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A conversation of reconnection and poetry "news" with poet Jack Ridl

“Dare to be sentimental” —Jack Ridl, echoing Richard Hugo

Preview: Episode 54 with poet and teacher Jack Ridl

“Everyone has access to that remarkable experience that comes along with writing a poem,” says Jack Ridl, the latest guest in our Soul Food series with Rosemerry’s beloved mentors and friends meant to nourish your creative life. In this episode, we talk with Jack about “the news that stays the news”—the news of the heart. We talk about the experience of writing, the news next door, and he reads several “newsworthy” poems from How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by our previous guest James Crews. It’s an episode of hope and heart, an invitation to step into the “big history” that the arts offer, and an inspiration to join your creative voice to the big conversation. For our subscribers, the bonus episode talks about why Jack resists the word favorite, the importance of being able to create everywhere, and why his colleagues have been some of his biggest opposing forces in creative process.

Jack Ridl, Poet Laureate of Douglas, Michigan (Population 1100), in April 2019 released Saint Peter and the Goldfinch. Jack’s Practicing to Walk Like a Heron was awarded the National Gold Medal for poetry by ForeWord Review/IndieFab. His collection Broken Symmetry was co-recipient of The Society of Midland Authors best book of poetry award for 2006. His Losing Season was named the best sports book of the year for 2009 by The Institute for International Sport, and The Boston Globe named it one of the five best books about sports. Jack and his wife Julie founded the visiting writers series at Hope College where he taught for 37 years. The students named him both their Outstanding Professor and Favorite Professor, and in 1996 The Carnegie (CASE) Foundation named him Michigan Professor of the Year. In retirement Jack conducts a variety of writing workshops, welcomes readings, holds one on one sessions, and more. 

What We’re Reading and Listening to:


  • I am back to reading (for the many-th time) Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening: Having the life you want by bering present to the life you have. This book of daily reflections has saved my life several times and is yet again. Each day has a quote, a reflection and an invitation for meditation.

  • I am a giant fan of poet Ada Limón, presently the host of the literary podcast/email The Slowdown. And I am reading her first book of poems now--Lucky Wreck. It’s fun to see where she started about fifteen years ago and how far she’s come—part of the emerging form!


  • I binge read Elizabeth Alexander’s gorgeous, sad, yet ultimately uplifting memoir of grief and love, The Light of the World. Alexander is a poet whose prose is infused with poetic voice and this book has been a good companion to me in a turbulent time.

  • I have Oliver Burkeman’s latest book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortalson hold at my local library (unfortunately due to funding and staff shortages, the library is only open two days per week right now, with limited hours, so I haven’t been able to pick it up yet). I love Burkeman’s writing on life hacks, and Austin Kleon's summary/review of Four Thousand Weeks has me excited to read the new book. 

  • I couldn’t possibly write without Scrivener a computer writing program designed especially for writers, and I recently discovered a podcast that talks to writers about how they use this essential tool. (Really, if you are a writer who isn’t using Scrivener, go out and try it right now. I promise it will change your life. You will never use Word again.) I listened to this episode with Maggie Shipstead  author of The Great Circle, and it was inspiring and useful.

Knowing Now You’ll Never Be a Clown by Jack Ridl

But if you were, and if your grin
were painted red as a Coke can, a fire
engine, red as the Tabasco sauce
you spilled on your mother’s carpet, and
if it lifted itself from the inside of one huge ear
to the other, and if your nose were a ping
pong ball almost begging for a swipe, and if
your feet slept within white shoes, three feet long
and flapping, would you be able then to talk
to everything you really want to talk to: the
chickadees who come closer than your nieces,
that piece of paper blown across your lawn,
the rain, each nudge of green in your garden?
And when you put on your coat, that U.N.
of colors and scraps, that coat that would
make Joseph feel he had folded himself
into the pages of GQ, the one with the shoulders
rolling up to your cheeks, with buttons the size
of pancakes, and a hem like the border of
Czechoslovakia, would you want to walk
into church, quietly take your place with
the choir and just as the minister finishes
the benediction, honk your horn? And
when you put on your polka dotted tie, wide
as a summer afternoon, would you
want to pin the squirting yellow daisy
on your lapel, sit in the business meeting,
and after the ayes have it, squeeze
the rubber bulb in your pocket?  Then
again, maybe you would just stay home,
listen to jazz, the blues, or some swing,
open each of your cupboards and talk
about Tuesday or the way the light falls
across the counters, invite Lou Jacobs,
Emmett Kelly, Felix Adler, Otto Griebling,
hell, the whole clown alley, rent a calliope,
a center ring, one elephant, and get out the pies.

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press, 2006)

For a fabulous 30-minute conversation about this poem and how it is the “news,” listen to this episode of Turning Toward Life podcast with Lizzie Winn and Justin Wise.

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Two Questions:

(share your answers with us here on Substack or in our FB group)

  1. What teacher—from kindergarten through grad school—most inspired your creative life?

  2. What sources are valuable for you getting your creative “news”?