Poetry and Everyday Life

Woodland DaffodilsApril was National Poetry Month. It’s also a time here in the northeast when the smallest enticements of spring begin to peep out through the cold winds and chilly rains that continue to hound us. April insists we notice the small markers of life around us: the tree now leaved, the daffodil that suddenly appears, the sound of a bird call that we hadn’t even realized we missed until we heard it again. Much has been written about how difficult it is to find time for these small moments, to simply be aware and awake to everyday life.

Like April’s revelations, the poetry of Marie Howe, the poet laureate of New York State, turns us away from the ceaseless distractions and self-imposed “to do” lists that we sometimes mistake for actually living:

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.

In “The Moment”, Howe writes:

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when,    nothing
no what-have-I-to-do-today-list

maybe    half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still.

Schools in May are rushing places and we hunger for small moments of just being. For teachers, perhaps it’s sharing that cup of coffee with a colleague, sitting in the stillness and silence of an end-of-term exam, or time to one’s self before students arrive. For students it may be that favorite quiet spot at lunchtime or an intimate conversation with a friend, stolen in the guise of “studying.” For many of us, it is simply sitting in chapel, away from the onslaught of the day. These moments can feel illicit with so much to do and yet to be done; being still is a pleasure and sometimes a guilty one.

Ironically, these small silences and intimacies are also easier to find in schools than in many other places if we let them come to us and to our students, too. Our schools should be places that offer their palliative power even in the midst of the hectic pressure to hurry, hurry hurry. In their absence, what lessons are we teaching our students?