Something happened last week that shifted my focus. I read a poem from a young friend, the actor, Jonah Hauer-King and it led me to an extraordinary initiative set up by Hitomi Grace Utsugi, that just made me realise very bleakly how Christmas in lockdown might be for many people who are isolated and fearful. And it made me think what we stay alive for… And why we need to share feelings that sometimes we prefer to conceal. And why in a dark tunnel I always come back to the words of Emily Dickinson and how poetry whether words or lyrics can bring us together. For me ’Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul.’
A Poetic Conversation Project
A Poetic Conversation is a project created out of the visiting spirit of loneliness working from home as London entered its second round of lockdown, in search of conversation, connection and mindfulness through literature, writes Hitomi Grace.
Trending topics in our society competing for centre stage, the subject of our mental health is pushed down the ranks of importance, a matter too polite to excuse itself to the front of the queue for conversation, staying indoors, circling in our minds.
Through poetry, an entire spectrum of our human experiences and emotions are represented and expressed. Even when poets from our past and present share sentiments from a different time or context, we continue to find our own connections and interpretations beyond.
An affectionately curated project, A Poetic Conversation aspires to encourage building meaningful conversations and connections through sharing poetry, gently raising awareness on mental health, and incorporating the elements of art, culture, communication and literature. The partnership between poetry and mental health is a creative and inspiring manner in sharing matters concerning our heart and mind.’
You are cordially invited to explore and have A Poetic Conversation.
A few years ago I went to Lithuania for one of my first jobs. I knew I was going to be away for a while, and that brought up a mixture of emotions: excitement, nerves, gratitude, melancholy, the list went on. A friend of mine, Martha, was aware of how I was feeling — she knew I felt daunted to be leaving my life at home. When we said good-bye she handed me twelve envelopes, each one labelled for a particular mood or feeling.… “For when you need something to look forward to”…. “For a bit of self-loving”…. “For when you need a bit of get up and go”…. and inside each envelope, was a poem.
What struck me at the time was how powerful it was to read a poem days or weeks or months later, and to witness how close I felt to Martha. This act of sharing, and subsequently connecting with a person through that piece of writing was very moving. For me, part of the joy of any piece of writing is when one can relate or feel connected to the sentiments of a writer who probably existed in a completely different time or place or context. And yet, this brought about another dimension; though I might be experiencing something on my own, I felt reassured that a friend had felt not only the same thing, but had also been comforted by each of these poems. We were bonded by that.
One envelope was labelled “For when you get the shit feelings”… inside, I found Rumi’s The Guest House. It is one of my favourite poems, and happened to perfectly encapsulate how I was feeling. The poem speaks to a world of mixed emotion, of nuance, and of the grey area. Flickers of joy, sorrow, shame, are all real and valid; we can (and will) have conflicting emotions that contradict each other and feel irrational. But ultimately, the poem encourages us to confront and welcome them equally. They all hold value, even the darker ones. In fact, those ones may well be preparing us for “some new delight”.
I try to hold this piece of Rumi’s wisdom very close.
Watch Jonah's new film The Song of Names on Netflix
The Guest House
WORDS BY RUMI
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.