We invited Laura Fyfe, Stirling’s Makar (and SPL Board member), to reflect on and share one aspect of her role. Laura chose to highlight ‘Tiny Things’, a project inviting public submissions of eco-themed poems of no more than five lines.
I find, when thinking about big issues such as climate change: global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps, sea levels rising, it can be all easy to feel like we’re drowning in warnings and advice.
So for National Poetry Day, I suggested that, to combat overwhelm, we took a moment to consider the tiny things. To remember and reflect on what we have, what we love and what we don’t want to lose. My theory was that using poetry to reflect in this way could help us focus on the positives, on the very reasons we need and want to change our world.
And I’m so glad I did. Reading these wee poems, no longer than five lines each, from around the world, has been a truly joyful experience. Some awaken me to aspects of nature I’d not considered before. But so many memories and passions in these poems chime with my own.
In this reactionary Twitterverse culture we live in, where differences are disputed and arguments run rampant, what we too often forget are the things we have in common. Poetry can serve as a reminder of our shared humanity.
Tiny Things is just one in a ten-year string of projects I’ve led that support writers: workshops, editing, publishing, spoken-word events, mentoring. With each role, including that of the Stirling Makar, comes the responsibility to be sympathetic to how vulnerable each writer may feel in sharing their work. Poems reveal a person’s inner life like nothing else. There’s an incredible – sometimes daunting – intimacy to helping people with their writing.
As I read, I reach for the music I listened to when I studied. Radiohead as a teenager, classical in my thirties when I completed my M.Ed and M.Litt. Choosing poetry for a competition is like listening to music – some pieces strike you immediately with their beauty, then fall away. Some you’re glad to reread, re-listen to. These grow on you. Subtle at first, then give more of themselves with each reading.
The same happens with relationships. Family. Friends. Lovers.
Connection, you see. Over the last eighteen months, finding and nurturing human connection has been a challenge for many of us, separated from our loved ones. Rediscovering the potential of poetry to bridge space and time felt especially welcome in those darkest days of isolation. We turn to poetry especially in times of crisis for this reason. It unites us in suffering, in joy and in peace.
In reading others’ poetry, you learn things about them that you never see on the surface. Poetry, when it works – when it really works, isn’t a surface thing. It comes from deep inside the poet and touches deep inside the reader. A writer’s words are an insight into their soul. In poetry, we confront and are confronted by human vulnerability like nowhere else. And through it, find empathy. Compassion. Today I find myself falling a little in love with each poem. With each poet. Because with poetry, really great poetry, you can’t help but see beyond the mask. And that, during an ongoing pandemic, is truly worth celebrating.