This is not the first Random Acts of Poetry Day I’ve spent in a hotel. It’s handy, actually. I have a ready-made situation for a random poetic audience, complete with a complimentary pen and notepad on the corner desktop. I’ll leave a poem for the housekeeper, and he or she may find it odd, and wish there had been a tip instead. (Do not fear, I’ll leave a tip when I check out in a couple of days.) But there’s always that chance that the housekeeper might find it interesting. Or encouraging. Or hopeful.
Poetry comes to us in different ways, at different times.
John Paul Lederach has found that poetry often comes to him in the midst of conversation, in the form of a haiku. Lederach is a senior fellow at Humanity United, and a “peacemaker and poet.” He’s traveled the world working with varied groups of individuals in 25 countries exploring unique solutions to conflict.
In many of those conversations, he has heard haiku in the words said by another. When that happens, he writes the haiku down, and later gives the words back to the speaker as a poem, in part as means of coming to an understanding of what has transpired. In some cases, those words have helped bring a reframing, a re-imagining. Recently, at a gathering of the folks of On Being, he noted
Near the end of his life, Bashō said, “Across all these years, I have only written but four or five haiku.” What an extraordinary thing to say, for a man who probably could write 15 or 20 in a single morning, who practiced it for decades. I’ve often wondered what he might have meant. Perhaps it’s this — that he understood haiku as a practice, that was to notice the ways that you might capture the wonder of the human experience in the simplest of terms. It combines the beginner’s mind — what we might call joy, with ancient wisdom — what we might call patience. How do you hold joy and patience, particularly when things fall apart and harm burrows in?
When Random Acts of Poetry Day comes around, we talk about all the many ways we can share a poem with the people around us: chalking lines on a sidewalk, leaving a poem under a windshield wiper, dropping of verses on the coffee shop tables, tucking a poem into a child’s lunchbox. But this idea that Lederach—and Bashō—have discovered seems another fitting way to make this observance. What if today, you listened for the sound of a poem in what another is saying, maybe a haiku, and even dared to give those words back to the other?
How might a little corner of your world be transformed, in even the smallest of ways? Maybe more than you know. Lederach’s story went on to reveal:
At a certain time in my peace-building journey, sitting close to and with human suffering, little by little I was experiencing a deadening of my soul. Sometimes we call this ‘burnout.’ The ancestor presence of Bashō arrived unexpectedly. It’s amazing how something you learn in the second grade could become the light that enlivens the spirit.
So, we encourage you: consider how and where you could commit a Random Act of Poetry and help nudge someone’s day just a little in a new direction.
Smile. Offer gratitude.
Leave the poem.
We never know, really, where change begins.
—John Paul Lederach
Not sure about being poetically playful today? Lederach, finally, added this:
I discovered there that we have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.
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