Episode 35: Poetry: The Anti-Obituary w/Mark Yakich
“Dispel the notion that reading poetry is going to dramatically change your life. Your life is continually changing; most of the time you’re simply too busy to pay enough attention to it. Poems ask you to pay attention—that’s all.”
Mark Yakich is the Gregory F. Curtin, S.J. Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans, where he is also editor of New Orleans Review. His most recent books are Poetry: A Survivor's Guide (Bloomsbury, 2016) and Spiritual Exercises (Penguin Poets, 2019). He is also co-director of Poetic Advantage, a seminar and workshop for business leaders and managers. Mark was a Fulbright Fellow in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Lisbon.
I first discovered Mark’s writings by way of his article in The Atlantic: “Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies; a guide for the perplexed”. When I found this article, as it describes the various paths towards unlocking the mysterious world of poetry, I intuitively knew that it was also the key to understanding prayer as well.
Prayer is about the grasping and the deep longing for a better world and a more compassionate and loving self. This journey of moving towards such lofty goals can feel overwhelming and even inaccessible. To approach such heights feels insurmountable. To demand change within the self and the world and then to not see it come into fruition is frustrating to say the least. However, when I was able to take a poetic lens and apply it onto my spiritual journey I finally was able to notice the subtle differences - the little movements that I hadn’t seen before. As Mark points out in this episode, if you even take as an example the way that water comes out of a faucet it is a sort of poetry or ballet in itself. There is beauty and grace all around us if we simply allow ourselves a single moment to just notice.
In this episode, Mark and I also discuss the world of obituaries and how they function as a sort of closing poem or perhaps more accurately an anti-poem for someone’s life - as they put a neat bow on the soul that lived. We also discuss the interplay between life and death and how they coexist just as light and dark weave in and out of each other during the dusk and dawn of a day.
For more of Mark’s writing - you can check out his website here.
To listen to Mark reading a poem from the “Words for War” Ukrainian poetry anthology , click on the video below!
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