I’ll admit that I wasn’t much into poetry growing up. In school, it seemed as if poetry was used as the vehicle to enhance our memorization skills, and that was fine with me. I found memorizing poems easy; understanding what the poet was trying to say, impossible.
So once I finished high school, I probably never read another poem until just a few years ago – a span of nearly 40 years. It was around the time that I started blogging, and consequently started to read other bloggers. For some reason, many of the bloggers I ended up following were either poets, like Brad Osbourne, or featured the work of well-known poets on a frequent basis, like David Kanigan.
I started to develop a new appreciation for poetry, and great respect for poets, thanks to the blogging community.
And so when I saw the headline “The best way to start your work day: Read a poem“, an article on Quartz by Anne Quito, I felt compelled to read it.
The first paragraph really hit home, and brought back memories of grade school:
Reading poetry is a willful act. Making sense of strange groupings of words requires an agile form of listening—one that can bridge ambiguity and keep pace with a poet’s linguistic leaps.
Back then, I wasn’t willing to put the effort into making sense of poems, and without the effort, the poems were indeed just a strange grouping of words.
But Pádraig Ó Tuama, an Irish theologian, poet, and the host of the new podcast Poetry Unbound, notes that:
“it is precisely these skills that make poetry pleasurable, and also useful in the workplace. In poetry, one allows ambivalence and ambiguity of multiple meanings to coexist. It creates space for hospitality and complexity.”
He believes that business professionals may have a latent facility for poetry:
“I think business people are used to looking at complex ways in which we use language, like in a negotiation,” Ó Tuama explains. “Even the whole idea of elevator pitch in a certain sense is a form of poetry. How can you say something, succinctly, that’s so compelling that it gets the imagination going.”
Ó Tuama experienced how starting each day with poetry can infuse a kind of lyricism to the most quotidian managerial tasks.
“I spent an hour and a half looking at the mystery of language and that has actually really helped me. I was able to bring myself with imagination to questions and look at language that was being used for HR, governance, fundraising, and communication. For me, poetry is really practical in the sense that it grounds you in what’s possible with language.”
John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite conflict mediator, likes to write meeting notes and trip reports in haiku form. The act of distilling information to a five-seven-five syllable format is a way to “capture the wonder of the human experience in the simplest of terms.” explained Lederach during a 2018 gathering in California.
At a certain time in my peace-building journey, sitting close to and with human suffering, little by little I was experiencing a deadening of my soul. Sometimes we call this ‘burnout…It’s amazing how something you learn in the second grade could become the light that enlivens the spirit. As an adult second-grader, my rediscovery was in understanding haiku as a contemplative practice, the seeking of the haiku attitude; that is, to prepare yourself to be touched by beauty, the noticing of the haiku moment that is the aha when the world is revealed for what it is.
Reading that makes me want to start writing some haikus.
It appears that I am not the only one with a newly found interest in poetry
A 2017 US National Endowment of the Arts study showed that poetry readership has skyrocketed, especially among young adults.
Celebrated podcast host Krista Tippett, whose company produces Poetry Unbound, attests that poetry-themed editions of her own show are very popular with listeners.
“Since the 2016 [US] election, there’s been a massive increase in downloads,” she says. “When societies are fractured, poetry always rises.”
So perhaps that’s also what has drawn me to poetry – its contemplative nature in a time of upheaval.
Thank you to all the poets and poetry-sharing bloggers out there who have raised my awareness of the power of poetry.
*image from the Poetry Shed