Let me (Richard) share a poem I wrote years ago, the second part of which is about President Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And then let me make an observation about poetry and the right hemispheres of our brains.
It's relaxing to be humble
And exhausting to be proud
I saw an important man —
Center of attention,
Watched, looked to. Deferred to.
Earnest, trying to live up to it all,
Others giving him answers he wanted to hear
But couldn’t trust.
Weight of the world,
People depending on him
Hiding his secret fear of failure,
Of letting people down,
Burying it beneath his energy,
Always stoking up his can-do attitude.
He looked exhausted,
The exhaustion of proving himself
Over and over again.
I saw another man,
Smaller, humbler, happier,
Whistling in fact.
Somehow his load was light, though he led a church.
He’d learned not only to believe in
But to depend on Higher Power,
So he was a relaxed messenger,
A stewardship servant,
Full of love but without pressure,
A simple, can’t-do attitude
With a footnote:
“But he can”
He looked relaxed,
The escape of knowing it wasn’t
When is the last time you read a poem? Wrote a poem? Thought about a poem? Remembered a poem?
Poetry was once a real part of most people’s lives. It was quoted; it was talked about. It used to be that most people thought of their reading or their writing in two categories: prose and poetry.
Most people had favorite poems, and many people, adults and children, could quote many poems from memory.
The world has changed. Writing has changed. Reading has changed. We write emails and tweets and Facebook messages and memos and little summaries and notes — and that’s what we read too. Many of us read books, fiction and nonfiction — two of the subcategories of the one category of prose— but the other category, for so many of us, is dying or dead. Poetry is no longer a part of our lives.
And we are the worse for it.
Poetry is the right-brain version of writing. It comes from and draws from and nourishes the metaphorical, creative right hemisphere of our brains. I sometimes wonder that people’s heads still appear to be round because their left hemispheres — the logical, the numbers, the language, the reason, the analytical parts of their brains — are getting so much exercise, and the right hemispheres are getting so little.
Prose — it used to be said (and I think accurately) — is the language of the mind, while poetry is the language of the heart.
One of the best things we ever did as parents was to join with some other neighborhood families to set up a weekly poetry class for our children. We hired a poet/teacher to come each week for two or three months one summer to work with our kids in understanding and appreciating poetry, and in writing some poems of their own. Even today, some of our real treasures are the poems composed by our elementary-aged kids during that golden time.
It used to be that many writers of prose and fiction also tried their hand at poetry. One of our very favorite and most cherished writers, for so many reasons, is C. S. Lewis, and it wasn’t until I discovered a little-known volume of his poems in a London used bookstore called simply “Poems” that I became aware of how much poetry Lewis wrote.
Forgive the presumptiveness of the association, but I figured that if Lewis could do it, I could at least try it. (Publishing a book of poetry.) The truth is that I have written poems all my life but shared very few of them. I write them for myself, really, as an attempt to capture some of the emotions I feel or the observations that I can’t seem to explain in prose.
It won’t be a surprise to readers of this column that much of the poetry I write is about families and about the emotions and feelings that I believe happen only in families. Like Lewis, I just called the book “Poems."
But whether you like my poetry or not (poetry is a very individual things) I encourage you to make poetry at least a little additional part of your life — just read a poem occasionally, or listen to Garrison Keillor’s daily podcast, "The Writer’s Almanac"; and occasionally — and this is important — write a poem. It doesn’t have to follow any rules of meter or of rhyme, and no one has to read it but you.
Most of all, if you are a parent or grandparent, we encourage you to expose your kids to poetry and to find opportunities for them to write and read poems. After all, even though poetry has receded in our culture and in most of our lives, it has never been easier to find. Just go online and start searching because one great thing about poems is that you know right away if you like them or not — you know it by how they make you feel.
As New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors, the Eyres have now written 50 books and speak throughout the world on families and life-balance. For additional information see www.valuesparenting.com or www.TheEyres.com.