Kindness poems remind James Crews that the world is a joyful place

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To counter the negativity that abounded at the start of the pandemic, James Crews made a habit of creating moments of kindness in his daily life, including smiling at strangers in the park.

“Out of this practice grew a desire to collect poems that suggest the world could still be a joyful, connected place, even in a time when we were more disconnected and perhaps more desperate than ever before,” he says.

Why we wrote this

Poems can often bring about a shift in thought. During National Poetry Month in the United States, a new collection of poems highlights that kindness is an essential ingredient for building a brighter shared future.

The project that has emerged is a new collection of poetry, “The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy,” a follow-up to Crews’ bestselling anthology “How to Love the World.”

Soaking up the wisdom that permeates these poems doesn’t mean people are adding more tasks to their to-do list. Poetry is continually surprising, says Crews, and letting yourself be surprised and delighted is a way to restore a sense of peace and tranquility.

Kindness should also not be confused with kindness, which can mean never making waves or never confronting people. “Kindness, to me, is much deeper,” Crews says. “It’s about recognizing people’s innate worth, not reducing them to their beliefs and opinions.”

Is kindness a quaint and ineffective virtue? For poet and publisher James Crews, the answer is a resounding no. As he demonstrates throughout “The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy,” a follow-up collection to his bestselling “How to Love the World” anthology, kindness can change lives. It can also help people find a way forward during the toughest days.

Like its predecessor, “The Path to Kindness” features more than 100 uplifting poems by acclaimed writers, including Ted Kooser, Ellen Bass, Tracy K. Smith and Joy Harjo (the current American Poet Laureate). The collection also includes prompts for reflection or journaling, reading group discussion topics, and author bios.

In a recent Zoom interview, Crews explained that he started planning for “The Path to Kindness” during the first full year of the pandemic. Fear of COVID-19 was rampant at that time, and many people viewed anyone outside their household as dangerous.

Why we wrote this

Poems can often bring about a shift in thought. During National Poetry Month in the United States, a new collection of poems highlights that kindness is an essential ingredient for building a brighter shared future.

To counter this negative thinking, Crews made a habit of finding moments of kindness in her daily life. “It was just smiling at someone on a walk in the park or catching a glint in someone’s eye when we passed each other at the grocery store, just very small moments of connection and recognition and connection to the natural world,” he says. “Out of this practice grew a desire to collect poems that suggest the world could still be a joyful, connected place, even in a time when we were more disconnected and perhaps more desperate than ever before.”

Over several months, Crews intuitively collected pieces for the book, choosing the work he most needed to read or hear.

A poem that immediately appealed to him was “Small Kindnesses,” by Danusha Laméris, which emphasizes the inherent goodness in people and how positive interactions build up over hours and days. “Laméris’ poem went viral after the 2016 presidential election,” Crews notes.

Two other poems he chose early on were “Kindness” and “Red Brocade”, by Naomi Shihab Nye.

“‘Kindness’ has been a real touchstone for readers in recent years and has become the most downloaded poem from the Academy of American Poets website during the pandemic,” he says.

“‘Red Brocade’ tells the story of how the Arabs used to say, ‘Welcome whoever comes to your door, feed him and get to know him.’ By the time you’re done doing that, you know the person and you’re so friendly that your differences don’t matter anymore,” he explains.

The teams reached out to writers from diverse backgrounds, ages, and locations, both inside and outside the United States. Some of their poems remind readers to celebrate everyday moments that could easily be overlooked or forgotten. Others, like Susan Musgrave’s “More Than Seeing,” stress the importance of honoring the interconnectedness of life.

“In preparing this book, I didn’t think specifically about charting a path to kindness,” he says. “This title came later. But if we did all the things that are recommended in these poems, we would reach this path. And we would become much happier and more joyful people in the process.

That doesn’t mean people are adding more tasks to their to-do list. Poetry is continually surprising, says Crews, and letting yourself be surprised and delighted is a way to restore a sense of peace and tranquility.

Once this need is satisfied, it is easier to focus on the fact that “every moment we have a choice, a kind of bifurcation in the path we are reaching. Will we approach someone with love, appreciation, connection, or will we turn away from them if we don’t believe the same way they do? he says.

What makes some people feel burnt out is that they confuse kindness with kindness. Kindness often means never making waves or confronting people. “Kindness, to me, is much deeper,” he says. “It’s about recognizing people’s innate worth, not reducing them to their beliefs and opinions.”

Crews makes this point in his foreword to the collection, where he describes the discouragement her husband, Brad, felt after being discharged from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. No one in Brad’s town knew why he left the Air Force, but small acts of kindness from neighbors, friends and customers of the organic farm where he worked kept Brad from ending his days – and gave him a new sense of direction. .

As people return to more normal lives, Crews hopes “The Path to Kindness” can help readers find their own path to brighter, happier days.

More than see

There’s a moment before the kingfisher dives,

the eagle melts, the little green ducks disappear

like the breeze in the lower branches of the cedar

above the river; a while ago before i named

the kingfisher, the eagle, the ducks when I’m not

the observer, I am the streak of light, the stroke of the wings,

the confident wind; I am grace: an end of life

in awe of things, a beginning of life with them.

–Susan Musgrave

Excerpted from “The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy”, Storey Publishing, 2022. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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