Last night I got together with old and new friends to read and hear poetry. Loved every bit of it. Loved the side conversations, the poems people picked, the ones they didn’t pick. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry are the patron saints of this particular gathering, but coffee table was strewn with others: lots of Neruda, a Manhattan-Yellow-pages sized volume of Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, W.S. Merwin, and lots more Oliver. We began our time together hearing the story about how Jesus said bread and wine were body and blood, sacred glue of community and spirit. We passed broken bread and blessed wine around around our circle, and then listened.
There is always the challenge of hearing versus reading–can we enter into the words, the language, the life and work of the poet, when we don’t have the text before our eyes, simply the words in our ears, read one time through, with barely time to take root before other words take their place? Yes. I think the words get straight into our hearts and change us in some tiny way. I am changed, made richer because someone picked a poem and read it aloud, pouring the poet’s ordered words into the center of our circle. By the end of the evening, my own thirst for those words I didn’t even know I needed was both slaked and longing for more.