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Pat's poem, Barry Moser's illustration. Proceeds to AWA outreach. For the text of the poem, click here.

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Pat’s Blog

My mother telling stories on her last Christmas day

Yesterday I received a card from my daughter, Bethany, that was beautiful. On the cover, the words: When Peace, Like a River.

A rush of memories came, as she knew they would. My mother, whom I have finally written myself into forgiving and loving truly with all my heart, had a hard, hard life. And countless times I heard her singing to herself an old hymn, When peace like a river, attendeth my way . . .

Her father was a southern Missouri fundamentalist Christian who walked the floor at night struggling with what he perceived (rightly) were contradictions in the Bible — which to him meant the whole thing was worthless. He gave it up, embraced Darwin, and told my mother as a young girl, “I’d rather see you in your grave than baptized.” When she was an early teenager, she put Sunday clothes in a paper bag, changed into them behind bushes alongside the country road, walked to a Methodist camp meeting and got herself secretly baptized. Then in her late teens she joined a deep-down fundamentalist sect called “Mount Zion Holiness community.” Women there never cut their hair, wore their skirts to their boot tops, their sleeves to their wrists – almost unimaginable in those hot, southern summers. Their belief was that there are “two works of grace — salvation sand anctification.”
After sanctification, it was impossible for believers to sin.

My mother, Lelah Ridgway Vought, in earnest discussion with our theologian daughter, Laurel Schneider

Then she married my father, had two kids, and four years later divorced him for his drinking and whoring. (Another telling, for another time: he, too, has his story.)

She returned to the holiness community, rented a farmhouse on their land, across a two-track dirt road from their tabernacle. They considered her a fallen sinner for divorcing; they loved her and set themselves to trying to redeem her. She told me they were “the little, stingin’ kind,” and to stay away from them. But on summer evenings she sat on the porch during camp meetings in the tabernacle, and sang along as they sang hymns in four-part harmony – the music that Garrison Keillor has called the most sensual music in the world. Only once, in her entire life, did she ever again go to a church.

Granddaughter Sarah’s first violin

But she had a favorite hymn. Only the first verse, as the others are full of the theology she had fled. The words she sang are remarkable, given her story. It was written by Isaac Watts, who wrote some 600 hymns, among which is “Joy to the World.”

The card from Bethany brought my mother so strongly back to my mind and heart, I looked for a recording of the song, and was surprised not to find only one poor one in English, but a good number, both sung in Korean and instrumental. (Inserted at the end of this post). I chose a beautiful instrumental recording: When Peace, Like a River, Taiwan Gospel Book Room, Hymns of Praise 6.

Here are the words:
***
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul!

***

Bless your heart. Whatever your tradition, may you be able to find joy in it, or in the memory of it, in this holy season. May it be well with your soul. May you be blessed with music and with peace, like a river.

I have very seldom expressed myself on social media about political matters, but I am so pleased with this discovery I want to share it. Continue reading

It was a wonderful celebration, and it put me in mind of what miracles can happen when a small group of friends work together.  This weekend Amherst Writers & Artists Press released our thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth books of poetry by poets who have come into their own voices over many years of participation in AWA workshops, trainings, and in leading their own workshops.  Ellen Summers’ chapbook, Spooner’s Cove, is celebration of the ways of water, in the human body as well as on the face of the earth. Poet Patricia Lee Lewis calls them a “gorgeous collection of sea-spangled, archetypal poems. The Glass Train, by Annie Fahy, is a full book.  Sue Walker, Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2003-2012, wrote about it, “The poems . . . are delicate, beautiful, clear as crystal but also momentary shards of glass that cut when they deal with trauma.” Continue reading

Most of you who are reading this newsletter have written one or more poems beginning with the words, “I am from . . .”  because  the poem from which those words come is included in my book Writing Alone and With Others and has been, since the book’s publication in 2003, the most powerful prompt I know to offer people who think they cannot write a poem.

George Ella’s poem begins:

I am from clothespins,
 from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch . . .”,.
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click to see the full cover larger

I am delighted to announce that I have two poems coming out in the upcoming publication The Poetry of Presence.

I know many of the readers of this blog and on my mailing list are facilitating workshops in the AWA method, so you may be particularly interested. Here’s part of the promotiong for the book: “a valuable resource for literature teachers, spiritual directors, meditators, interfaith clergy, mindfulness trainers, social workers, counselors, poetry therapists, hospice and grief workers, and medical personnel.”

I’m honoured to be in the company of these poets, and many others:

Yehuda Amichai • Margaret Atwood • Ellen Bass • Wendell Berry • Robert Bly • Billy Collins • Mahmoud Darwish • Thich Nhat Hanh • Joy Harjo • Tony Hoagland • Miroslav Holub • Marie Howe • Erica Jong • Kabir • Galway Kinnell • Ted Kooser • Howard Nemerov • Kathleen Norris • Mary Oliver • Rainer Maria Rilke • Rumi • May Sarton • William Stafford • David Wagoner • Alice Walker and many more. Click here to see the full list of poets.
Continue reading

August 17th was the 60th Anniversary of our wedding — August 17th, 1957. Here’s a new poem and some old and new pictures.

TO A HUSBAND

Today the Visiting Nurse Association
has pronounced me able to walk up
the flight of stairs to our double bed.

According to the computer,
I am today 29,908 days old.
Of those days, I have lived with you
21,430 days. We have slept together
more than twenty-one thousand nights.

I gripped the handrail with two hands
as the Visiting Nurse physical therapist
watched from the first floor and you
Continue reading

Dear friends and companions,

I am honored to have been asked to lead one component of an on-line retreat that promises to be rich with opportunities to go inward artistically and/or spiritually, guided by leaders of various paths toward pilgrimage and wholeness.

Here is how Elizabeth Foley, creator of The Art of Spiritual Living Online Retreat, explains it:

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I am thinking these days about publishing, and my current mentor is “The Little Red Hen.” Listen up, girls and boys. You never get too old to have new understandings.  I’ll be 83 in a couple of weeks (how did this happen!!??), and so I know whereof I speak.  The Little Red Hen is teaching me something important.  For those of you too young to know her, she is the star of an old English or Russian folk tale, first published as a “Golden Book” on October 1, 1942, when I was eight years old.  I think she has always been important to me, but my clearest memories of her are of reading her story to my children. The Little Red Hen is quite elderly now.  No telling when she was born into folklore!  More about her later.
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A – at last.

B – be still.

C – care for your spirit

D – dream

E – eat, with deep pleasure

F – feel

G – go without knowing your destination Continue reading

Pat with daughter Bethany and granddaughter Sarah


Dear travelers with me,

some months ago I wrote this letter to a friend, and today she sent it back to me, thanking me for it. Day before yesterday was the Women’s March  – so now I tinker with my letter, update it, and offer it to you.  My own tradition is Christian – those of you who have read my books know my struggle with my tradition – here that struggle with its problems and its strengths are clearly visible.
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Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.