Pro Bono Week Inspires the Poetic Souls of the Taproot Foundation and Nonprofit Quarterly

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October 28, 2013; Taproot Foundation


Sometimes, the NPQ Newswire—or, more often, Ruth McCambridge’s “Editor’s Notes”—finds some poetry of significance to the social sector issues that NPQ covers. Usually, we find ourselves quoting classic poetry; most memorably, last year’s reprinting of Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet” to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 and, a year earlier, on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, D.H. Lawrence’s “Escape.”

So, we have a soft spot here for poetry, and try to cover nonprofit-related poetry stories: the White House poetry event that included rapper Common, which drew the ire of poetry aficionados Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity; Bill Murray reading Emily Dickinson to construction workers at the new facility of the nonprofit Poets House in Lower Manhattan; and last year’s “Occupy Abai” protest in Moscow at the statue of Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbaev.

We therefore find great merit, albeit not quite so much great poetry, in the poem that a Taproot Foundation blogger composed in honor of the foundation’s recently concluded “Pro Bono Week.” We hope Taproot doesn’t mind that we’ve reprinted the brief poem here in full:

Pro Bono Week came
and then Pro Bono Week went.
In sum: Time well spent!

It spread like wildfire:
The power of
pro bono.
Sparks have grown to flames!

Two little haikus,
Both from us, poemed for you
Will you write one too?

Taproot has invited submissions of Pro Bono Week haikus as alternatives to 140 character Tweets to laud participants’ experiences that week. (NPQ has done this previously, asking readers to submit their mission statements as haiku.) Hopefully, budding poets might also remember the classics that also speak to the spirit of caring and self-sacrifice that animates people in the nonprofit sector. Reading to construction workers, Bill Murray might have chosen this piece from Dickinson (“If I Can Stop”) that celebrated what it means to give of oneself—pro bono, so to speak:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

When we connect with our neighbors and friends through service, it is from a sense that we are all part of a larger whole, as in Octavio Paz’s “Brotherhood.”

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

Paz wonders what a small insignificant man’s role is in the universe. For many of us, our role in the firmament is one of brotherhood and service to others—at least that’s what “Brotherhood” inspires in this writer. As you think of pro-bono haikus for the Taproot Foundation, send us pieces from the classics that you think capture what the social sector does for our society.—Rick Cohen

  • Deborah Watrous, NH Humanities Council

    Here’s a William Stafford poem that captures our work to foster civil conversation on civic issues:

    A Ritual To Read To Each Other

    If you don’t know the kind of person I am
    and I don’t know the kind of person you are
    a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
    and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

    For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
    a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
    sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
    storming out to play through the broken dyke.

    And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
    but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
    I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
    to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

    And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
    a remote important region in all who talk:
    though we could fool each other, we should consider–
    lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

    For it is important that awake people be awake,
    or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
    the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
    should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

    William Stafford

  • Rick Cohen

    wonderful, Deborah, thank you!