#8: No kindness is small

Day 8 of lockdown in England, and also of our online poetry community, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. The prompts are here every day, and free. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10, and lasts for the duration of this lockdown. The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished. We have guest readers via Facebook Live on a Sunday – the next one is Forward Prize-winning Malika Booker. Join us at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.

In September last year, Naomi Shihab Nye wrote an article for the New Yorker which began with the words, “Sometimes a poem just strikes a precise moment. Small Kindnesses, by Danusha Laméris, feels utterly necessary for our time.” That was fourteen months ago. Laméris’ lines “We have so little of each other now. So far/ from tribe and fire” are still more resonant now.

Yesterday I asked you to write about calamity, as if you hadn’t had enough of it already, and today we turn to its antithesis – the acts of kindness, local and often private, which make us feel better. Shakespeare knew their value: “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us.

Laméris’ poem reminds us of the thoughtful gestures that we used to see in public (on a good day). During the pandemic, our kindnesses have become both intimate and distant – shopping collected for a neighbour, a parcel of treats from a friend, a socially-distant birthday party in a car park. You might write about those gestures, or draw on something from decades ago. Some kind actions are intimate, others are public. Take credit for those you have done, as well as those which have been done for you (if that makes you uncomfortable, write in the third person). Think especially of acts with a physical dimension. Here a woman bathes her elderly father, as he bathed her in her childhood; here, a mother speaks to the monster under her child’s bed as she settles him to sleep.

Wordsworth wrote about “that best portion of a good man’s life,/ His little, nameless, unremembered, acts/ Of kindness and of love.” Some such acts are intended but not carried out; some are misunderstood; some are done anonymously, like the person who hands in a lost wallet, or puts a coffee on credit for the next customer. Clumsy ones still count – the grumpy old man who does a good deed with bad grace, the child who makes breakfast in bed for mum and destroys the toaster. All of the poems I link to today can be found in a collection called Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection, which you can read in full here.

Like most expressions of appreciation, this topic could be cloyingly trite; but that shouldn’t debar us from writing about it. The fact that such actions stay in one’s memory for years, testifies to their importance. You can refresh the subject, for instance, by writing as a spectator, not a participant. ANd if you are really stuck for a kind deed to write about, watch this video of wholesome moments. Sometimes even clickbait can warm the cockles of our hearts.

Join our Facebook discussion group

Join our closed Facebook group at any time in November, for feedback from other poets and access to weekly readings. Pay £10 by PayPal below, then find Try to Praise the Mutilated World on Facebook and ask to join (use the link in the first paragraph above). We are already 300 strong and there’s a lively, friendly community helping each other to write their way through the lockdown.

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Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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