Favorite Poems, Scriptio Divina

When author and illustrator Maurice Sendak passed  away in May 2012, NPR posted this on their tumblr page:

Terry Gross: Can you share some of your favorite comments from readers that you’ve gotten over the years?
Maurice Sendak: Oh, there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim, I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

Image by J. Paxon Reyes via Flickr (Creative Commons License)
That child-like response is how I feel when I read some poems: I want to eat them, bring them somehow into my body. I don't, of course. Instead, I take to writing them out in long-hand, over and over, a form of a meditation.

I first heard about this writing-as-meditation at the Earlham School of Religion's Spirituality Gathering, where it was called a type of scriptio divina, based on the Christian practice of lectio divina, in which you engage in a meditative reading of a selected sacred text, inviting the words to speak to you in new ways. Similarly, the scriptio divina that I learned asks you to write out a selected text, meditatively, slowly, inviting the words to speak with new life.

Some of my sacred texts are poems.

I started writing out my favorite poems, sacred or not, as well as poems that interested me. I write with pencil in a large blue book filled with blank, lined pages. Here those poems:

"A Prayer to Talk to Animals," by Nickole Brown
"A Shaker Speaks to the Invisible," Roxanne Beth Johnson
"A Byzantine Mosaic" Wisława Szymborska
"Adam’s Apple," Debra Kang Dean
"Advice," Kristin LaTour
"Adam's Curse," William Butler Yeats
"American Flamingo," Greg Pape
"[American Journal]," by Robert Hayden
"An Introduction to Literature" William Stafford
"Ars Poetica" (poem is located down towards the middle of the page), Eleanor Wilner
"Ask Me," William Stafford
"[as freedom is a breakfast food]" e. e. cummings
"Auditing The Heart," Frank Matagrano
"Berryman,"  W. S. Merwin
"Bone China," Kerrin McCadden
"Casino," Osip Mandelstam, Christian Wiman translation
"Characteristics of Life," Camille Dungy
"Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies," Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Combustion," Sara Eliza Johnson
"Custom," Carl Phillips
"Cut," Sylvia Plath
"Dare you seen a soul a the white heat?" Emily Dickinson
"Dear Eros," Traci Brimhall
"Dear Proofreader," David Hernandez
"Dirge without Music," Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Dusk,"Gabriela Mistral
"Each Life Converges to Some Center," Emily Dickinson
"Elegy Surrounded by Seven Trees," Rachel Eliza Griffiths
"Falling Stars," by Sherine Elise Gilmour
"Fantasy Sports," Mary Biddinger
"For Those Whom the Gods Love Less," Denise Levertov
Fragment 16 ("Some men say an army of horse"), Sappho, Anne Carson translation
"Gentrification," Sherman Alexie
"Go to the Limits of Your Longing," Ranier Maria Rilke
"Gonna Die with My Hammer in My Hand" Robert Gibb
"Great Whites and Cuttlefish," Tomasz Rozycki (trans. Mira Rosenthal)
"Grendel" by Roger Reeves
"Hapnophobia or the Fear of Being Touched," torrin a. greathouse
"Healing the Weariness," Marge Piercy
"Her Moods Caused Owls," Sarah Sousa
Honeysuckle,” Lyn Lifshin
"How to be a Poet," Wendell Berry
"How to Draw a Perfect Circle," Terrance Hayes
"In Indiana," Susanna Childress
"In Love, His Grammar Grew," Stephen Dunn
"In the Birthing Room," Greg Pape
"In the New Century I Gave You My Name," Alex Dimitrov
"Influences," Sherman Alexie
"Innocence Essay," Jennifer Chang
"Instead of Bad News about a Person I Love," Jack Underwood
"Just Once," Anne Sexton
"Learning to Swim at Forty-five," Colleen McElroy
"Like Church," Natalie Diaz
"Little Gidding", T. S. Eliot
"Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight," Galway Kinnell
"Lullaby for the Daughter I Gave Away," Sarah Freligh
"Mass," R. A. Villanueva
"Morning Song," Sylvia Plath
"(ode)," Beth Bachmann
Ode, Elegy, Aubade, Psalm,” Ryan Teitman
Ode to a Hawk with Wings Burning,” Ryan Teitman
"One Heart," Li-Young Lee
"One Train May Hide Another," Kenneth Koch
"Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem,” Bob Hicok
"Parachute," Maggie Smith
"Poetry," Pablo Neruda
"Property," Ace Boggess
"Prosody 101," Linda Pastan
"Rereading Frost," Linda Pastan
"Risk," Lisa Colt
"Serpentinata," Calypso Jewel
"She Tells You a Story" and "Of Crows", Sally Rosen Kindred
"Sitting at Night on the Front Porch," Charles Wright
"six apologies, lord," Olena Kalytiak Davis
"Sleeping with Strangers," Corrinne Hales
"Small Kindnesses," by Danusha Laméris
"Snow," Dorianne Laux
"Some Kiss We Want," Rumi
"Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong", by Ocean Vuong
"Song," by Brigit Pegeen Kelly
"Song of Myself," Walt Whitman
"Spelling," Margaret Atwood
"Spoiler," Amy Woolward
"Sutra," Marilyn Krysl
Tanka ("Broken by the sound of the wind"), Princess Shikishi, Dr. Hisashi Nakamura translation
"Tear," Linda Hogan
"Tenderness," Stephen Dunn
"Testament," Wendell Berry
"To a Young Poet," Mahmoud Darwish, Fady Joudah translation
"Toad," by Diane Seuss
"The Business of Fancydancing," Sherman Alexie
"The Colonel," Carolyn Forché
"The Curator," Miller Williams
"The Fire Cycle," Zachary Schomburg
"The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart," Jack Gilbert
"The Future is an Animal," Tina Chang
"The Girl With Antlers," by Ansel Elkins
"The Hyssop Tub," Susanna Childress
"The Joy That Tends Towards Unbecoming," Josepah Fasano
"The Layers," Stanley Kunitz
"The Moment I Saw a Pelican Devour," Paige Lewis
"The Moss Garden," C. Dale Young
"To Myself," Franz Wright
"The Paper Heft of Your Life," Judith Infante
"The Search for Baby Combover," David Kirby
"The Soul Bone," Susan Wood
"The Sun Got Over Everything," by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
"The Swan at Edgewater Park" by Ruth L. Schwartz
"The Thing Is," by Ellen Bass
"The Winter's Wife," by Jennifer Chang
"The World is Too Much With Us," William Wordsworth
"This is Manifest," Kerri Webster
"This Room and Everything in It," Li-Young Lee
"Tuning," Diane Glancy
"Uneasy the Head that Wears a Crown," Natasha Oladokun
"Unlove Poem," Franny Choi
"What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade," by Brad Aaron Modlin
"Why I Am Not a Painter," Frank O'Hara
"Why the Child Does Not Want to Go To Kindergarten," Jeanne Emmons
"(why your room has a door)," Beth Bachmann
"Wind," C. Dale Young
"You Can Have It," Philip Levine


  1. Brilliant idea to bring poems into lectio divina. I memorize poems, and sometimes teach workshops on learning poems by heart, and find the repeated reading, and later reciting, is a form of meditation. I am going to use your copying technique in my journal now as scripto divina. Thank you. Terrific list of poems, too. I will refer to it.

  2. Thank-you Alexa. Your impulse to teach by having students memorize sounds wonderful to me; I am drawn to the idea of learning poems by heart. I hope scripto divina becomes meaningful in your practice! If you ever post a list of the poems you've memorized or written out in long hand, let me know. I'd love to read them.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, wisdom, heart. Shalom.


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