Taking the Time to Read

We have recently been criticised for our overly long articles and the inclusion of poetry on these pages; the suggestion being that “busy people” have no time for such things. By way of reply, we feature this intriguing piece by the American poet, Stephen Dunn:

Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry

Relax. This won’t last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there’s a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he’ll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you’re busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it’s sex you’ve always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party’s unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don’t know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it’s needed. For it’s apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I’ll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don’t give anything for this poem.
It doesn’t expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you’re not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here’s what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.



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7 responses to “Taking the Time to Read

  1. Cute.

    I was talking to someone yesterday about making videos and photography, and he said ‘That’s what I’d be doing if I had time’. Thing is, we do the same job, his kids are older than mine, he doesn’t do any of the online stuff I do, he should have more time than me. I think most of us have time to do what we want to do, and like to use it as an excuse to postpone things we don’t want to do, or to avoid things that we think we want to do but actually don’t. So that kind of annoyed me. I just don’t sleep.

  2. marxistelf

    Hi Darren,
    Loved your observation:
    “or to avoid things that we think we want to do but actually don’t.”
    We have to make a distinction between doing things for the sake of doing them, and doing things because we can actually connect with ourselves in profound and transformative ways.
    Thanks again!

  3. Darren,

    I have always believed the words of Primo Levi, “time is infinitely compressible”. It all depends on how much you want to DO IT.

    About poetry – I’ve nothing to say that Auden didn’t say better (including my poetry). “Poetry makes nothing happen, it survives in the valley of its saying”. that speaks a lot to me as a language teacher.

    but always a pleasure to bump into poetry on a blog about teaching.


    • marxistelf

      Hi David,

      Now there’s an interesting chap (W H Auden) to throw into the equation. He could certainly be on the surface of things a negative old sod about life and the transformative possibilities of poetry (his experiences in Spain and thereafter seemed have to crushed him) but below the surface there always burned a deep belief in both.

      This picture by Avedon says it all:

      And the joy is that his poem about Christmas http://home.uchicago.edu/~narusso/m/narrator.html
      could equally sum up people’s feelings about the IATEFL conference and TEFL teacher solidarity:

      “Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
      Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes–
      Some have got broken–and carrying them up to the attic.
      The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
      And the children got ready for school. There are enough
      Leftovers to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week–
      Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
      Stayed up so late, attempted–quite unsuccessfully–
      To love all of our relatives, and in general
      Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
      As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
      To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
      Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,”

  4. Pingback: Teaching and Poetry | EFL Classroom 2.0 - Teacher Talk

  5. Nice!

    Anyone who doesn’t have time (or doesn’t want) to read the long articles here should, erm… stop reading and go somewhere that better suits their needs, like Twitter.

    On the subject of poetry, here’s one a group of 7th graders from the St. George School in Bogotá, Colombia texted me the other day after a workshop on the subject:

    Is such a peaceful thing
    Until you notice
    It’s up!

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