When I’ve taught creative writing, I have asked my students to look at the world with “poetic eyes.” I have asked two questions at the beginning of class: “Who or what did you fall in love with?” and “What did you see with your poetic eyes?” The first question refers to the writers they are discovering. I want my students to fall in love with the thoughts and sensibilities of writers from the past and from the present. But of course, one can “fall in love” with a leaf or a pine cone or a spider web spanning two branches, luminous in the moonlight. One can fall in love with “all things bright and beautiful.”
What did you see with your poetic eyes? I tell my students to spend time noticing things. It’s not enough to see a leaf. Look at its shape, at its color[s]. Look at the veins, at the stem, and its point of connection to the tree. Feel it–both sides. Watch leaves dancing or fluttering or swaying in a breeze.
This morning I received a poem from a former student of mine, one whose gift for poetry was instantly apparent to me. Indeed, he has nourished the gift. He stayed with my sister yesterday, en route to Duke University. As I read the poem, I realized that he, Kylan Rice, was still seeing the world with poetic eyes, that every new place he visited was an opportunity for poetry to spring up. His mind was so fertile that words and images could sprout with the slightest stimulation. I realized that I, by contrast, was no longer seeing the world with poetic eyes. My time had been spent writing academic papers, grant proposals, lesson plans, etc., and the wonders around me were merely background and context.
Well, I did notice the patches of violets which appeared overnight in the cold grass of my back yard. I noticed my granddaughter laughing with her whole body–legs and arms shaking with joy. I noticed the dry geraniums of this past summer and imagined how I would improve my garden in the spring.
I am playing reveille in my mind. Time to wake up. Time to open my inner eyes. I have often told my children to never miss a rainbow, if they can help it, and to watch it steadfastly, as rainbows fade quickly, as does so much in life.
Any religious person must awaken their imagination–and do it with generosity. As we train ourselves to view one another up and towards infinite possibility, rather than down towards a category or a stereotype, we liberate ourselves and those around us to become resilient and to believe in their futures. Imagination is always at the foundation of great societies, whose greatest dreamers envisioned far beyond what was immediately visible. Within the nuances of imaginative thought, within the reverberations of beauty, the future is glorious.
And so, I thank Kylan Rice, who once was my student but who is now my teacher. I commit myself to renew my poetic vision, to open my eyes and my heart to a view of the world which notices beauty every day, and always pauses for rainbows.