Staying Open

Most writers have likely enjoyed the sensation of peacefully drifting toward sleep, when slowly a poem begins to form. Some grab the bedside pencil and paper, and still in the dark, jot down the lines as they come. Others don’t bother rolling over or switching on the light, but hope (usually with disastrous results) to recall the words in the morning.

Being receptive, however, is more than a daydreaming mind listening for ideas to flow. It is also the mind on alert to the world outside. Like a lizard, we need to change our skin from time to time, and venturing abroad may reward us with “traveller’s high”—a sustained heightened awareness—as everything around us is new. The different routine, milieu, acquaintances can refresh our eyes and awaken the poetic impulse.

But we too can change. Every day we pass by so much, unobserving—weeds tangling the sidewalk’s edge that years before made exotic, children’s bouquets for Mummy, that peculiar light in the sky before a severe thunderstorm, the kindness of a boy on a crowded bus helping an elderly stranger juggle his bags of groceries.

To see fully what is around us, we need only to slow down. The poet is more than a sensitive feeler of private emotion. The poet is also an observer of the world from which he or she ultimately cannot be separated.