Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hearing the silence behind the words

This week while waiting for my slow internet connection to download scholarly articles, I'm memorizing "How to Be a Poet" by Wendell Berry. I recognize the irony inherent in using my computer to study a poem that urges readers to "Shun electric wire" and "stay away from screens," and I am fully aware that Berry's agrarian philosophy elides the uncompensated contributions of marginalized and voiceless people, but the poem gives good advice for anyone seriously interested in writing.

It begins with discipline--"Make a place to sit down. / Sit down. Be quiet" -- and buries "inspiration" deep in a list of more essential elements: "affection, reading, knowledge, / skill" alongside "work, growing older, patience." 

The poem urges writers to "Live / a three-dimensioned life" connected to real rather than virtual places, but this connection to place should also be portable, since "there are no unsacred places." Finally, the poem promotes a slow pace and attentiveness to the silence that lies behind the world and the words, encouraging writers to  "make a poem that does not disturb / the silence from which it came."

I'm not trying to be a poet this summer, but listening to poetry and learning it by heart is helping me find the silence where meaning resides. The only way to hear it, though, is to first sit down and be quiet.  

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