Kind Words and a Little Praise

On Monday night, I went to see Janice Gould and Joy Harjo in conversation in Santa Fe. They’ve both been my writing teacher at different times. They took turns singing, playing the guitar and flute, and reading Janice’s work. It was such a fun night—if you’re into poetry readings with instruments!

I first heard Janice Gould read poetry in Loveland, Colorado. I knew she’d be my professor the next year, and I was so excited to take a writing class with her. Not only did I take a class, I also took an independent study of writing where we met each week at Margie’s (a little coffee shop in town) to discuss my assigned readings and talk about poetry. It was one of the first times I felt like a writer. I’d work all week on these fragments of poems, neglecting all my other studies, hoping she’d like even just one line. If she showed any approval at all, I’d float through the whole next week with those few kernels of praise tucked in my notebook like seeds in a mail-order packet, ready to plant them into my next work.

I try to remember those moments when I work with students, that even just a few phrases of praise can mean a difference—a smile at the door, a question about something they told me in their journal, a little note written on their paper. I’ll be honest: I’m not always good at it. I get bogged down by grading and planning. I get frustrated, and I sometimes show that frustration too clearly. But I try to remember what a difference kind words can make, too.

When was the last time you praised someone and for what?

This Music

 Water laps somewhere, a trickle among stones,

seeping into roots. At my feet,


ants scurry by, a beetle scuttles, honey bees

buzz among upturned faces of flowers.


Why this longing, this desire to sing sadness

or adoration? In some dark layer


music forms, note upon note, phrase after phrase,

each cadence bearing the blue of sky,


thickness of clouds piled at the horizon,

a flight of birds pushed by relentless wind.


Melody is born in snowmelt and flood,

at the rock cliff’s edge, in the leap of fire


across a chasm. Rhapsody reflects the shine

of mica, glint of sunlight in aspen,


a tree’s long shadow. Each aria seeks to find you

close to me, open to rapture.


“This Music,” by Janice Gould, was written in August 2011. It will be published in the upcoming issue of Pilgrimage Magazine, 2012.



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