Since coming to the Poetry and Literature Center as a Junior Fellow, I’ve welcomed many new office traditions: morning coffee, baked goods at least once every two weeks, and watching Rob dance. Though, by far my favorite office tradition is reading poetry together.
When I was an Junior Fellow, Rob would frequently read me poems or poets I had never heard before, and I would reciprocate by bringing him some of my favorites to read. In the past year our office has grown considerably, yet we’ve managed to keep this tradition alive. We now have a staff nearly doubled in size, including a large extended family of interns and our wonderful detail Kelly Yuzawa, all of whom enjoy getting to read poems to each other!
And why wouldn’t they? The truth is in the middle of an afternoon that threatens to consist solely of a mounting pile of paperwork, taking a couple of minutes to share a poem is really uplifting. I love to hear the personal stories of how different co-workers came to different poems, and to hear their opinions and have discussions with them about why they like this poet over that poet. And it’s not just a nice distraction.
Reading a poem a day and sharing that experience brings me closer to my colleagues, but it also helps me personally. I’ve long felt, and science has now proven, that reading literature (poems included) increases our capacity for empathy and compassion. It allows us to put ourselves in others’ shoes. In the stress of an office, where we spend hours of our day with all sorts of people, poetry can bring us together.
Of course, all this is not to forget the poems themselves! Reading and sharing helps me broaden my own reading list, and in my time here I have discovered some pretty unforgettable poems by Robyn Schiff, Matthew Zapruder, James Tate, Besmilr Brigham, and Denise Levertov among many others. I even found an old favorite to share with you and your offices today: Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me”:
They flee from me, that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them, gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be Fortune it hath been otherwise,
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,
And therewith all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”
It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I fain should know what she hath deserved.