Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.

Jericho Brown

As we weather the numerous transitions of life, many of us turn to poetry for a sense of groundedness and hope in the face of so many uncertainties about our future. Poetry provides an ideal practice for such moments, since the container of a poem can hold delight and disappointment, sorrow and joy, gratefulness and mystery, all at the same time, and sometimes even in the same breath.

We first met the poet James Crews when he joined us and Br. David Steindl-Rast for the Radical Aliveness and Belonging Symposium in September of 2019. None of us would have imagined that just a few months later, we’d all be sheltering in place, immersed in a global pandemic. Answering the call of this transformative moment, James published a new book, How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, with uplifting poems and invitations for writing and reflection.

As we continuously emerge into a new way of being and living with open and curious hearts, we invite you to make writing a part of your own gratefulness practice, using the weekly poems and prompts shared by James to touch in on your own lived and everyday experiences. As you allow these poems to spark your own inspiration, feel how they show us that, as Ross Gay writes in the Foreword to James’ new book: “Studying how we care, and are cared for, how we tend and are tended to, how we give and are given, is such necessary work. It makes the world.”

Throughout this four-session practice, we invite you to meet each practice day with openness and creativity, allowing the poems to take you in your own directions and never feeling as though you need to follow the prompts exactly. Mark Nepo has called poetry “the unexpected utterance of the soul,” and there can be no right or wrong when it comes to the poems, essays, stories, or journal entries we hope you might draw up from the depths of your being.

The Practice

We recommend you bookmark this page and move through the practice days at your own pace. You might move through the practice alone or consider exploring it with others, as part of a group experience.

A pair of glasses and a small black key lie on top of a blank notebook. To the right is a grey cloth and a mug.

Week 1: Grateful for Small Things
In this poem, Danusha Laméris recounts the seemingly rare experience of something actually getting better with time, and invites us to celebrate the good news with her, no matter how slight it might seem.

a pale pink rose lying flat on a distressed wood table

Week 2: Take This Joy to Go
In this week’s poem, Katie Rubinstein perfectly recreates the joy of spending time alone on an island that she can’t help wanting to share with a loved one, even wishing that she could send along more than just a photo.

The silhouette of an eagle soaring at sunset

Week 3: Grateful for Nature
In this poem, Joy Harjo—the first-ever Native American U.S. Poet Laureate—calls us to another kind of prayer, urging us to “open our whole self” both to the natural world around us and “To one whole voice that is you.”

Soft misty mountains bathed in golden sunlight with terraced fields in the foreground

Week 4: Turn Everything Off
Michael Kiesow Moore’s opening invitation in this week’s poem is to “listen” to all the noise our devices and minds create in our lives, and then to “Turn everything off” and feel the difference for ourselves.

James Crews is the author of four collections of poetry, The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment. He is also the editor of two anthologies: Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection and How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. Crews teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Oregon University and lives with his husband on an organic farm in Vermont.

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Feature image by Ksenia Makagonova

James Crews

James Crews

About the author

James Crews’ work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun Magazine, Ploughshares, and The New Republic, as well as on Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in Writing & Literature from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and is the author of four collections of award-winning poetry, including The Book of What Stays (Prairie Schooner Prize and Foreword Book of the Year Citation, 2011), Telling My Father(Cowles Prize, 2017), Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment. He is also the editor of several anthologies of poetry: Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection; and How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. He leads Mindfulness & Writing retreats online and throughout the country, and works as a creative coach with groups and individuals. He lives with his husband, Brad Peacock, in Shaftsbury, Vermont.