The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Yoko Ono’s Playful and Philosophical Action-Poems About How to Live with Greater Attentiveness to the World

Yoko Ono’s Playful and Philosophical Action-Poems About How to Live with Greater Attentiveness to the World

In 1964, artist Yoko Ono (b. February 18, 1933) published Grapefruit — a collection of her poems, drawings, and instructions for life, constituting a sort of whimsical activity book for grownups. Nearly half a century later, on the eve of her seventieth birthday, she released a sequel titled Acorn (public library) — a new set of “action poems” bearing the same sensibility of irreverence and earnestness, subversion and sincerity. Aswirl between them are Ono’s distinctive dot-drawings — abstract three-dimensional shapes reminiscent of Thomas Wright’s pioneering 18th-century depictions of the universe.

Fusing the playful and the philosophical, the pieces are grouped into sets according to the attentional focus of their particular activity — the sky, the city, the seasons, the home, the sounds and sights and sensations that surround us. Undergirding the poems is a robust optimism and a meditative quality that accomplishes the seemingly impossible — inviting deep reflection not through the weight of analytical reason but through the levity of intuitive insight.


Towards the end of the Second World War, I looked like a little ghost because of the food shortage. I was hungry. It was getting easier to just lie down and watch the sky. That’s when I fell in love with the sky, I think.

Since then, all my life, I have been in love with the sky. Even when everything was falling apart around me, the sky was always there for me. It was the only constant factor in my life, which kept changing with the speed of light and lightning. As I told myself then, I could never give up on life as long as the sky was there.

Tell us when you first noticed the sky.
Tell us when you first noticed that the sky was beautiful.


Watch a hundred-year-old tree breathe.
Thank the tree in your mind for showing us
how to grow and stay.


Listen to the sound of the fire burning
in the center of the globe.



Imagine running across a wheat field
as fast as you can.
Imagine your friend running towards you
as fast as possible.

Imagine the colour of the sky. If it’s clouded,
see if there are any blue spots.
If it’s clear,
see if there are any clouds.
If it’s stormy,
look out for thunder and lightning.
If it’s snowing,
take your coat off
so you can wrap it around your friend.



Tape the sound of your baby son crying.
Let him listen to the tape when he is
going through pain as a grown man.


Make a numbered list of sadness in your life.
Pile up stones corresponding to those numbers.
Add a stone each time there is sadness.
Burn the list, and appreciate the mound of stones for its beauty.

Make a numbered list of happiness in your life.
Pile up stones corresponding to those numbers.
Add a stone each time there is happiness.
Compare the mound of stones to the one of sadness.


Try to say nothing negative about anybody.

a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months

See what happens to your life.


Send a note of appreciation to silent courageous people
you happen to have noticed: parents, teachers, shopkeepers,
street cleaners, artists, etc.

Keep doing it.
See what happens to the world.

Complement the thoroughly wonderful Acorn with Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being, then revisit John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s animated conversation about love.

Published January 20, 2016




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