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The Program (Exploring Our Values Through Poetry)

The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see—it is, rather, a light by which we may see—and what we see is life.

— Robert Penn Warren

Unitarian Universalism has always embraced poetry as a call to worship.

Poetry can be an accessible and profound tool in our spiritual practice as we journey toward becoming more conscious as human beings and as Unitarian Universalists. This program utilizes poems that are concerned with elements of the spiritual life: acute observation, conscious and continuous inquiry, the unveiling of reality, hope and hopelessness, the afterlife, and the tenderness of the human condition.

Poetry, Czeslaw Milosz asserts, "enables us to look at a thing and identify with it, strengthening in that way its being" (Book of Luminous Things. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1996). In this program, that "being" is our being—as individuals, as members of a UU community, as members of the human race, as members of the planet and universe.

As with any curriculum, there is a set of assumptions and beliefs that inform and inspire this one. All of the following are born of the author's experience.

Poetry is a uniting and a connecting force.

Poetry—even very sad poetry—is a good remedy for loneliness, because it reminds us that our experience, no matter how extraordinary, in some way mirrors another's. In this way, we are not solitary beings. The poems featured in this program are from all over the world and represent different cultures, cosmologies, genders, races, and times in history. Yet striking similarities are evident in the poems' emotional terrain. In recognizing this, we recognize our own compassion for others and ourselves. Even discovering that others have some of the same questions as we do can be extraordinarily powerful and comforting.

Poetry asks the best questions. So do teenagers. Most of the things that we can say about poetry, we can also say about teenagers—a fact that makes the idea of doing this program with teens so exciting. Both poetry and teens ask the great, big questions: How do we live? What do we love? What deserves our faith? Who are we, and where do we fit in this universe? How do we keep our hope alive? Both poetry and teenagers are tireless seekers—of sense, justice, meaning, reason, hope, and sometimes just the plain old company of a good laugh.

Reading poems aloud is powerful. Discovering poems together is powerful.

Poetry read aloud is immediate, communitarian, and powerful. Robert Pinsky, poet and two-term national Poet Laureate, says it best:

... poetry is a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art. The medium of poetry is a human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth.... Moreover, there is a special intimacy to poetry because, in this idea of the art, the medium is not an expert's body, as when one goes to the ballet: in poetry, the medium is the audience's body...

From The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide, by Robert Pinsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)

Reading poetry is like finding our way home. As with all important journeys, it is helpful to have a compassionate and qualified guide (you) who has a map (this program).

Both poetry and workshops can teach us about ourselves, but we need a good guide with a good plan. While poetry is not a trove of secrets locked in a chest to be accessed by a select few, neither is it a blank slate onto which we may project any and all interpretations. As a guide, it is important to read the map, to know the general way but be open to detours, and to keep your group from getting lost on their way. Know the poems. Know yourself. And as much as possible, know your participants.

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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