Sunday, January 31, 2010


Last night, between the haggis and the headache, I enjoyed the traditional Burns Night festivities and a whiskey tasting with about forty other people at the home of some Carleton friends. The guests were a mix of professors and IT people, all of whom came prepared to step up to the mic and read a Burns poem. (Clara and I actually read a letter Burns wrote to his friend Mrs. Riddell, apologizing for getting roaring drunk at her house.) Most of the professors read from pieces of paper or from old books of poetry, but one after the other the IT people stood up and read from their iPhones. It was an interesting mix of tradition and technology: reading the words of an eighteenth-century poet from a 21st-century handheld device.

It's always great to see poetry reaching new audiences and new technologies.

On Tuesday, I spent the afternoon at ARTech charter school, helping to judge the Poetry Out Loud competition. Seventeen students, most of the them ninth graders, took turns at the microphone, reciting the poems they had memorized. The audience of students who packed the big room at ARTech listened in rapt attention, and at the end of each recitation enthusiastically cheered their fellow students.

One of the girls, a frightened-looking ninth grader, had to take a moment to collect herself before she reluctantly stepped up to the microphone. Her poem was Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole." Her voice began to flow quietly into the mic, and in an instant she was transformed. The poem—the words of a seventy-five year old male poet—seemed to belong to her, as it this were exactly what she needed to say, as if she were what the poet had written. I had the feeling that I was experiencing something brief and beautiful and entirely new, like a butterfly just emerging from its chrysalis and moving its wings for the first time.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.
The audience erupted into applause, and as she left the stage, the air moved in to fill the space where she stood.

1 comment:

Shan said...

So lovely! (The 9th grader and her poem, I mean, not the haggis and the headache.)

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .