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Poet Tess Taylor on how verse can provide solace


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Judy Woodruff: In this time of uncertainty and isolation, poet Tess Taylor shares her Humble Opinion that turning to verse can provide solace.

Her recent book is "Rift Zone."

And this essay is part of our arts and Canvas series.

Tess Taylor: Sharing breath with people outside our immediate family is a big no-no these days. And, as a result, a lot of us are lonely.

I mean, what meaningful human activity doesn't require sharing breath, offering a hug, sing in a church choir, laughing with a friend, seeing a play?

Try spending some time each day with a poem. Don't worry too much about what anything means at first. Instead, just try to find the poem speaking inside you.

I have a friend who says that encountering a poem is like being detained by a really interesting party guest, as if it inaugurates a fascinating conversation inside your head.

Here's Gwendolyn Brooks "My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell."

"I hold my honey and I store my bread in little jars and cabinets of my will. I label clearly and each latch and lid I bid be firm until I return from hell. I am very hungry. I am incomplete."

Who is speaking here? What kind of narrator is this? The charged rhymes signal someone whose life has been contained and detained too long, and I also feel the poem give voice to my own pent-up feelings.

I feel differently companioned by Elizabeth Bishop's poem "At The Fishhouses," which begins: "Although it is a cold down by one of the fishhouses, an old man sits netting, his net in the gloaming almost invisible, a dark purple brown, and his shuttle worn and polished."

This poem has the cadence of a slow, neighborly storytelling. Speaking the poem, I feel my own breath grow even, tipping gently, just like the sea at dusk. The poem helps me slow down, become more deliberate.

Herein lies the magic of a poem. Yes, another person wrote it, but when you jump inside the poem's rhythms and syncopations, you become the poem's instrument. You share its breath.

In a time when we're cut off from other people, poems allow us this conversational intimacy. We inhabit them, they inhabit us, and in the process we can feel larger, more awake, more social, more whole.

Judy Woodruff: Thank you, Tess Taylor.

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