Monday, August 7, 2017


This week we present poems by Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik, who blogs at Imagine, Wendy Bourke, of Words and Words and Whatnot  , and Sara McNulty, of Purple Pen in Portland , who is presently making a huge leap across the country to New York. Hmmm....will the name of her blog change, do you suppose? These poems seemed to follow a theme of accessing resources, both inner and outer, in order to withstand the cacophony of bad news that surrounds us. I thought we might all be in need of some resources at the moment, so here is a bouquet of possibilities for you. Enjoy!

as the departed but always present Mr. Rogers said... 

some will say such is the sign of a soul
that will spare no cost to tear the
fabric of freedom forever -
some will say that terror is a gift of
love toughest that will lift all nations
to rise to their better selves...
I say that despite the fierce or flighty
Despite the deeds that dismay, taunt, or
Terrify - it is the mercy of morality that
Shall always open the jar that holds the
firefly to soar sparkling - and thus bind 
all wounds despite origin of infliction.

Sherry: I love the brightness of that firefly, in response to the darkness, and I do hope humans and nations will rise to our better selves soon.

Pearl: “Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Thoughts on “look for the helpers:”

       Frankly on re-reading this poem I must begin by stating that it seems raw and a bit unclear, yet the subject which it addresses is a significant part of my soul and a mantra of my very being and so, although self-conscious about its merit, I am thoroughly delighted that the sensibility of “look for the helpers” did resonate enough to be chosen for this honor.

       The full quote above is by Mr. Fred Rogers, known to many as a television host for tiny children and, in my humble opinion, also a philosopher king for adults. Fred Rogers was imbued with, and shared a pure sense of, the goodness that lies throughout this spinning blue orb of ours. He brought to others a sense of reassurance and safety. Reassurance that spanned a spectrum ranging from toddlers' normative terrors of disappearance and annihilation (i.e. the terror of a sucking whirlpool known to adults as the toilet) – onto the ability to reassure an educated aging middle-ager such as myself grappling with another unexpected attack upon innocents.

       This particular poem was written on a recent Sunday morning following the attacks in Manchester from my home in Long Island, NY, located within a country where common values and striving for national ideals seems to have been distorted so as to have me often thinking that I reside not in my home at all, but someplace beyond the looking glass in a surreal Carollian world where Alice and the Mad Hatter might reasonably appear. Yet that discussion, my friends, is a tale for a different time.

       At any rate, on Sundays I typically rise early and take a peek at a handful of words that I have tucked away for a “Sunday Whirl,” write a poem, post it, read and comment on the work of others and return to sleep.  The Sunday of “Look for the Helpers” I don’t remember the precise words, but they coalesced into the poem that is above.  As a psychoanalyst/poet I believe that a handful of words seem to engage and free my unconscious to coalesce into poetic worlds sometimes completely mysterious to me or, as in this case, to articulate, to consolidate heretofore vague yet persistent states of emotion. 

       Recently Sara McNulty, with whom I am delighted to share this space, wrote that we are in a tidal wave of information with a consequence that the “More knowledge about the world is shrinking our empathy for it.” Perhaps my striving to reassure myself and, I suppose, others, of the ongoing presence of empathy in “helping” is a defense against the incipient horror of such a shrinking loss of empathy. Although I do intellectually agree that this seems to be a quite possible danger, I am witnessing and proposing, albeit perhaps through some rose tinted lenses, that we humans seem to belong to a group as a whole that is driven by a common core of cooperation.

       Indeed I would go so far as to say that “inhumanity” might be defined as indifference itself. I continue to be fascinated and encouraged with the willingness of those sharing a threat to life and limb to help one another - be it terrorism, tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, pandemic ...there always seem to be those there to dig through rubble with bare hands, to wipe ash from eyes stun shocked with trauma, those who will carry bodies streaming with blood or corpses already cold. I watch, in cheering optimism for us all, as fellow humans dive into rising waters of mayhem to pull one another to safe harbors, both actual and metaphysical. “We” are for the most part a cooperative lot.  It is the absence of cooperation, the indifference or even at the fringes those who seek to inflict suffering, that gets our attention. There are always the helpers rising through ash, or dust, or smoke or terrorized stampede - always the helpers and always this intrinsic call for connection and cooperation that engages us in a fabric of humanity and reactivation of hope even in the most desperate of situations. 

        This intrinsic empathy and drive toward connection and help is, I believe, why we are fascinated when we see such in the animal kingdom: not because the behavior, say, of elephants assisting a new mother post partum is different from us, but because we hone in on an essential familiarity - what we refer to as "human" or more properly "humane" behavior. 

       We are terrified when terrorized by the lack of care for another by a member of our own specie - be that the chilling indifference of the, by now, archetypal waving left or right by a sepia colored, Nazi pointing in chilling indifference toward life or death, or the youngster with a cause of hatred plunging into a crowd with murder on the mind. 

       Certainly there exist those who are disturbed and distorted by hatred and murderous rage, but the helpers among them and essential light of hope always outnumbers these outliers ...and so even in the midst of the horrific spectre of recent images from Manchester, from Paris, from Germany, from Syria and so on and on throughout the globe, playing as bizarre entertainment on endless loops of cable news – I find hope sparkling like so many fireflies.

       I truly believe that it is this “light” that sparkles within all and know that even if times seem dark and desperate, the firefly perhaps apparently invisible in the brightest frightening blaze of anger will soar and sparkle in the darkest night - symbol of a collective spirit far greater than any created perverse distortion of what I believe to be essential humanness.

       Yes there shall perhaps forever be that which terrifies and threatens and indeed actualizes harm but always the helpers outnumber the hatred. So, it has always been and so it shall always be as long as we look to the helpers and see that they are always there and remember that we are always on call.

Sherry: This does give great hope, Pearl. I have noted this quality in humans also, in the midst of every trauma, the hands reaching out to help others. Thank you for reminding us of this.

Wendy recently wrote a poem of hope, as well. This time looking at ourselves as ones who can make a difference in the corners where we are. Let's take a peek.

I Am the Difference

I am the difference in my day …
and like the little Steller's Jay
– I’d spotted in the garden plot –
took flight, not thinking it could not …
I too, am master of my way

the bird soared passed the birch trees’ sway
and billowed boughs and lawn hose spray –
and as I watched its path, I thought,
I am the difference

I am the difference in my day –
the gentle word, the kinder way,
the meal shared, the child taught,
the hug, the smile, the good fight fought,
with soldier-on and plug-away …
I am the difference

Sherry: I so love this poem! It is true, we are the only ones who can make a difference in our day, with the spirit in which we rise to meet it.

Wendy: 'I am the difference’ came out of my interest in classical forms – and is a Rondeau.   Although, I write a lot of free verse poetry, I do try to remain open to all forms of poetic expression and have tried my hand – or rather, my pen –  at many of them.  A lot of classical forms employ various types of repetition which creates an impactful, and often mesmerizing echoing effect, as the poem unfolds.  Poets who use repetition in their work (and several poets at Poets United do) know that the choice of the repetitive phrase is critical.  As I have pursued classical forms I have become much more attuned to phrases that I find strong and evocative and when they 'find me’, it is  kind of an “aha moment”.  The words: ‘I am the difference’, was such a phrase – and when it ‘found me’ the poem began to crystalize in my mind. 

American revolutionary Thomas Paine once famously said: “These are the times that try men’s souls” and I think that quote is as applicable today as it was in the 18th century.  There is growing frustration that – not only are issues such as climate change and human rights – not being addressed; in many instances regressive measures are being put in place.  In this atmosphere of upheaval and frustration, I had (and continue to have) a growing sense that we can at least – indeed, we must – begin to take more personal responsibility.  I asked myself: is there anything that individuals can do to make even a small difference?  And the answer I came to was “Yes”.

I began the poem with an observation about the Steller’s Jay (the provincial bird of BC, by the way).  My point was that if a little bird possesses some sort of instinct or will to fly off, how much more capable of being self-determinate – in our actions – must human beings be.   As the ancient Chinese proverb says: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Even the most difficult undertaking has a starting point.  And so, in the third stanza, I put forth very small positive gestures – my thinking being that, if we all proceeded with small positive steps, even the toughest challenges facing humankind would see improvement.

Sherry: Wise words, my friend. Thank you.

I took some comfort from Sara's poem about the constancy of nature, so steady in the midst of all man-made cacophony.

Blood fills, spills
into my brain. No
drain for inhumanity,
war, famine, homelessness,
and sheer stupidity.
Must protect my heart,
keep it apart from daily
horrors, and circus acts.
I look to enduring news–
nature’s colors.  Paint
my heart in green grass,
gold sun, purple irises,
and pink peonies.  Seek
out smiles, strain to hear 
laughter. Cannot imagine 
a hereafter.

Sherry: The imagery is so beautiful in this poem, Sara - nature's palette in counterpoint to the dark doings of humankind.

Sara: The amount of news we are now confronted with is immense. In 2011, information scientists deduced that Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986‚the equivalent of 175 newspapers (See Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind). And that was before the advent of social media. (In a 2016 Pew Research poll, 44 percent of Americans say they get their news from Facebook.) Yet the information glut is far more from other fields of entertainment, like streaming movies, gaming and porn.

For one thing, most of poetry’s news comes from the heart, a place that is too serious for idle entertainment and far too deadly earnest to waste energy on fake news.
And although a poem can be elaborately tuned, poetry remains naked communication— simple, honest and direct.
Poetry has few ulterior motivations. It sells nothing and is paid less.
Then there is the sense of what the novelist E.L. Doctorow called bearing witness to a magnitude. Our poems are the Rorschach prints of our age. We write the news about the news, in synesthesiac detail.
Finally, there is great economy in the news brought by poetry. News is a gift brought back from the Otherworld, it is the knowledge that is hard to attain. This is news the world can use.
So let’s write about the news. What is the news that poetry brings to the world? When did some news suddenly change your world, and how? What is it like to live in a news-saturated world? How is our sense of reality changing with the silos that have formed with such different ways of seeing things? How to bridge that gap between knowledge and action?
And what about the soul’s, the heart’s news? Do things we learn from inner sources differ than news of the world? Is there such a thing as a glut of soul news?
What about news we get from afar – the Otherworld, the hearts of our beloveds, the dead?
And in this time when national news is breaking by the seeming hour, what is the news of the tribe’s enduring and seasoning and becoming?
One criticism of this glut is that the more we know, the less we do. This was argued by Ned Postman in his 1984 book Amusing Ourselves To Death, a diatribe against the killing effect of TV entertainment culture on public discourse. (It is frighteningly prescient of our Internet age, as Megan Garber recently illustrated in The Atlantic.) In an news-saturated universe, “most of (it) is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.” “We have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.”
In the Internet age, there has also been a devaluing of the truth in news as consumers of news have infinite choice in their sources, many of which prize attention over reality. Very gripping report on the alt-right and related online hate groups from Data & Society titled “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” (The worst bit of news there is that a growing sub-tribe mixes real hate with just-kidding-irony so that there is no way to know whether an utterance is odious or offensively tedious.)
More knowledge about the world is shrinking our empathy for it. This was demonstrated in a 2007 study of online dating where participants were given more and less information about their prospective partners. Ambiguity was the clear winner. The where the researchers concluded, “Although people believe that knowing leads to liking, knowing more means liking less.” Worse for all of us, the more our tribe thinks they know about each other, the sharper our sense of difference, the easier it attaches to filter bubbles where everyone seems the same.
Sherry: It does get overwhelming. But we have to stay alert and aware. When news is so distracting, it offers the potential for sleight-of-hand behind the scenes, and the public only becomes aware after the fact.

Thank you, Sara, for adding your voice to the conversation. And I hope your move goes wonderfully for you. We look forward to the poems you will write in your new location.

Thank you, ladies, for starting our week off with such thoughtful writing. You give us much to think about.

Do come back, my friends, to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. How refreshing are the words of hope! I am sometimes nearly overwhelmed by the somber tone of many of the poems I read, so I am especially happy to read the hopeful words of these poets. Thank you all for sharing!

  2. "And although a poem can be elaborately tuned, poetry remains naked communication— simple, honest and direct." Sara spoke my mind in reading this entire feature and all the poems in it. What helps us and what heals us as we stand in front of what Sherry calls "the cacophony of bad news"? I've got the voice of the wicked witch of OZ in my head singing "Don't bring me no more bad news!" And all your words, Pearl and Wendy and Sara, bring me what I want to hear--honest heart and art and discussion of how to survive. Thank you.

  3. I figured we could all do with some uplifting lines. Thank you, Pearl, Wendy and Sara for lifting our spirits, reminding us to access what resources we have, and for infusing us with some much-needed hope.

  4. Great feature, Sherry, thank you. And many thanks to Pearl, Wendy and Sara, who are as eloquent in prose, here, as they always are in verse. I have probably already shared with Poets United, in some context, one of my favourite quotes from the I Ching: 'The only way to defeat evil is to make energetic progress in the good.' What fine examples of that you three are! And you help to remind us all.

  5. Pearl, I like the idea of looking for the helpers. Actually I belong to a Facebook group of a similar name. And I agree with you that inhumanity is indifference; and there is definitely so much of this in our world right now.

    Wendy, I like the idea of "I am the difference." It is empowering, and I think we all must keep that thought & act on it. We may not control the universe, but perhaps we can make a difference in our own small sphere.

    Sara, I like the idea of seeking out smiles and straining to hear the any event, looking for the good. I appreciated your comments too. I was truck by your thought that 'more knowledge of the world is shrinking our empathy for it.' I never thought of it that way, but I think this is true.

    Sherry - great feature once again. Thank you for featuring these fine poets & their worth while messages here today!

  6. Thank you for all your work, Sherry.

  7. You did an awesome job selecting poems that work together wonderfully, Sherry. What an honor to be featured with such stellar poets. What I got, primarily, from this piece is the message that: we have come to a place where we must all begin to look for the good. We no longer have the luxury of standing blithely by, waiting for goodness to appear before us. Goodness does exist. It is, as Pearl put it so eloquently, that ”collective spirit far greater than any created perverse distortion of what I believe to be essential humanness.” We must look for those qualities in humankind that unite us graciously, and wherever we find goodness, we must celebrate it and shine a light upon it and proclaim: this ‘empathy’ … this ‘kindness’ … this ‘selflessness’ – this is human conduct, we respect and strive to emulate. And when we are confronted with the opposite we must acknowledge that it is wrong … often, so wrong, it is evil.

    Sara made the point that “In the Internet age, there has also been a devaluing of the truth.” That devaluation is very disturbing and is addressed again and again by the poets of Poets United. But even in these dark days, there is hope. We – the consumers of information – have the power to control what we want brought into our lives – and ultimately can have an affect on the ‘messages’ that are being produced for us: the information consumers. There is peace – nature’s constant – all around us. That is certainly my go-to place, when I am feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world and Sara’s poem speaks to that ‘gift’. And there are personal initiatives that we can pursue – ‘good’ acts. To paraphrase my earlier remark: if we all (or, at least most of us) proceed in small positive ways: humanely, with empathy, cherishing truth, respectful of nature, I believe, that, even the toughest challenges facing humankind will improve.

  8. I am feeling lifted by the discussion happening in here. Thank you all for your messages of hope. I so resonate with everything said. Wendy, thank you for your input, above. I feel empowered just reading your comment. Especially acknowledging goodness and humanity wherever we find it. In the darkest hours, we see, again and again, the best in humanity as people reach out to help others. Yes, there is darkness, but light shines more brightly.

    Mary, it is my pleasure to fill this space every Monday with words we hope will reach peoples' hearts. We have such amazing poets and people in this community. Sure makes my job a delight!

  9. This is a wonderful post ladies. Beautifully uplifting thoughts expressed by our dear poets. Thank you :)

  10. I agree this is really excellent....poems and interview both.....Sherry I love how you weave it all together. And dear poets, wow! Very inspirational and shores me up with hope as we slug through our present conditions!

  11. Oh my! I just a wrote a quick comment about how deeply moved I am to be part of this particular column ...and whoosh it vanished before I could post ... So, here I am again... in the midst of working and yet ...ahhh sweet Universe the person coming to see me somehow, for the first time ever, inadvertently missed her appointment - and now I have a bit of time and a nod to the Universe for the moments to comment. Thank you to Sherry for this opportunity and honor to be here .. in the midst of global, national and family cacophony, I am finding that words are completely insufficient to express how deeply uplifted I feel (can one be "deeply uplifted?") to be part of this connection of caring that we ALL share. I need to re-read Wendy's wonderful poem again- I could not agree more that it we, all our individual "I's," that make the difference, and Sara - ever the artist with those lush colors painting the world.... Oh my! ... the poems, the poems, the poets, and yet there is more here, is so much that is important to read and digest - I noticed Neal Postman's mention- he was a favorite professor of mine a - young man at the time... but most importantly there are all of us... Us... Oh my, in my haste to post ... I can see that I am truly babbling ... Before I leave for now, and put us all out of this misery of this torrent of words- I must of course thank my favorited Wild Woman, Sherry for this opportunity... In a week that seems particularly spinning with all polarities of life is wonderful to stop a moment from the spinning cacaphony - be with you all and know that we are among helpers all .... and so I say to one and all and each and every for just this moment ...and to all the small moments we can find as they appear ... and they do appear.... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.............. We are one and the one is good. Peace & Love & the strength of the poetry of life, in us and to us all.

  12. Thank you, Pearl, for your enthusiastic words. You make me smile. Yes, it is good to stop from the spinning cacophony....thankfully we poets have a way to release our angst, and pen our hopes.......we must keep writing , through it all.

  13. wow amazing poetry Very inspirational I really enjoyed them and the interview

  14. Thank you ladies for the conversation and the beautiful poems which so clearly echoes the thoughts of so many. Once again we like Pandora are left with but hope that we might see a for more peaceful Earth than the one we are continually confronted with.

  15. Dear Sherry It has been a week of interruptions, I have come to read, only to be interrupted. It happened several times, but now on this quiet Saturday morning. I am reading and enjoying and agreeing with three of my favorite poets. Such beautiful words, and so wise. Thank you to each of you for your contributions to this wonderful post. xoxo


This community is not meant to be used in a negative manner. We ask that you be respectful of all the people on this site as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive