“A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford
Sometimes in this crazy world that’s getting a little more nutty every day, we need a voice that’s “shadowy” to speak truth. Someone who can “talk” from beyond the grave, that “remote important region.” Sometimes we need a poet in a turban. Sometimes we need a poet covered in tattoos. We need a little Rumi and Mac Miller now.
I’ve been reading Rumi this month, and he is not exactly my cup of tea. But this 13th century Sufi mystic remains one of the most popular poets in the world, and so when I got a deal on The Essential Rumi, I decided to dive in. Then I read a Tweetspeak post about a student who combined the lyrics of rapper Lauryn Hill with lines from poet Emily Dickinson, and I stood up inside myself and said, RUMI AND MAC ARE SOUL BROTHERS!
Like Rumi, Mac has never been my cup of tea either, but after his death from an accidental overdose, his family postumously released his album Circles, and I finally understood his popularity
The more I think about the similarities between these two artistsi, the more excited I get. I like the idea of Mac as a mystic, or alternatively, Rumi as a rapper.
Here’s a sentence about Rumi that works for Mac as well: “Rumi’s fame during his own lifetime was notable, and his death was widely mourned.” If Rumi had a YouTube channel I suspect the comments would be just as laudatory as those on Mac’s, with sentiments like “see you in the next life brother” and “Stress no more. Rest easy,” and “I hope he knows how many people he helped, especially after death.”
So let’s do this. Let’s place lines from Rumi’s My Worst Habit beside Mac’s Good News. Let’s make some weird, wild poetry. I chose these two works in particular because both have a sense of hopeful despair.
My Worst Habit: Good News
R: My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
M: Well so tired of being so tired
R: I become a torture to those I’m with
M: No they don’t like me when I’m down
R: My words / tangle and knot up
M: What is there to say?
R: If you’re not here, nothing grows.
M: I’m running out of gas, hardly anything left / Hope I make it home from work
R: How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
M: When you’re high but you’re underneath the ceiling
R: When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools
M: Why I gotta build something beautiful just to go set it on fire?
R: Dig a way out through the bottom / to the ocean
M: Wake up to the moon, haven’t seen the sun in a while / But I heard that the sky’s still blue
R: Take sips of breath all day and night / before death closes your mouth.
M: I’m always wonderin’ if it feel like summer / I know maybe I’m too late
R: Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
M: There’s a whole lot more for me waitin’ on the other side
M: It ain’t that bad / ain’t so bad / well it ain’t that bad / at least it don’t gotta be no more
R: There is a secret medicine / give only to those who hurt so hard / they can’t hope
R: The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.
M: It make ‘em so uncomfortable
In the section The Essential Rumi, translator Coleman Brooks tells an old Chinese Taoist story that ends with this observation: “Rumi’s poems are like firecrackers on a funeral pyre. They won’t allow much public posturing, and they point us away from misery.” Sometimes the only way to make sense of this life’s remote important regions is to light a fire, stand back, and let the teaching begin.
The Essential Rumi, Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translator Coleman Brooks (not quite done)
My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (This is what happens when poets write novels.)
The Enneagram of Belonging, Christopher L. Heuertz
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Dancing Prince, our own Glynn Young (the last in the five-part series)
Early Readers and Picture Books
Anno’s Medieval World, Mitsumasa Anno
Please Bury Me in the Library, J. Patrick Lewis, illus. Kyle M. Stone (playful children’s poetry)
Sure As Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit & His Walkin’ Talkin’ Friends, Alice McGill, illus. Don Tate (Join us for Children’s Book Club, Friday, August 14!)
Middle Grade and YA
The Devlin Quick Mysteries: Digging for Trouble, Linda Fairstein (sliced & diced this one)
The Power of Ritual, Casper ter Kuile
1. Can you think of a poet and a singer/songwriter whose words might pair well?
2. I got into both Rumi and Mac at the nudging of others. Who is an artist you initially did not care for, but later found something to like after being encouraged to dive in?
3. Share your July pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
Browse more from A Ritual to Read to Each Other
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro