Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry and Development

A small group of us meet occasionally over dinner, ostensibly to talk about new ideas in international development.  Mostly we just have a good time; sometimes we forget to talk about development.

My friend April asked one day "Why don't we read more poetry?  What if we started off each dinner with some poetry?"  At first I thought this idea was little nutty - like a lot of April's ideas, to be honest (please don't tell her I said that).  What does poetry have to do with development, anyway?  But then I realized that good poetry makes us happy.  And that development is about enabling people to be happier.

So on this cold Friday afternoon, I am going to tip my hat to April and publish the following poem, which makes me very happy.  It is by my god-daughter, Evelina Kats, who gave me permission to print the unedited version below.  I recommend both the written and audio versions.


HOME BY THE FIRE

the fire that has burned all day
lets fly warmth and
a column of silver smoke brings faces, shapes, a battel begins

the warmth clayms the hearth
whilsaling with high pich, shreachsks of terro
as the cold retreadts and warmth ancreases,
we kindel the fire and,
pink, blue, purple and orange flames
dance upon the crackling logs hissing

the hissing continues
but the colors fall back as there
leader the most powerful
emerges yellow, his queen purple, dances with him
his brother claims the embers
keeping them orange

my puppy, pursuaded by the flame
transforms into a pussie before my very eyes
ling down by the fireside
she chews a stick
crunch, munch, hiss,

I am home by the fire
after a long rainy
day at school.

-Evelina Kats (2010)
Reprinted by permission of Evelina Kats and her parents



Listen to this episode

6 comments:

How Matters said...

It makes sense that those of us who are serious about the importance of reflection in development work look to poetry. As a medium, it helps us to derive meaning from competing, complex ideas and challenging situations. And as Elizabeth Alexander says, now more than ever we need language that elevates and emboldens rather than demeans and alienates.

In my work in the aid sector, this poem by Ted Loder is one that I often turn to:

"Empower me to be a bold participant,
rather than a timid saint in waiting
in the difficult ordinariness of now;
To exercise the authority of honesty,
rather than to defer to power,
or deceive to get it;
To influence someone for justice,
rather than impress anyone for gain;
And, by grace, to find treasures
of joy, of friendship, of peace
hidden in the fields of the daily
you give me to plow."

April said...

Dennis - thank you for acting on my crazy idea. After we talked, I asked various friends if they had a poem that especially resonated with their work in development. My friend Gavin Yamey shared a poem with me that I especially liked:
Sometimes
 
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
 
A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
 
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you
 
~ Sheenagh Pugh ~
 
(In Good Poems, ed. by Garrison Keillor,
contributed by Holly Thomas)

April said...

Dennis - thank you for acting on my crazy idea. After we talked, I asked various friends if they had a poem that especially resonated with their work in development. My friend Gavin Yamey shared a poem with me that I especially liked:
Sometimes
 
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
 
A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
 
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you
 
~ Sheenagh Pugh ~
 
(In Good Poems, ed. by Garrison Keillor,
contributed by Holly Thomas)

Dennis Whittle said...

I love it!

Bill Savedoff said...

Dennis/April/others, fabulous idea. Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into believing that our analytical work doesn't rely intrinsically on poetry - how else do we persuade someone to believe what we've written?

The new governor of Maine didn't include a poem in his inauguration - first time in many long years. Led to an op ed in the paper noting that Homer is remembered long after any of the politicians of his day!

Here's one more contribution ...

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Amanda said...

This post reminds me of the old adage about politics "we campaign in poetry and govern in prose"

I'd like to think the development community is more of a dream-er group open to the possibilities of poetry while living day to day in prose. We see a world that could be, should be and with a lot more work - will be.