Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fun with Nonets

Last night I went to one of my poetry groups that meets in Leeds at the Leeds Theatre and Arts Center. The facilitator for the group, Joan Dawson, had sent us an assignment to write a nonet. I had never written a nonet before, but we were given the basic format:

“The nonet poetic form is simple. It’s a 9-line poem that has 9 syllables in the first line, 8 syllables in the second line, 7 syllables in the third line, and continues to count down to one syllable in the final (ninth) line.”

I found it to be a fascinating, fun, and easy to use form. Not only is it simple, it offers a qite interesting visual effect on the page. Since I had spent much of the afternoon pruning my crepe myrtle trees, I made that the topic of my poem. We all enjoyed hearing the nonets that people in the group had written. Some were amusing while others were quite profound. Here is my contribution along with photographic proof of how my day was spent.


Crepe myrtle branches stacked by the road
while their trunks stand gracefully still.
Cleaning out last year’s brambles
to make way for new growth
is winter’s fierce task.
The gardener
prepares for

                        ~ CK


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Morning Fog

slowly the light breaks
on a cool foggy morning
friends help guide the way


Image: "The Grand Illusion"
Japanese painting
Artist: Konen Uehara 上原 古年 (1877-1940)


Friday, January 27, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Times: When Hope Is Set in Stone

Some of my writer friends and I have been talking – especially the poets among us. What can we do during these uncertain times? We see before us (and among us) division and discord magnified by the nature of our political system.

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  I am setting myself a goal to write a poem each week that reflects what I see and experience in the life of our nation. I may not post a poem each week, but if I can write one poem a week there will be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.

I hope my efforts will not be polemical, but will rather be a true expression of what is. My goal will be to speak to our experiences of what we see and feel in our community and national life. Hopefully that poetic chronicle will depict the joys, sorrows, celebrations and uncertainties that come forth in our common struggle for a more perfect union.

Today I begin by sharing a poem I wrote last Friday on inauguration day:

When Hope Is Set in Stone
(Thoughts on inauguration day)

Photo by Martin Child / Robert Harding
(Getty Images)

We put our heroes in marble
Thinking we give them honor
When in fact
We do it for ourselves.

Having learned that we can so quickly
Misplace our values
Or set aside our highest ideals,
We chisel from the stone –
Or cast in bronze –
Those images we admire.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial (Wikipedia photo)
        Justice and wisdom
        Come through those marble faces,
        As do fidelity and compassion 
        Because our own hands
        Carved them out
        While we were delighting
        In our better angels.

Martin Luther King Memorial
Photo by Alan Kkotok
Marble faces and bronze statues
Look out on our parades
Whether we march in hope
Or walk in fear and hatred.

If we stop to look back
Into their unchanging eyes
There is a chance
We might remember
Why we set those ideals in polished rock.

Perhaps we will recall
Those better days
When we etched our hopes in stone.

                                 ~ Charles Kinnaird


Thursday, January 26, 2017


I happened last Friday this blogsite reached another milestone: 200,000 pageviews (we're at 201,775 as of today). It was back in December of 2014 that we reached 100,000 pageviews. As I said back then, I don’t know if this many views is good, bad, or average, but the views are picking up since in two years there were as many pageviews as the previous four years.

When I did a post celebrating that first 100,000 mark, I listed the top 20 most popular posts up to that point. Today I decided to pick 15 of my favorite posts. There is some overlap from that first list two years ago. To see more listings of my favorite essays, click on the “Essays” tab at the top of the page. There is also a “Poetry” tab and a “Haiku” tab where some of my poetry posts can be seen.

I wish to thank all who follow this blog, all who have left comments, and all who stop by to read my posts from time to time.  Here is the list of some of my favorite posts:


Photos: Two views of Turkey Creek at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Credit: Charles Kinnaird


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women Offer Sign of Hope

Women's March in Washington
(Wikipedia photo)

I was proud to have family and friends participating in Birmingham's sister march in conjunction with the Women's March in Washington, D.C. The entire event served as a sign of hope in the wake of uncertainties felt as a new White House administration took office on Friday.

Like Night and Day

Inauguration Day may have seemed bleak and dark with a new president speaking in stark and strident tones, his inaugural address evoking both national fears and national pride. We heard a commander-in-chief seem to put the nations of the world on notice that America is first (and it sounded like he wants to begin asserting economic and military superiority immediately). Lots of declaratives, few celebratory statements. Meanwhile, the band played the same old tunes and soldiers marched the same routine. Later in the evening, the president and the first lady danced to “I Did It My Way.” (If this were a movie script, producers would reject it saying, “That would never happen,” or Too cheeky by half.)

While some are cheering this new administration, Mr. Trump begins his term as president with a 40% approval rating. There are fears of what may happen with healthcare, environmental issues, voting rights and racial equality – not to mention matters of national security. Many are uneasy about what this erratic, impulsive man with no experience in government might do in the highest office in the land.

A much brighter day dawned the day after the inauguration with the Women’s March. Over 500,000 people marched on Washington while some 2.9 million marched in cities across the nation. In my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, they were expecting 500 to 800 people to show up. Instead there were 5,000 people marching from Kelly Ingram Park to Linn Park downtown. This same trend was seen elsewhere. Here is what some of my friends said about marches in their cities:

“5000 were predicted in Charlotte; CMPD puts the official count at 25,000.”
“4,000 predicted for Augusta, Maine -- tallies more like 10K”
“In Atlanta, the organizers hoped for 14,000; last number I heard was 63,000.”

Remarkably there were absolutely no arrests reported during the D.C. march. One friend who was there, John Northrop, gave this observation: “Judging from many of the signs, you might think it was a flood of anger, but not so. It was a cheerful crowd, full of laughter, smiles, good will, courtesy . . . and awe!”

Moreover, it was not just in the U.S. that the “sister marches” took place. Similar gatherings took place in cities around the world. Everywhere, the crowds were beyond expectation, and everywhere the message was that we need to pay attention to the things that matter. 

Do Not Discount the Women

While some are asking if the Women’s March was just a cathartic moment or and enduring movement, I learned at a very young age the power of women when they get mobilized around an issue. I must have been around nine or ten years old when I saw my mother, Mary Cook Kinnaird, organize Judson College alumnae to prevent executive decisions that would have dissolved the school.

Judson College is a women’s college located in Marion, Alabama, and is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention. In the early to mid-1960’s, the executive office of the Alabama Baptist Convention set out to merge Judson College with Samford University, another Baptist college in Birmingham (over 75 miles from Marion). The merger might have preserved the name, Judson College, but for all intents and purposes, it would have closed the women’s college which some in leadership saw no need for.

I don’t know all the details since I only caught bits and pieces of the fight from conversations my mother had with my father as she would debrief at the kitchen table. She was president of the Judson College Alumnae Association and there were many phone calls, meetings, letters written, and trips over to the college.  All of the leadership in the Alabama Baptist Convention was male, of course, and the executive officer who made it his goal to close the women's school found himself facing more than he could handle. Those women got together, petitioned various offices, rallied the students, sang songs in churches and convention meetings, and preserved their school which continues to operate with high acclaim.

Their Hope Should Be Our Hope

So take it from me, don’t mess with women when they get mobilized. You can also be sure that the issues they stand for are things that will benefit all of us. The Unity Principles of the Women’s March include workers’ rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice, and an end to violence. These are the values that will allow us to dwell together in unity in a sustainable world. 

If you followed the events in the media, you know that women were not the only ones marching. There were men there, too. It was the women, however, who brought it together and highlighted the higher values that we must not lose sight of. We should all be thankful for the organizational work that these women have done. It has helped us to realize that we as citizens continue to have a role in proclaiming the values by which we shall live.

About 5,000 Alabamians met at Birmingham's Kelly Ingram Park
to join the Women's March on Washington
(photo by Anna Claire Vollers, AL.com)
*   *   *
Here is a slide show with images of the Women's March at sites all across the country and in other parts of the world:


Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Music: Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Ray Charles)

I went to see Manchester by the Sea last week. It is not a "feel good movie" but it does offer excellent acting, beautiful photography and a remarkable soundtrack. The best gift for me, which I share today, is this superb rendition of the Rogers & Hammerstein tune, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" sung by Ray Charles, accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Calm River

calm river
under moonlit sky
buoyant grace


Image: Evening Cool on the Sumida River (Indianapolis Museum of Art)
Artist: Eijiro Koyobashi (1900 - 1920)
Medium: Ink on paper


Friday, January 20, 2017

An American Tune

As we celebrate the peaceful transfer of power on this Inauguration Day, let us not forget who we are. Here is Paul Simon's "American Tune," a song that is introspective, contemplative, and truly patriotic. Performed by Simon & Garfunkel at their reunion concert in Central Park in 1981. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Dreamer and the Movement

A Reflection on Martin Luther King Day Celebrations in Birmingham, Alabama

They said one to another, “Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
                                                                                     Genesis 37:19-20

A Day of Remembrance

I spent last Sunday and Monday attending special events in Birmingham in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. On Monday morning there was the 31st annual Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention  Complex where we heard from elder statesmen of the movement and sat with some of the early “foot soldiers,” now gray-haired and some with bodies that were slowed and bowed down.

Photo by Cody Owens, Weld for Birmingham 
At noontime, I walked in the “Traditional March” where hundreds of people gathered at City Hall to march to  Kelly Ingram Park. Back in the early 1960s, Dr. King organized marchers in Kelly Ingram Park to march in protest on City Hall. Now that an African American has held the office of mayor of Birmingham since 1979, the Traditional March is done in reverse, beginning at City Hall and ending at Kelly Ingram Park.

It was a moving experience to place myself at the epicenter of so much civil rights history, surrounded by people who have been involved in the struggle for justice, freedom and equality. The most inspiring moment for me came with Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s speech Sunday afternoon at 16th Street Baptist Church. 

A Big Day at 16th Street Baptist Church

I had arrived an hour early hoping to get a good seat, only to find that most people had the same idea. There was already a line on the steep front steps of the church. As I entered, I was directed along with the crowd to the balcony where the remaining seats were available. After navigating the steep winding stairs (these old buildings we made for the able-bodied!) I took a back seat along the side of the balcony. Later there would be people standing along the back wall.

Inside the church there was a diverse crowd of white, black, even some Asian and Hispanic in attendance. I looked about and spotted Doug Jones below in the main sanctuary. Jones is the attorney who successfully prosecuted two of the suspects in the 16th Street Church bombing some 40 years after the attack in 1963.  There were, of course network TV cameras stationed unobtrusively in the back.

The event at 16th Street Baptist Church was Ms. Lynch’s final speech as Attorney General of the United States.  Set at the historic church, the event unfolded as a traditional church service. The beautiful organ began to sound out chords more lively that might be expected in churches frequented by more staid Caucasian churchgoers. The Black church experience has always been played out on a different level. They have a long tradition of knowing that even when the body is in bondage, the spirit can soar. The choir sang the call to worship and their voices filled the sanctuary as only a black mass choir can.

An opening prayer was shouted out proclaiming that though our destination is Heaven, our task in the meantime is to make a better world.  The opening scripture was a prophetic passage from Micah chapter 6 which declares in verse 8, “He has shown thee, O man what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  

Four Spirits Sculpture, Kelly Ingram Park
(WBRC photo by Melyndo Sides)
Then there were presentations by dignitaries including Mayor William Bell and congresswoman Terri Sewell. The big excitement for the city was President Obama’s proclamation a few days earlier declaring the civil rights district of Birmingham a National Monument, thus making it part of the National Park Service. The sites of the new national monument include 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the A.G. Gaston Motel.

When the time came to pass the offering plate (the pastor, Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. said, After all, this is a Baptist Church) the choir sang, If it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would I be? Where would I be? It was very moving to me just hearing that song sung in that place, especially in the context of a Martin Luther King Day celebration. After the choir had sung, the organ continued to play out the melody while some in the congregation began to joyfully sing the chorus. I could tell that it was a favorite among the congregation.

The Attorney General Speaks

Loretta Lynch at 16th St. Baptist Church (AP photo by Byrn Anderson)

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch stepped up to the pulpit, she was greeted warmly and her remarks were delivered warmly.  She held the audience's attention throughout and gave what I found to be the most important and inspiring speech given anywhere that weekend

Her message was one of hope grounded in the reality of the present day and founded upon the lessons of history. Ms. Lynch began her address acknowledging that 16th Street Baptist Church has not only borne witness to the progress of freedom in our history, it has also borne the costs of that progress.” There was the tragedy of the 1963 church bombing which took the lives of four little girls, yet the horrific news of that bombing awakened a nation and led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ms. Lynch recounted the many areas of progress that the country has witnessed in the advancement of freedom and equality for so many. At the same time she noted that we continue to see acts of violence against people because of their race or religion and that the current administration has worked hard to prosecute hate crimes. Moreover, even with the Voting Rights Act, we have seen setbacks as with the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v Holder. In spite of that ruling, Ms Lynch told of how the Justice Department continues the fight in challenging state discriminatory laws in federal court.

Not a Cause for Despair

Ms. Lynch recounted many positive signs she has seen across the country of people organizing for good in spite of (and in response to) the waves of intolerance and injustice that continue to exist.  The lesson we draw from Dr. Martin Luther King, she said, is that adversity is not a cause for despair, it is a call to action.   

The Attorney General recounted the heights of the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington where Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech, then pointed out that just three weeks later he came to Birmingham to give a very different speech to the people suffering grief and loss in the aftermath of the church bombing. That dream must have seemed much more fragile, she noted, than it did three weeks earlier at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Ms. Lynch reminded us, however, of Dr. King's words to the grief-stricken people that day: “We must not despair; we must not become bitter.” 

Plaque at Lorraine Hotel
(Photo by Michael Tersleff)
Lynch then told about the memorial at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated. A marble plaque has been placed there bearing the inscription from Genesis 37:19-20: They said one to another, behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and see what becomes of his dreams” The dream, of course, has continued, though she pointed out that today there is anxiety and fear that the dream may be lost.

She went on to say that it has never been easy, nor was it ever foreordained that we would have the gains that we see today. We are Americans and we have always pushed forward...the cause of justice is greater than any one of us. 

Where Dreams are Made

Knowing the unease and trepidation that so many are feeling as the swearing in of a new president approaches, Ms. Lynch closed her speech with words of further encouragement:

And if it comes to pass that we do enter a period of darkness, let us remember – that is when dreams are best made.  So let us see – what shall become of Dr. King’s dream?  The Lord has already wrought a miracle by bringing us this far, and “I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.”

What shall become of his dream?  We shall pick it up and carry it forward.  We will not shirk, we will not falter, we will not fail.

What shall become of his dream?  We shall take this newest monument and make it a testament not just to what happened before but to what we do today.

What shall become of his dream?  We will make it ours, and we will extend it as a bridge to all those who stand on the outside of democracy looking in. 

And when our time comes, we shall pass the dream on to those who are already raising their hand and to those yet to come.  So that the arc of the moral universe continues straight and true – continues towards justice.
She spoke the words that I so needed to hear. When the service closed, there were tears in my eyes. As I made my way out with the many who had gathered there, it was a weighty moment. In spite of the uncertainty ahead, there was a sense of hope. As I stood on the front steps of the church watching the crowd disperse, and older black lady came up to me and asked if I would take her picture in front of the church. She handed me her smart phone and I was glad to get her picture standing on the front steps. As I handed her phone camera back to her, I commented that this service was just what I needed. I have been in mourning,” I told her.

“We are all in mourning, she replied, “but we're gonna make it.   

*   *   *

(To read Attorney General Lynch's entire speech, go here)

16th Street Baptist Church
(Wikipedia photo)

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