Friday, November 06, 2020

Poetry Friday: "A Portable Paradise"


On Wednesday, I received the best gift of all -- the right poem at the right time.

I'm still grieving the loss of The Slowdown podcast, and haven't brought myself to listen to the final episode. Maybe today.

Luckily, I have a backlog of Poetry Unbound episodes, and luckily, I picked the one from Monday. Pádraig Ó Tuama reads and comments on Roger Robinson's poem "A Portable Paradise."

"And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath."

What a lovely thought -- keeping my Paradise close at hand to give me comfort in times of stress. Yes.
But without Pádraig Ó Tuama's commentary, I would have missed the shift of the pronouns in the sixth line. Before that, the pronouns are "I." In line six comes "they." After line six, the pronouns are "you" and "your."

Ó Tuama suggests that this shift allows us to read "ethically," moving from a self-centered reading to a consideration of all the times when we've been the ones to steal another's paradise. 

Oof. I had to sit with that idea for the rest of the drive to school. Yet another example of all the ways we need to do our own internal work before we'll be ready to fully engage in the big work that the world is giving us right now.

Big work, indeed. As I've been saying to myself and my students all week, no matter what the outcome of the election, we need to stay focused on the three metaphors I chose for me/us: the big umbrella that welcomes all into its shelter, the lightbulb of truth and learning, and the bridge that spans divides. Our focus is on positive activism -- using our voices and our actions to lead the world in a positive direction.

Happy Poetry Friday! Thanks to the technological marvel of breakout rooms in Google Meet and the great good gift of Amy LV's online poetry archives, today we will attempt Poetry Friday they way I did it when we were in the classroom together and I could send students to my poetry shelves for a book: pick a poem, practice reading it aloud, perform it for the whole class. 

Susan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Soul Blossom Living.


  1. Paradise is your life. I love that! And I appreciate that shift in pronouns, too, and what it means... love thinking of your students prowling around in Amy's poem archives! xo

  2. Thanks so much for sharing Robinson's poem and for your life affirming observations. Love your three metaphors! YES to positive activism.

  3. I share your sadness about The Slowdown, and your appreciation for Poetry Unbound! Thanks for this poem.

  4. Paidric O'Tuma can keep me thinking for hours. What a lovely, lovely poem. Thank you for sharing it. Whenever I tune into Poetry Unbound I immediately, physically relax a bit. Poetry is medicine.

  5. How is it that your posts always jar me into action? I really need to get back to poetry podcasts. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection and for also reminding me of Amy's archives. I need to remember that I'm not alone in this work.

  6. Oh, that sounds wonderful for your students to pick a poem from Amy's shelves, Mary Lee. And the poem, for every one of us. & to remember. Thank you!

  7. Mary Lee, thanks for sharing that amazing poem and its analysis. I was fascinated by the shift in pronouns and the significance of the hinge line. Your metaphors hold importance in life and the search for hope. I would love to see your students finding poems in Google Meet. I am going to explore Poetry Unbound thanks to you.

  8. Wait--the Slowdown is ending? I only just started listening to it! I love your three metaphors, Mary Lee, and your careful thinking about this poem. It reminds me a bit of Billy Collins' poetry--not in voice at all!--in the way the focus goes from small and personal and specific to a larger, more inclusive, deeper meaning as it progresses...

  9. Stealing another's paradise - an utterly haunting realization. Surely a great dichotomy, an impossibility, to carry one's own paradise within while stealing it from others ... seems the twain should not meet. And, oh, the sensory images in Robinson's lines! The grandmother- the fount of wisdom (mine was) and the idea of smelling the piney scent of one's own paradise in a handkerchief - reminds me of the stories of plague in London, how people doused handkerchiefs with cologne before going into the filthy, stench-filled streets... thank you for sharing and inspiring this sheltering portable paradise, Mary Lee.

  10. Wow! There is so much in your piece today! I love the idea of holding paradise close so as to receive comfort and prevent so one from taking it. I also love how you pointed out the shift in pronouns (so apropos at this time). And, finally your work with students! I was just thinking about how different poetry is when read out loud. Thank you for engaging them in this way! Lots of food for thought here! Thank you! Carol @ The Apples in My Orchard.

  11. Thank you for sharing this moving poem--and a new podcast for me to listen to. I think I would have missed that change of point of view if you had pointed it out. And I love your metaphors for your class--umbrella, light bulb and bridge--kids need positive activism, we all do!

  12. So much to think about in this poem, and reading it makes me think about black lives lost, taken, stolen. I also really appreciated the commentary. Thanks for all and your activism with your students!

  13. I love the idea of carrying Paradise always on my person. I especially loved the final lines of this poem:

    "And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
    get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
    hostel or hovel – find a lamp
    and empty your paradise onto a desk:
    your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
    Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
    of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep." Thanks for this, Mary Lee.

  14. Thanks for the links, Mary Lee. I read through your post and links and left a message or so I thought-NOT, so I am back again. The poem, A Portable Paradise, is amazing and this quote clarity. "His deft language helps us understand that paradise is a quality of life; and, even deeper than that, paradise is your life." I was listening to Mary Oliver reading her poems at one of the podcasts and it was just a peaceful experience so I look forward to listening to more podcasts.

  15. Lots to think about here, Mary Lee! Thanks :-)


Comment moderation is turned on.