Why Poetry is a Necessary Luxury

Good morning,

Lyedie here again from my blue chair.

The crocuses are bursting forth here in New England, and it has been about a year now since I launched The Longings Project. The irony of having chosen this year to dedicate myself to fulfillment of the personal and professional longings of women is not lost on me — I have to admit, there have been times when I heard a booming voice saying, "How dare you put the longings of women at the forefront!" 

Here is the thing I have to say to that booming voice. We can't have true fulfillment without longings. Longings are Point One on the trek to fulfillment. Point One is where we set our direction. When we skip over Point One, we easily set off on rudderless adventures, driven by the winds of necessity and other people's worn itineraries. That is why I dare.

Longings give us access to living life with the heart of the Lover. (One of four members of the archetypal Wisdom Council that I offered you a few weeks back in the Daily Activist's Log) Lover is the one who feels and who loves life. She gives us access to our emotional intelligence and to our playful nature. When the Lover isn't firmly in her seat at your council, life starts to lose color and texture.  Your feeling life recedes and the dry winds of 'shoulds' and 'what ifs' begin to pervade.  Some people report feeling as if they are just going through the motions, or that they feel lifeless, even dead inside — dreams remain untapped.

Longings are the sparks and tugs of the Lover.  Glimpses of the future breaking through into the present, calling us into the next chapter of our lives. Longings speak through our felt sense, the little details of life, the exquisite swelling of our heart, the tears welling up in our eyes. There are times that we can barely feel the spark and the tug of longing, and other times that unrequited longing is burning holes through our lives . . .

One of the languages of longing is poetry. We are living in a moment in time when our very language defends against matters of the heart. Poetry, as David Whyte suggests, is language that melts through this defense and gives us access to the territory of the heart. Often we are quick to jump to instruction manual language that tells how to do it faster, more efficiently, more effectively and we skip right past the poetry that makes it all worth while.

Poets re-acquaint us with the language of longing, inviting us to live closer to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the mystery that gives rise to a meaningful life. Nayyirah Waheed whispers about the courage it takes to put longing first in a tiny poem that resounds in my heart.

flower work
not easy.
soft in fire

The poet Brooke MacNamara offers us an intimate glimpse into her response to the jug breaking political event of 2016 in her poem Upon Learning Donald Trump Has Been Elected POTUS, I Clean the House

Mold in the toilets must be scrubbed,
and my toddler’s spills demand my supplication.
I always hate the beginning of cleaning,
and the mess gets bigger
before what’s under begins to shine.
Some things must be discarded
but the little gifted sailboat mug
will be glued back together for my boy.
Now, head bowed
and crowned with earned beads of sweat,
I’m humming along and my husband
joins my effort. The bad news is:
unearthing, we don’t know what we’ll find.
The good news is: we don’t know what we’ll find.
My love, help me lift the weight
of the bed we’ve been sleeping in
so we can face what’s been collecting
under it in the dark. In the corner back there,
I see my lost heirloom ring - ring of my lineage -
has been resting against a dead fly

Mary Oliver slyly invites us to kneel down in the grass, even invites us to be idle and blessed, before she flings a heart-of-the-matter question right at us in her poem The Summer Day.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

One thing my life has taught me is that the greatest acts of courage are the small ones.  Like remaining soft in fire — Like saying 'no' to the news on occasion, and then saying 'yes' to poetry. Carving out time to spend with poetry has become a necessary luxury for me. Reading poetry invites the Lover to take her seat more firmly at the table of my Wisdom Council. It helps me to stay connected to not just what I care about, but to the full bodied felt sense of caring itself. 

Lately, I've been keeping a pile of poetry books beside my blue chair. Yesterday, in the quiet of the morning, I read an old favorite over again out loud to myself. Hearing Rilke's words become my own, and then reverberate in my kitchen gave strength to my resolve to hold fast to dreams, my own and yours.

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that so work and feel thirst....

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

 Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Robert Bly


I urge you to make a place for Lover on your Wisdom Council, and to keep your favorite poets by your side.  Feel free to contact me if you'd like learn more about how I can assist you on your trek to fulfillment. 

Thank you for taking a little of your precious time to read this today. May we all have the courage to be open to the mystery in our every day, to put our strength in service of the good, and to celebrate the joys of fulfillment.

Dare to have your longings, and thanks again!