On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Gift of Poetry

As I diligently prepare for a full summer of private coachings one of my main tasks is to choose material which the participants can use. Although I search,with minor success, for brief pieces of inspirational prose, I invariably come back to the wealth and abundance of material available in poetry. I return again to the Poetry Out Loud site where I notice they now have included an audio guide. There, numerous famous actors and writers have recorded their favourite poems and discuss their reasons for learning poetry by heart.

Kay Ryan describes a transformational moment from her childhood where her grandmother looked her in the eyes, her teeth crumpling, a quaver in her voice and recited several lines from a Longfellow poem. I was instantly reminded of my University years when my mother and grandmother came to visit. It was a beautiful spring day, the first truly warm day of the year. All of the flowers were blossoming and I was clutching on to my grandmother's soft, arthritic gnarled hands feeling the glow of her contentment. Suddenly, she spoke excitedly, "Sarah, remember how much you used to love that Wordsworth poem,

'I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;'

Oisie, don't you remember that poem?" she asked my mother while she continued reciting. My mother and I exchanged a knowing smile. For my Grandmother loves that poem; it may well be the only poem she knows by heart. Perhaps it was something she learned as a child.

After Kay Ryan recited the line her grandmother was so fond of, she states that "Poetry is for desperate occasions." I would also add that it is for delicious occasions, when your own personal ability to express the profundity of a moment falls short. In those moments a poet's carefully thought out and inspired description alone seems appropriate, adding weight and verifying the connectedness of human kind over time and space.

It is my Grandfather's 90th birthday in two weeks and we have been ordered, by my Grandmother, not to buy him any presents. So... I think that what I will do is commit that poem to heart and recite it for him. Maybe even record a few other poems to go with it so that he has something to listen to in those quiet moments that come so frequently for him now. Outside of my presence, I can think of no greater gift. So why not try it, choose an upcoming celebration and learn a poem by heart. The environment will thank you, poets will thank you, but most importantly, you will have an opportunity to observe how words can truly be a gift.

If you need some help finding the right poem, start with the list of poems on the Poetry Out Loud website: