
With much appreciation,


So, yeah. My little writer's heart is pretty much exploding with pride and joy. <3 <3

I did reach out to him to say THANK YOU. And I managed to leave out the part where I frantically ran circles around my office, squealing "Holy shitballs! Holy shitballs!" Because, you know, words have power. :D

So, forgive me dear readers, please – this is not a musing in itself, so much as a follow-up to that earlier one. And a reminder: write the words, get them out there! They do indeed have power.

Fame must be wonderful, and Leigh and Tony thoroughly deserve their slice of it. Money would be nice too – but any money received for these poems is donated back to the causes they support. What matters more than fame or wealth is to be able to move people with our poetry. And beyond that, to have an effect in changing our world for the better: lifting the spirits of a city, a country, to the defiance which refuses to let terror win; helping a dog shelter rescue more hurt or abandoned animals and find them homes. What great things for poetry (and poets) to do!

Some of us may be doing it in a quieter way. If we write to educate people about injustice, readers who are made aware may pass the message, if not the poem itself, to others. When we write of love, or the beauties of nature, or our pleasure in family, we may soften readers' hearts and lift their spirits, so that their mood then lifts the spirits of others. And so on. 

Keep writing! Keep communicating! It is one thing we can do, and keep doing, in the face of all the ills of the world that we also hear about. Not all people make poetry; nevertheless, poetry is the voice of the people.

Material shared in ‘Moonlight Musings’ is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. Thank youf or sharing, the poem made me cry, too.

  2. Sigh, how I love your Musings, especially this one.........the Manchester poet proves beyond a doubt how poetry moves people. In his case, his poem moved and rallied a nation. I love Leigh's poem, of course, and could see each hopeful dog. Loved this...........Thank you.

    1. You are very welcome. I enjoy creating these posts.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful example of the power of poetry. I appreciate your wise advice that we must keep writing. I've stopped for a while and now am inspired to resume.

    1. Myrna, I couldn't be more delighted at this result!

  4. Rosemary, thank you for this wonderful essay, about what a single poem can do and be. But, after reading it, I couldn't help thinking of all the negative responses a poet might encounter while attempting to write. Those things said or written to get us to stop doing what we do. The bland and meaningless "That's nice", to "You'll never make money doing that." I've been writing poetry for almost forty years, and have run up against both kinds of responses, more negative than positive at times. Too often we feel hurt by that negative response. Perhaps we shouldn't. It is still a response. Something we said, hit a nerve. Enough to get someone to object. Which means, we have been heard. Genuine critique is meant to help us be better at what we do. And for that we can be grateful. However, don't you ever have to wonder at how many people want to stop us from doing what we do? Isn't that a very real sign that what we do has real purpose and meaning? That our words can be a threat to someone Else's comfort zone? Someone who knows, somewhere inside of them, that poetry is a powerful and necessary means to bring about change and healing to a world sorely in need of those commodities.

    Don't get me wrong, your essay is wonderfully moving,and I particularly liked the poems you chose to highlight, but it was also thought provoking as well, obviously.


    1. Good points! In some countries poetry is a dangerous occupation for just such reasons. Tyrants prefer to suppress the voice of the people, brutally if they deem it necessary. Thanks for reminding us that even in more democratic societies, individuals may feel threatened and try insidious ways to disempower us.

    2. And yes, as you suggest, this is in itself evidence that our words have power.

  5. Being poetic is privilege.
    At times keep reminding, please;
    We rejoice!

  6. Thank you, Rosemary

  7. An awesome post! Poetry has a way of gladdening the human heart - uniquely - with each cast of its magic spell.

    1. You and Sumana (below) both point to the magic of poetry ... and I remember that at one time – long, long ago – poetry and magic were synonymous.

  8. In time of need nothing works like poetry. Doesn't it flow from the most sensitive of hearts having a command on words? So magic happens. Such a wonderful post Rosemary! Simply LOVE it.

    1. Thank you for this lovely comment, Sumana. 'In time of need nothing works like poetry.' That's practically my slogan for living! (And applies to both the writing and the reading / hearing of it.)

  9. This article really REALLY moved me, Rosemary. Thank you for following up with an article about both of these fine poets. It definitely goes to show that poets CAN do a lot of good in the world in their own way. I was especially moved once again when I read Leigh's wonderful poem "Freedom Ride." Truly this poem needs to have ToNS of exposure. It should be shared by humane societies and shelters everywhere. Truly moved did the letter written to her which she shared on her FB page about what happened when it was shared. Makes me want to adopt more dogs!!! Smiles. Thanks, Rosemary, for all you do to inspire us on Fridays/Saturdays each week!

    1. Very happy to have moved and inspired you, Mary – or rather, to have facilitated Tony and Leigh doing so. I think we need to remind ourselves sometimes, via such shining examples of honest, passionate poetry, that the days of 'ivory towers' are long gone.

  10. Very cool. I'm not sure if I am more impressed by the story you tell or by the passion with which you tell it. Thank you.

  11. I think poetry can quietly change the world. I love the poem about the rescue dogs - every living being deserves to feel safe and at home in this world


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