NOTES FROM A READING ON POETS' FRIENDSHIPS


(from the Ohio Poetry Association Annual meeting, July 8, 2017:
I am reading today from In The Company of Russell Atkins: A Celebration of His Friends on His 90th Birthday, a collection of the friends' memoirs and poems. I had planned to read only the poems for this Ohio Poetry Association, but decided that the prose passages reveal much of value about friendships among poets, certainly appropriate for this group.)

When I came to Cleveland in 1976, I had been lonely to the point of suicidal for four years. I mean this quite literally. At least once, I had tried to kill myself and failed, but I thought about the possibility, felt the attraction to committing the act, on and off for a long time. Then in 1975, I learned about the poetry community in Cleveland, and I moved there and moved on, surrounded by the workshops, readings, and camaraderie in poetry that I found there.

I have often said that poetry saved my life, and it did, but if poetry saved my life, poets made it worth living.

One of those poets was Russell Atkins, though I barely knew him. He was older, male, an African-American who cautioned me as a white woman against my going into his neighborhood. But I had a car and he didn’t, which is how we got to know each other, and that is how I memorialize our friendship in the anthology:

I first met Atkins in the mid-1970s while attending the C.S.U. poetry workshop in Cleveland. He barely spoke except on our rides home in Leonard Trawick’s yellow VW Bug, or, later, in my old red Granada, and when he did, he just cracked me up with his acerbic humor and his breathtaking, right-on honesty. So I looked up and read Here In The, and there, too, I found him darkly funny, deeply observant, wonderfully quirky. After a decade, I had to leave Cleveland, and I lost track of Russell, as did my old friend in poetry Bob McDonough, one of Russell’s biggest fans. Years later, together with Shaheed and Yaseen, we went looking for Russell and we found him, with the help of the Michael Dumanis and Kevin Prufer’s book, Russell Atkins: On the Life and Work of an American Master. Since then, we four have worked on several projects with Russell, who still makes me laugh, still wows me with his latest words.

Here is another passage of remembrance by the poet John Gabel, who died last fall in his 90s. As John notes, he began writing poetry late in life, when he was a very successful actuary. It was his success as a businessman which brought some organization to the disorganized mass of Cleveland poets:

I met Russell Atkins in the 1970s. Cleveland, at that time, had barely emerged from one of the most painful eras in its modern history, a time of great racial turmoil followed by a growing awareness and embrace of the rights of its citizenry. A time ripe for looking inward, for self-expression, for a critical appraisal of institutions. In other words, a time for poetry! Poets from all over the city found themselves, organized one another, and began presenting readings and workshops in settings as various as churches, museums, schools, parks and, on one unforgettable occasion, in a junkyard. Many voices linger in memory: Cy Dostal, Barbara Angell, Daniel Thompson, Robert Wallace, and Alberta Turner, who are no longer with us. The poetry scene was scrappy and boisterous, and, if it had a calm center, it would be Russell Atkins. A child raised decently in a troubled time, a school boy encouraged to read and, ultimately, to write. He never succumbed to the pretensions of some of the era’s louder voices. He was, to use his own words, “an outright man,” a gifted and industrious craftsman, the friend and publisher of many poets. When I first heard Russell Atkins read his poetry, he already had a national following. I was a middle-aged actuary, and I had just begun to write poetry myself. His gift, his poise, his style in poetry and in demeanor registered deeply on me. We are now both old men. I write little nowadays, but I remember the heady days of Cleveland in the 70s and 80s when many men and women began to parse the world in love and anger, and we had always the exemplary presence of Russell Atkins at the center. And I am grateful.

 

The book contains the words of twenty-nine men and women writers of several generations from all over the U.S. Several were youth when they met Russell’s students in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Many, elders read with Russell at libraries and colleges. Others, like me, knew him as an august participant in public workshops. Many writers expressed an appreciation for Russell’s writing, in John Donoghue’s case, awe:

Long before I met Russell I came across a copy of Here in The, a book that stopped me cold in my poetry-writing tracks:  “What’s the point of me writing any poetry,” I thought, “when Mr. Russell Atkins is writing poetry like this?”  His use of language was entirely original—and wonderful.  With my grammar-challenged brain I couldn’t explain to myself what he was doing, and when I tried to do it myself—I couldn’t do that either.  I still can’t explain it, or do it, but so what?  Russell does it, and his doing it puts it in the world.  Here are some examples: “where an oncoming diesel/dangerouses;” “the lively soiled dishes/pile the food cart with obstacle,” “I came upon that gate/that tracery’d gently into open,” “On one side’s a gloom of dreadful harsh,/Then brakes flash lights up sheer./There is much huge about,” “Afresh’d with paint, the shop had glare,” “came:/to sight drastic’d a lo and behold.”  It was as if he’d found a new dimension to the language of poetry, opened up a new seam in it, and I’ve often gone back to that book, that seam, not to mine it myself but to marvel at it, and be nurtured by it.

What none of us say in our tributes is that sometime in the 1990s, the local government decided that Russell was suffering dementia and they forced him to sell his family home and turn the money over to a guardian and lawyer, who went through the money posthaste. Russell was placed into government assisted housing and then, a nursing home.
When Pleiades Press Kevin Prufer found him around 2013, Russell still had seven boxes of books with all his papers, including letters from Langston Hughes (each letters worth at least $3000) and Marianne Moore (worth who knows how much). By the time I, along with three others in this book, found him in 2015, all the papers had been destroyed on the grounds that there were bugs in the boxes. We have been working ever since to pull him out of the deep depression this caused, and last week, in front of a full house at the Cleveland Museum of Art, he was given the Cleveland Art Prize for Lifetime Achievement. He received a standing ovation, the only one of the eight artists to do so. The jury felt he had been overlooked too long, and they chose to give him the award over very deserving painters, sculptors, and musicians.

In his lifetime, Russell has written not only poetry, criticism, and plays, he wrote classical compositions for piano and other instruments and two operas. He edited a magazine Free Lance that was considered the first and most influential magazine of the Black avant garde. When he was interviewed and photographed many times the past month, every person who met him commented on how sharp, funny, and interesting he was. So much for his utter dementia, which we his friends think shows the local government’s utter incomprehension of how some artists speak and act.

Still, his daily life is not easy. This is my prose poem on one afternoon visiting him

VISITING RUSSELL ATKINS WITH ALARM

A man shouted, “I’m here to get the body,” as he came in the door with a gurney. The door alarm went off. Russell, whose room at The Grande Pavilion Nursing and Rehabilitation is just inside this door and this alarm, looked up, and said softly, “Oh no.” Then Russell and I returned to our work, transcribing his new poem. But the alarm, which is piercing, did not stop. The man shrugged sheepishly and continued down the hall with his rattling cart. The alarm continued. It screeched on and on. I went and stood out in the hall looking desperate. An aide came into Russell’s room, grabbed a long clamp for reaching things, and whapped the alarm with it. It stopped. Moments later, the man came back with the body on the gurney, which got stuck half­way out the door, setting the alarm off again. The man wheeled the body back in, closed the door, and started over, looking at us apologetically and shrugging again as the alarm went off for the third time. An aide shouted to him to lean on the alarm and the door at the same time. As these were over three feet apart, he stood puzzling that. Finally an employee arrived and leaned on the alarm while the gurney driver leaned on the door. The door opened, the alarm stopped, the body rolled out the door. Russell and I went back to work on his new poem, the first in two years, “Rest Home.”

I’d like to end today with one more poem in my book, a double abecedarian to poets during National Poetry month, first published by Ohio Poetry Association editor Steve Abbott for the anthology Common Threads.  I hope it inspires you to write your own abcedarian, but I hope too that it captures our cameradie and affection for each other and our chatter and our process as we go about writing poetry, which I contend does save our lives and our friendships, which make them worth living.

A Double Abecedarian for NaPoWrMo 


All my poet friends and I are looking for pizazz
by working out at the pome machine each day,
counting or listing or otherwise composing, mumbling, “Lummox,
Dunderhead, dear me my pome machine seems broke, wow!”
Every idea I ever had seems, Luv,
fled from my brain, off in the bayou or, in a mumu,
getting on the bus without me, so abrupt,
hightailing away, the sonnets, haikus and glosas.
I need though, thirty days of this, altogether,
jump-starting my way from the ghazals of Iraq,
keeping at it through haiku, free verse, wishing for an APP
like those that exist for other tasks, arriving at last to
mean.”

 

Take Heart and Mind --and Walks

Not all dementia is Alzheimer's. Previously on this blog, I  narrated my experiences in getting my father assessed by the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Geriatric Medicine seven years ago, to be told that Dad's dementia was probably vascular, caused by Dad's heart attack in the 1990's.  (See that story here .) The doctor's recommendation was that Dad walk several times a week."The chances for any dementia progressing to Alzheimer's increases exponentially every five years," Dr. Factora said.that physical activity reduces the risk of Alzheimer's.

And now, Gretchen Reynold's in "Brisk Walks May Slow Dementia" in the New York Times health column, offers clinical results that walking makes "a meaningful difference in how well the brain works" in elderly dementia patients.The study took place in Canada, which brought in about three dozen eldres with mild dementia who agreed to be studied for six months. The study began and ended with brain scans that measured particular thought skills, and then half were monitored in walking three times a week, while half sat in on education sessions. At the end, the tests showed that the walkers had distinctly better thinking skills. 

This is a very small, relatively short-term study. Eighteen people for half a year. And yet, I find it encouraging because the results are specific and verifiable. It matches the studies that Factora cites on exercise and Alzheimer's.

I just wish it would filter into the cognition of senior residency directors. 

My father and I have battled and lost in all three of his senior residences over his walking. They each said this was a great idea, that they would help him with that activity. None did. His most recent place told us that they had a "Walking Club" that met twice a week, and they pointed it out on their activities calendar. Neither Dad nor I has seen any indication that there is any such club, and it has since disappeared from the schedule. And he is one of the few people not on a walker or in a wheel chair. Recently, he has given up the activity. 

"It's too hard," he told. "I don't know my way around, and I have no one to walk with." His cardiac doctor says that he is not getting enough blood to his brain and wants to operate. Dad replied, "It might help, but at age 92, I know that a lot of operations don't turn out so well." I checked with my friend who is a retired anaesthesiologist and he confirmed my dad's opinion that the elderly tend to have bad, life-threatening reactions to anaesthesia.

Dad's current situation seems more soporific than ever. I see him out twice a week, most of those times, I spring him from the residence, but I have not been able to get him walking.

For now, I can say that Dad got five good years out of the Cleveland Clinic's advice. And believe me, I am taking that advice for myself. Awhile back, I panicked when I realized that I was losing my keys having trouble recalling nouns sometimes. Then I remembered that I have always lost my keys and that my mom, who had not a shred of dementia and more mental acuity at age 87 than many teenagers also had trouble recalling nouns. Sometimes what we now call "Alzheimer's" is what previous generations called "age."

I continue to age, to take heart and walk. 

WOMEN'S MARCH, Part 3: Two Weeks Later


Marchers Continue to Reflect, to Act... to Continue

"We are mothers. We are caregivers. We are artists. We are activists. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders of industry and technology. Our potential is unlimited. We rise." - Alicia Keys


The big question after any march is what will come of it. Was it just another feel-good party, or, like an earthquake, will its reverberations go on indefinitely. Six participants answer my question: two weeks later, what does it mean to you now?

Kathleen Welsch, back in PA after D.C.

Returning from D.C., I was energized. How could I not be when the crowd was so positive, when at the end of the day marchers tumbling out of trains to meet their buses filled the cavernous station with cheering, chanting, fist-pumping, and smiling faces. That sense of comradery was echoed by one young woman in our group: “After the election, I felt so alone. Now I know there are others just like me.” We were members of the popular vote that didn’t count but had certainly found each other and made our presence visible.
Traveling with a new generation of strong young women and men gave me a sense of hope. I couldn’t help but remember my own first march long ago: there were no men on our bus. I don’t remember any at the march either. But this time both young women and men came prepared with their signs and passion. I saw a little boy with his mom in D.C., marching with his arm raised and fist clenched. For me the march wasn’t a one day event: I continue to call my representatives and am involved with local fellow marchers in establishing "Indivisible We Rise - West Central PA."       


As the cascading events of this past two weeks have unfolded with one oppressive executive order after another – starting with an assault on women’s rights to sound medical care and the authority over her own body, it has been heartening – even awe-inspiring to see the number of people actively resisting. At the same time, though, I have to admit I also feel a sense of frustration like a low-hanging dark cloud. Why is it always such a battle to achieve equally, recognition, respect, and basic human decency?
Carole Elcher (l) and Kathleen Welsch (r), who worked together over 30
years ago, bumped into each other serindipitously after the march ended.

Carole  Elchert, in OH after D.C.

Here are just two of my "best remembers" of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington:

1)  A line of women, obviously our elders by their walkers and grey hair, wore a strip of photographs across their chests that revealed images of their great grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers.  For me, each one represented the lifespan and history of the moment, so I asked them why they decided to march, recognizing the physical difficulties and discomfort they were determined to overcome.  The grand leader replied:  "Why are we still marching for our rights? I consider this march the last one we should have to put up with.  Make sure of that,” she said to me.  How do you ignore such wise counsel?
2)  The police/security officers—many of whom were black women—directing the crowds that packed the Metro would give out a splendid cheer of “hurray,” inspiring the crowds to chant with them.  The subway tunnels were turned into an awesome echoing chamber of jubilation and reverberating human voices.  If the March had recorded those underground sounds, we'd have the soundtrack, which would surely move Congress to pay attention to the voices of the people, finally.

And now? Already, our Findlay/Bluffton group is organizing a Standing Rock demonstration in front of Marathon Oil Corp head offices in Findlay, OH.  I was again inspired by the number of University students from Bowling Green and the NW Ohio area as well as Native friends who participated in a street stance for the protection of the Earth.  I call these activities, “Earth Witnessing” efforts to commemorate Siddhartha Gautama’s gesture-mudra shortly before he attained enlightenment.  My wish for the millennia is that humans develop an enlightened, planetary Worldview, one that dismantles nation-political borders to achieve a species-wide, Worldwise ethics for every sentient being, as the Buddhists say of all and everything. 

Carole Elchert, PO 572, Findlay, OH  45839 CELL:  567-208-3127

Rosemary Starace, with the community in Pittsfield, MA

Before and after the election, inauguration, and Women's March, I grew increasingly upset with political conversations, news, and even calls to action. Since the March, I have unsubscribed from WOM-PO (after 11 years!) and withdrew from Facebook by deleting the app from my phone and iPad. (Now I look at my notifications once a day on my computer.) I want to find out how my life is without (much) Internet and to discover my own response to the frightening situation we are in. I have written notes to Congress on a few of the million issues we face and I find that terse declarative sentences and short quotes from  poems make me feel strong. Will anyone read them, and will these tiny actions have an effect? I also want very much to respond with art and writing and to be able to share the same in a meaningful outward-reaching forum.
In terms of the March itself, I find myself very inspired by Aja Monet's poem, “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter,” so lush and fierce, which she recited at the D.C. March and which I witnessed sitting in the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield with a thousand others.  (I have pre-ordered Monet's book of the
same title, which is coming out in May.)

"A movement is much more than a march. A movement is that different space between our reality and our vision. Our liberation depends on all of us." - Janet Mock

Peggy Nelson, in CT after Boston

I am still feeling empowered from the march.  And of course lots has happened from the Whitehouse that makes my commitment strong.   I've been calling my senators and congresswoman about issues as they arise (mostly to say thank you because they're amazing!) and have made phone calls to out of state senators as well.  I plan to stay active and connected  so I can keep going at this crazy world that keeps unfolding. Each time I tell the story of my experience at the Boston March - as I did the last few days while in Vermont with one of my sons - I feel the energy. And, like you, I will be donating to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

Courtney Peralta ONeal, in Atlanta

My thoughts about the march:
Marching alongside thousands of others representing countless causes was inspiring, empowering, and showed me that there's still hope. Seeing so many people from tiny villages, to big cities across the world standing up and walking in solidarity against all that is wrong about this administration, confirmed for me that we really do have legitimate concerns. Millions of people can't be wrong. We aren't whiners. We are genuinely concerned about the future of America and the tsunami of trouble that could be felt around the world as that bully and his Ikea-quality cabinet continue to wreak havoc on our constitution.
I will continue to march on, more resolute than ever. 

"Remember, the Constitution doesn’t begin with, 'I, the President.' It begins with, 'We, the people.'" - Gloria Steinem

Laurie Kincer, after Cleveland

So, post-march, I have hope and it’s grown stronger in the aftermath. I have made calls, sent postcards, and joined
a local group called "Action Together Lakewood Area."  The meeting I went to had so many people that the restaurant had to keep bringing in chairs.  I can listen to and read news (which I couldn’t do from 11/9 to 1/20), though I have nearly weaned myself from TV.  (I cut my cable back to about a dozen channels, so I don’t have the 24-hour news channels anyway.  But, post-election, I quit watching and now hardly ever turn it on.) My mother gave me a subscription to The Funny Times, which is the print equivalent of the weekly Saturday Night Live. I re-subscribed to The New Yorker on Inauguration Day, mainly because it employs Andy Borowitz and has smart commentary on contemporary events.
  
I know that I’m not alone, that the world hasn’t lost its mind, that not everyone has drunk the Kool-Aid. There’s so much more I could say but you get the idea.  I’m sorry that you experienced negative blowback.  I haven’t any firsthand knowledge of that. But I’ve got to say that it’s caused me to rethink many of my acquaintances.  I have only one close friend who isn’t rabidly up in arms.  My extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins) are DJT supporters, but they’re a lost cause.  I have found that I have exactly 2 first cousins out of about 20 who didn’t drink the Kool-Aid either.  One is a doctor’s wife with 4 boys and she just took her boys to their 1st demonstration against the immigration ban.  I am so proud of her.
I warn you, that's the way things are:
                                          This is my final lifetime.
                                                
--Anna Akhmatova

WOMEN'S MARCH Part II in D.C.

MY FRIENDS REPORT from the FRONT

Photo: Lisa Nardi

(and Back, and broken down on the road but not broken)

In D.C., Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, and Portland


On Saturday, I parked in front of the TV watching the D.C. Women's March on C-Span. As a high school drummer with a blue State of Ohio medal in drumming in 1966, I was thrilled to see the event kicked off by a Native American woman drummer, thrilled by many of the speakers which many of those present couldn't see or hear. But most excited to be hearing from my friends.

Because I also had my laptop open, watching Twitter and Facebook for their posts and watching the stream from the Sister City marches. I responded and listened, downloaded and saved. The panoramas of the many hundreds of thousands of marchers was inspiring, so many that the mainstream media finally had to step up and cover it. You could see that. If you're here, what you will see is a report on what my friends found important, including some of their images. Next week, I am going to ask them what they think it means in reflection and in the future. For now, let the good times roll:

(Notes: 1) To see the backstory of many of the people featured here, see my first post here. 2) A "WomPo" is someone I know from the Women Poets List Serve)

from The D.C. March
Patricia, Carole, Kathleen, Laura, Julia, and Lisa

Patricia
...snapped lots of shots of buses and these three photos that I love: two Native American women-- I think the two who spoke at the end-- and for her friends in Hawaii, the Wahine sign, then one of her, at the end, looking, as I told her "exhausted and exhilarated." She replied, "I was." And she still had the long ride back to Newburyport, MA, then a drive home from there.




Carole Elchert and Kathleen Welsch
Beginning in the mid-1980s, I worked with these two at a university in Ohio until Kathleen left in 1988 to complete her PhD. Here was their message at the end of the day: "What a great way to end such a great day -- running into to Carol at the metro as we prepared to board buses and head home. Haven't seen this gal since 1988, but it felt like just yesterday. PERFECT even though I lost my phone and can't post other photos of Washington March at this time. Yes, the phone was found -- by a woman from Boston who will return it by mail. All's well that ends well!"

Laura
...is one of my two friends (see Peggy in Boston) who got stuck in transit. Here's her story, in four Facebook posts, one after the other:

5:20 a.m. - Our busload of 55 DC-bound marchers from Oberlin [OH]  now at the side of the road waiting for a mechanic.

8:53 a.m. Aaand our rally bus is still broken on the side of the road. It's been nearly four hours now. Most of our passengers were picked up by buses with open seats. 12 of us left. My jokes about similarities to disaster movies are likely only amusing to me.

(Meanwhile, confusing her with our mutual friend, Laurie, I kept reporting that she had broken down on the way to Cleveland, and she kept correcting me, "No, I am going to D.C." Then, finally:)

10:59 a.m. – The Bus is moving at last!


8:00 p.m. - - Arrived about 2:00 p.m. This has been amazing. The whole city has been alive and connected. Residents even stood outside their homes smiling, waving, saying "thank you." The bus left late after our driver helped three young woman find the right bus to get them home despite a dark parking lot with hundreds of these vehicles. It wouldn't have mattered. The roads are slow-moving rivers of buses, a heartening sign of our solidarity.

Julia Lisella
I never realized that Wompo Julia was going to D.C. till I spotted her pics with her crew from Medford on Saturday morning, and great pics they are.




Lisa Nardi
...is a writer, erstwhile teacher, and college administrator, who is her total lack of spare time has become one of the best photographers I know. She posted 40 excellent photos from the March, all professional quality. If you know anyone who needs that kind, let me put you in touch with her. Here are just a few of hers.

 
















To see my friends who marched in Boston and Cleveland, go here.
To see those who marched in Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Pittsfield, and Portland, go here.


Women's March II: Boston and Cleveland

MY FRIENDS REPORT from the FRONT (and Back, and broken down on the road but not broken) 

In Boston and Cleveland

BOSTON

Peggy Nelson

...like Laura (see D.C.) had travel adventures. She drove from Connecticut, which for the geographically impaired, is south of Boston to Beverly, which is north of Boston, to meet up with a high school friend and take the train south again to Boston from there. Except the train station was jammed with women, who all felt they were going nowhere and posited that the city was saving extra cars for the Pats game on Sunday. For those of you who like visuals, you can see Peggy's route here. As you can see, so close and yet so far away if you have to hoof it. And yet, finally, finally, Peggy got one of her most exciting moments of the day, a seat on the train to Boston:



And photos of signs and the high school friend mentioned in last week's blog that she would be marching with.




 


From Boston Magazine

 









Laura Cherry   

I was very tickled by an image out of Boston earlier this week of some of my    favorite characters who live across from the Commons getting ready for the March, so then just as pleased to see Wompo Laura Cherry there with her daughter also in the pink hats that have been a sign of the resistance:





 Meanwhile, in Cleveland

...Larry Smith

editor of Bottom Dog, poet and writer, marched with his wife Ann and posed with one of Ohio's terrific Congresswoman from the 9th District, Marci Kaptur




....Laurie Kincer,

a  poet and my very favorite librarian, took the #55 bus to Public Square, from whence she reported that as an introvert on her very first march, she appreciated this sign most of all

Tweeted by Susan Kauffman



For photos and stories from Atlanta, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, Portland, and Philadelphia, go here.  










WOMEN'S MARCH II: Atlanta, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield and Portland

MY FRIENDS REPORT FROM THE FRONT

in Four Sister Cities: Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Pittsfield, and Portland


ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN

Indigo Fleming-Powers
sent this headline and lead from the local paper:

Thousands march through the streets of Ann Arbor for the Women's March

"Thousands gather at the Diag at the University of Michigan during the Women's March on Saturday, January 21, 2017. The march was one of several throughout the country and drew over 11,000 people." (Complete story here)

Of her photos, Indigo says: "A great march with peaceful, positive, and unified energy! Everyone was very friendly and helpful."


ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Courtney Peralta ONeal


...was cautioned in the morning not to go: a friend called to say there would be violence, and winds of 60-70 miles per hour were reported, maybe tornados. She went anyhow, couldn't get close enough soon enough to hear John Lewis, whose campaign she had worked on as a child. But the crowds were very encouraging, and when she got home, she found her six-year-old daughter, Maddie, named for Madeline Albright, had made her a sandwich for dinner with a note. It made her day.






PITTSFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

Rosemary Starace 

...a Wompo friend, describes the events there: " I waited on line for half an hour to get into Pittsfield's Women's March at the Colonial today. It was packed to capacity--but the overflow gave us a chance to take it to the streets while we waited. Outside and in, the atmosphere was equally kind and fierce; "we the people" are on the move! I enjoyed watching the Washington feed in a packed theater with a crowd of people who came to be counted. No mob frenzy, just deep shared experience. Pittsfield's Mayor Linda M. Tyer was full of flair and enthusiasm introducing Jayne Benjulian's wonderful program on the Constitution. Actors and writers presented their passionate FREE SPEECH and moved me to goose bumps and tears.

"Last but not least, I loved seeing the mayor of my town really GET IT, and I loved her super-cool jeans outfit, too :) And I love that my humble city has been host to a number of important justice-oriented rallies and programs recently."

PORTLAND, OREGON

Aaron Long
... a Portland teacher sent this message before the march:  "I marched to add myself to the massive crowd of people who want the world to know they are in favor of constructive decisions and love over division and hate. I didn’t march to change Donald Trump. I marched to help change the mind of sane and civil people who may think that voting for or supporting Trump is a good idea. I also marched to show support for all of the people who could be under attack from this administration. And I want to add. I have a job. I vote. I pay taxes. And I am a verdant champion of good sportsmanship." Fifty friends met at his house before hand for coffee and then set out with him, his wife, and three children for the streets of Portland. 
Afterward, he said: "The estimate was that 30-35 thousand would be in the Portland march. It rained like hell, and over 100,000 showed. There were no broken windows. There was no violence. Nobody even crossed against the traffic lights. It was kind and cordial and inspiring. I spent much of the time too verklempt to chant."
Of this photo, he says, "That’s my family marching in a pouring rain with an estimated 100,000 Portland residents." 










WOMEN'S MARCH, Part I Jan. 21, 2017

 

MY FRIENDS ON THE MARCH: 
in D.C., Boston, NYC, Atlanta, Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, and Portland


So far, the major coverage of the upcoming Women's March has been underwhelming. The NYT carried an article in the business section on what bus companies are making great business out of it. The fashion section had an article on two designers who are making clothes for the event. Oh yeah, and there have been several articles on the dissent surrounding the event. Even as I was typing this, my husband came from listening to On the World out of the BBC. "Get this, " he said. "They announce, 'We're going to report on who's not going,'" and then they interviewed one woman who didn't feel safe going. Really? Really? This is the story about an upcoming day when over 200,000 people are going to march on Washington in support of women's issues? 

And yet in small town newspapers, march participants are being featured, their causes and reasons more meaningful to me than whatever  numbers that turn out this weekend. Wanting to put faces and reasons to this march, I asked among my Facebook friends, "Who is going? And can you tell us about your march?" 

I am featuring seven of them here today in the lead-up to Saturday, in order to lend individual faces, hopes, and purposes to the event. On Saturday, I will be sharing their news during the march. And next week, I hope to ask them all to share what they make of it all in the aftermath. 

Before I get around to those seven, I'd like to mention a few others. My FSLF (former student lifelong friend) Lisa, who lives in Maryland, will be in D.C., taking the very excellent photos she's been wowing me with the past two years. One of my writer friends from Yaddo days, David, will be on the street in NYC, where he lives, and my poet friend Rosemary will be at a gathering in Pittsfield, MA. My former North Shore of Boston neighbor Margot is heading to Boston, with her tween daughter. Ohio poet Larry and his wife Ann will be in Cleveland, and Aaron (also FSLF), now a teacher in Oregon, is hosting a meetup at his house before heading to the Portland march with his  wife and three (very) young children. I'll hope to have news from some  of them here on Saturday as well. 


Meanwhile here are the seven I interviewed on how they are going and why, what they hope to achieve.


Marching in to D.C.:

Carole, Patricia, Ellen, Kathleen


 


 


PATRICIA, who lives in a coastal town north of Boston, is a 70-year old professor, retired but still teaching the occasional course.  She's going with a busload of women from Newburyport, none of whom she knows.

I caught Patricia by phone as she was preparing to leave and asked her how she decided to go. She said, "After the election, I was so distraught, I emailed one of my groups looking for anything to do [in response]." She felt then and continutes to feel that it was necessary to have solidarity and concern about women's rights clearly expressed, to have those rights out in the public, to be vocal about them. She found a group leaving for D.C. from Newburyport, MA. 

And why is she going? "I just felt I had to, even though it's going to be grueling. I originally imagined we'd all get housing, stay over night, but we're going there and back." Her goal is to make the march public to those who are not there and so, to make people see. She is taking extra chargers, teaching herself how to use Facebook live and hoping to broadcast live as well as take photos. "I want to make this all VISIBLE," she said, reiterating her goal. Another big plus for her is "I know I am going to meet people."


ELENA ELIZABETH HENDRICK is an American coming from Managua, Nicaragua, where she has lived and worked for many decades as what we in the U.S. might call a community organizer.


To say that Elena works as a community organizer with  Kairos,  which is "dedicated to contributing to the building of a world of justice and love" does not begin to describe the work she has done for decades between churches and college groups in the U.S. and Nicaraguans in villages and neighborhoods. Check out their website to get some idea of the scope of her love and involvement. She has a joyful but crushing workload, so deciding to take on the task of travel, marching, then returning to work was a big decision, and she wavered for a bit. At the last minute before she left Managua, she emailed me, " I am flying into New York City, I'll see my mom quick, and take a bus or car pool to D.C. I am going on behalf of Kairos, our team, and behalf of the women of Nicaragua. Why am I going? I am going because...I can't not go."


CAROLE ELCHERTof Findlay, Ohio, is a professor, photographer, and speaker, whom my husband and I call "our friend who is friends with the Dalai Lama" (and she is), an activist on Tibet, and most recently, with the artists of Cuba. She describes herself as "one of 15 children raised on a 65-acre Northwest Ohio farm of mostly pigs, sheep, and hungry children."


She told her hometown newspaper, "I've taught Gender Studies & Global Perspectives on Women and Culture at the University of Findlay, which is the main reason I am going and walking because, as I encouraged the young women in my classes, we must all get involved and walk our values.  To practice what I preach, I will walk for them, to improve and advance the lives of their generation.  I am walking, frankly and with delight, for those who cannot," as you can see on my sign.

Asked if she is wearing or carrying anything of import to her, she said, "I am wearing Phil’s [her husband's] sky blue sweater to remind me of the hope I feel when I look into that blueness that shields life on Earth from a dark universe.  Of course, it’s Phil’s sweater, and his affection too will accompany me." Like Patricia, she is traveling as an outsider with a group she doesn't know all that well,  the Bluffton Mennonites. "I’m not one of the flock, she says.  "However, I am supporting them, so local women realize the power in organizing, gathering/working together, and carrying each others’ needs to Washington and then forward to change policies, norms, laws, belief systems around the globe."

She ended, "I am viewing this Women’s March as a protest against corporate wealth, the power brokers who are buying our country and its policies.  Their privileged voices in Washington are compromising the whole system of protections to insure that this country remains of the people, by the people, for the people.  Wish us luck and fair weather!"

KATHLEEN A.WELSCH lives in Pennsylvania where she teaches at a state university. Among the courses she teaches is one in Women and Gender studies, in which, she says, she can flex her teaching skills in a positive way.



Kathleen writes, "I could go to the sister march in Pittsburgh – a 90 minute drive south, but I want to be in the capital. I want to be part of that roaring crowd of women! And I don’t want to go solo. The bus is sponsored by my university, and a number of my Women & Gender Studies students will be attending their first march. I want to witness their excitement and passion."  
She has other reasons, too: "I live in rural western Pennsylvania where Trump/Pence signs still litter lawns and roadsides. Where people posted signs reading, "Lock her up!" Most times I feel like I live behind enemy lines where there's little I can do to make a difference. Going to this march is an act of empowerment.  

She sent this photo, which she says, "is one of me at an ERA rally in 1982 holding the purple, gold, and white Richmond, Virginia NOW banner. I was 24.
"I’m now 60 and can’t believe we are still fighting the same battles. This event is too big, too important, too historic, too empowering to miss! My sign is completed. My “pussy” hat arrived today. I am ready!"

 

Marching in Boston: Peggy

 

PEGGY NELSON lives outside of New Haven, Connecticut.  (via Canton, Ohio and Syracuse, New York). She currently co-hosts a weekly radio show about the Arts, “State of the Arts” (WPKN.org – check it out) and she's also a local actress. She's been a high school teacher, saleswoman, director of plays, and best of all mother and now grandmother. And she's always been passionate about the arts, women’s rights, civil rights, LBGT rights and the elderly.

She will be marching with her best friend from high school, "in itself is worth celebrating:  a friendship lasting over 50 years," she says. "We were part of the first generation of women to dream of a career beyond housewife and mother.  We were idealistic young people who believed in universal peace and love; we remember the assassination of JFK, RFK and MLK; we protested the Vietnam War; we believed in civil rights; we wore bell bottoms and were known as hippies; we almost went to Woodstock; we fought for women’s rights; we were clients of Planned Parenthood." Of her hopes for the trip, she says:

"I see this as a march in solidarity with The Women’s March on Washington. I have a strong allegiance to women, people of color, immigrants, and the LBGT community and I want their rights protected.  Mostly, I’m hoping to send a strong message to our leaders and the American people."

Marching in Atlanta: Courtney

COURTNEY O. (FSLF) is a 40-year-old mother of two, a native of Michigan now living in the suburbs of Atlanta. She is the internal communications specialist for a global software company. 


She began by saying, "I will be wearing my mother's scarf," a pronouncement that comes clearer when she says why she is marching: 


"I’m marching this week for my mother who died in 2013 at just 66 years old. My single mother..a victim of domestic violence in her first marriage as a young mom..a Hillary supporter. I worked alongside my mom as a kid volunteering for John Lewis during one of his many runs for re-election. I march for my multi-racial daughter and son.  I march because I am a Girl Scout leader and we teach our girls to be honest and fair, considerate and caring, courageous and strong.  It sickens me how people have been treated for speaking up and standing up to the hate over the last few months. I want us to be an example of the good in this world…love, equality, diversity, inclusiveness…. That is what I want EVERYONE to embrace, and to embrace EVERYONE. I march for my grandfather who came here in 1922 at the age of 22 years old from Sicily and whose name is on the registry at Ellis Island. I march for my husband whose safety I fear for as a black man. I march for my son who becomes a teenager this year that he is judged for his character and how he treats others and not for the texture of his hair.


"I march for my interracial marriage that would not have been possible if it wasn’t for people like MLK.  I march for my liberal-minded, caring and gentle Muslim friend who often attends mass with his Catholic grandfather.  I march as a victim of sexual assault and I march for the reproductive rights for all women.  I’m going to the march with Cobb Progressives—formally known as Cobb County for Hillary. These are people I worked with, making hundreds of calls to get the vote for Hillary.  I plan to meet my friend of 30 years downtown on Saturday and hope to take my sister with me on this historic march."

Marching in Ann Arbor: Indigo



INDIGO FLEMING POWERS (FSLF) lives in Toledo, Ohio. 


When I asked for a significant fact about her march, Indigo responded, "I'll be riding my scooter for the march because I have mobility issues that limit walking (I'm so happy to have a portable scooter so that I can take part!) and I also think that it is important for all potentially and frequently marginalized groups to be represented (and my scooter is a very visual reminder of people with disabilities). My aunt is also knitting me and my mom pussy hats, and my friend and I are shopping for sign supplies tomorrow."  


And about her reasons for going, she says, "I feel that the march will be a very visible message for both politicians and the rest of the country that women and all the other probable targets of discrimination perpetrated by and during this administration will not just silently endure and suffer (or shut up and look hot, in the case of women). I also think it is a clear message to those targeted populations that they are not alone and the hate-filled voice of America is not the true or only voice of America. Lastly, I think it is an important reminder that women (and the members of every other group that was disrespected or targeted for violence) are actual real people and tolerance and equality are principles the citizens of America have been fighting long and hard to make a reality—a reminder we need because this election season saw feminism and civil rights take a horribly hard hit."


She ended on the positive, which is definitely in keeping with her character: "I also love the idea of a march because it is a clear statement without potential for escalating the violence and hatred we are resisting."  

Be watching here for reports from these folks and other friends on Saturday.