Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
In his 1991 essay, “Slow Down for Poetry,” former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand wrote that poetry invites us to step out of the pace of our everyday lives and slow down. It requires we change the speed at which we usually absorb information. We can’t skim over a poem the way we do newspaper or website pages. With poetry, we pause to meditate over a line, phrase or image, rereading passages, stanzas, whole poems many times. We don’t so much slow down for poetry as allow poetry to slow us down.
Speaking to students at the 2006 Dodge Festival, current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine said that everyone needs to find their poetry. Poetry, for him, was the one thing that engaged all the many aspects of himself, that made him feel most fulfilled, most true to his truest self. He said that everyone needs to find something like this in their lives. For some people, like Levine, it’s poetry, but it could be any art, or work, or hobby.
We’ve all had the experience of being so deeply absorbed in something—creative work, meditation, conversation—that we lose all sense of time. We look at the clock and are shocked by how much later it is than we’d thought, or, we complete a challenging task and discover with focused attention it took a fraction of the time anticipated.
Perhaps we don’t need to slow down for poetry so much as to allow ourselves to make the time to forget time. There is no better way to do this than to make time for our poetry, whatever that is: gardening, wood working, playing or listening to music, dancing, yoga, reading or writing. It is particularly important to do this when we are certain we have no time. During periods of my life when adding anything extra to my schedule seemed impossible if not downright insane, I would set the alarm a little earlier to create time for silent reading in the early morning. I’m certain that’s how I got through those stressful times.
And let us not make “resolutions” to do this, as if to do what brings us joy requires resolve. Instead, let’s make gifts, little gifts to ourselves of an evening here or there, or even fifteen minutes in the morning, to do something we find fulfilling. You might discover it is poetry. But whatever it is, allowing ourselves time for it is not a selfish act. Doing what brings us fulfillment makes us less impatient, less frustrated, calmer and more centered. It makes us easier to be around, which makes us better friends, partners, citizens, parents and co-workers. Of course, we already know this. Perhaps the first gift is to allow ourselves to act on what we know about ourselves.