Ruth Forman is an acclaimed author of poetry and children’s literature. She is a former teacher of creative writing with June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California as well as a longtime faculty member with the VONA writing program. She is currently a professor at the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English.
When poet Andréana Elise sat down to speak with poet Ruth Forman, the result was a poem in two voices. Here is the record of that conversation.
by ANDRÉANA ELISE
It’s never straightforward—
this meeting of souls.
Whether for one time,
or till the end of time,
we struggle to be present,
to be pure.
At least, that’s how it is
for me. I toss and turn
in bed, wondering
if I said the right thing,
while the ocean
of the unsaid laps over me,
in dark waves of grace.
We cry out, and in response
God or the Universe or whatever
you call It
sends us tenderness
in the form of another human being.
Listen to what she says:
I’ve always loved poetry.
And the metaphors of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
I remember feeling them as a young person,
resonating with my heart.
I was ten years old, living in Rochester,
New York with my Dad.
The diversity of the Bahá’ís impressed me.
I became a child of the whole community,
and declared my faith at 15.
This Faith took me into the world.
A friend invited me to serve
in the West Indies—Antigua.
Hard work, beauty, I glimpsed what life could be...
I knew I wanted an education.
Berkeley. Each teacher taught me something
to hold onto: fresh imagery, courage, truthfulness,
paying attention, a new way of expression.
June Jordan said, you can always talk about
what’s wrong in the world,
but what can you say
to make people want to get up,
and greet a new day?
Bring in the celebration, the joy, the hope.
This is part of the African American tradition
and it is a Bahá’í way of seeing and doing too.
This is my beginning.
I listen to Ruth speak,
sitting in a converted church
fumbling another question,
following a deeper thread.
My body struggles to be
that hollow reed she sings of—
on this day
when sadness grips me,
and emotion rocks me,
when I’m not hollow at all,
but heavy with the grief
we must wade through,
even as we hold down jobs,
and juggle commitments,
praying for new life
at every instant—wait—
wait for it—
here it comes!
Poetry is healing, it is service.
You can find beauty in anger, in ugliness
I don’t consider myself a good speaker,
so when there’s something I want to say,
I go to paper,
In Rumi, Hafiz, Lucille Clifton
there’s a light
that helps me shift, recalibrate.
I do tai chi every day, reaching for a deeper,
higher place. As the energy unblocks, I don’t shy away
from whatever comes through.
This year of pandemic is a time of surrender,
and I will look back,
More than ever, I feel the presence of my ancestors,
and pray for them.
The veil is thinner in the realm
of heart and soul.
My desire? Make me available.
Use me as I’m meant to Be,
from the place of my highest self.
I’ve prayed for humanity more this year
than ever before.
My prayer for humanity