Empathy: My One Little Word

 

Ouch

 

My friend
fell at recess
and scraped up
his knee.
I heard
some kids laugh—
What a clown!
Did you see?

Though the sky
was bright blue,
in my heart
it felt gray,
so I sat
with my friend
till the pain
went away.

 

I’ve realized in recent years that I prefer to take my time to think about things. Apparently a lot of my thinking happens unconsciously because I find answers and connections seem to come to me almost out of the blue if I give them enough time. Around New Year’s Day when other people were announcing their one little words for the year, I tried very hard to find one, but nothing felt quite right. It wasn’t until this week that the word empathy rose to the surface.

I think of my mind as a kind of soup, churning and bubbling with crazy ingredients from all over the place. Here are a few of the ingredients that pushed empathy to the surface.

Years ago I heard about research that supports the notion that people who read literary fiction are more empathic. Isn’t that incredible? It makes perfect sense of course, but I love the idea that there has been research to support it.

Julianne Chiaet, writing in Scientific American describes the findings this way:

[Literary fiction] prompts the reader to imagine the characters’ introspective dialogues. This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.

Understanding characters in literature helps us understand people in the world. Reading teaches us how to be empathic.

Two other things roiling around in my brain were Viola Davis’ introduction of Meryl Streep and Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Both of them spoke about empathy.

Ms. Davis described being in Ms. Streep’s company this way:

And as she continues to stare, you realize she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable; the most known, familiar; the most despised, relatable.

It is this seeing, this ability to empathize so deeply, which is the source of Ms. Streep’s power to convey another person, another life, on screen.

In her acceptance speech Ms. Streep chose to highlight a moment of extreme lack of empathy.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

Indeed Ms. Streep’s empathy is so great she cannot let this moment go.

I agree with Ms. Streep that there is an important connection between empathy and politics. Who could take health insurance from someone if they could empathize with the pain of their fears and losses? Who could feel entitled to grab a woman if they could empathize with the violation of her personhood? Who could banish refugees and immigrants from our borders if they could empathize with the forces that would propel someone to leave their home and families?

I also agree with Ms. Streep on this point when she says, “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.” Couldn’t the same be said of writers?

This year I will try to think of myself as a poet, writer, and teacher of empathy.

Carol has the Poetry Friday round up today at Beyond Literacy Link. See you over there.

Have a good weekend,

Liz

Happy Halloween!

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Halloween Tree

Hear that ghostly, woeful wail?
I think that tree is howling.
Oaks don’t usually make a face,
but that bark is clearly scowling.

See those branches bend and reach
like the arms of a hungry hag?
I think those bony fingers want to
grab my goodie bag!

 

On one of my recent walks around the block I noticed a few trees making faces at me. I think they might have been getting ready for the holiday. Have a spooky, spectacular day!

© Elizabeth Steinglass, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back from Poetry Camp!

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Wow! What a weekend! I can’t imagine there has ever been a greater celebration of children’s poetry than the Poetry Camp organized by Sylvia Tag and Nancy Johnson, founders of Poetry CHaT at Western Washington University, and Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong,  the creators of the Poetry Friday anthologies. All four of these wonderful women are doing everything possible to celebrate and promote children’s poetry.

On Friday more than 30 Poetry Friday contributors got together to talk about poetry and how to share it in schools and libraries, at conferences, and over the internet. It was such a pleasure to meet and connect with poets from around the country. Holly Thompson made the trip all the way from Japan.

Friday night we had the absolute pleasure of participating in a found poetry workshop with Robyn Hood Black at Village Books in Bellingham. Robyn had prepared kits for us—with cards about shells, sticky notes, scissors, tweezers, sponges, stamp ink, stamps, and tiny anchors. She carefully walked us through the process of finding poems on the cards and then turning our cards into visual art. I was reminded how much I enjoy making things. Robyn is a maker extraordinaire, and I have purchased beautiful cards and jewelry at her etsy shop artsyletters.

 

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On Saturday we expanded the conversation to include more than 100 local teachers, librarians, writers, and poetry fans. Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong gave two keynote speeches, and poets offered workshops on topics including: Playing with Sound, Writing for Journals and Anthologies, Poetry and Science, Poetry and Movement, etc. Irene Latham and I led a workshop on simile and metaphor. It was wonderful to work with Irene; I learned so much from presenting with her.

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The afternoon ended with a performance by the great Jack Prelutsky. Two groups of local elementary school children did a fabulous job reciting a few of his poems; they even pretended to be annoying mosquitoes!

Here are just a few of the wise and important messages I brought home. Though I’ve tried to attribute the messages to their speakers, these are my words, not theirs. Forgive me if anything below isn’t quite right. Our conversations were fast and free-flowing and comments built on one another.

Poetry is not just for special occasions, like birthdays, wedding, and funerals. Poetry is for every day, every occasion! (Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong)

Poetry is not just for the language arts classroom. Poetry is a powerful way to introduce or extend the learning in science, social studies, math, art, even PE! (Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong)

Poets and scientists work similarly. Their work grows out of a powerful sense of wonder. Their understanding grows by taking different perspectives. They learn through process. Their work develops through iteration. (Jeannine Atkins)

Restrictions create opportunities for creativity. (Julie Larios)

Works of art can be a wonderful starting point for writing. (Cynthia Grady)

When choosing a word, consider the how saying the word affects the face. Is that facial expression consistent with the content of the poem? (Brod Bagert)

Poetry can come from a visual place as well as a performance place. (Bob Raczka)

Metaphors and similes come from life experience. You must go out and live to expand the possibilities available to you when you write. (Irene Latham)

Rejection is part of the process of seeking publication. (Bridget Magee)

More than anything else, the weekend was inspiring!

For more about the camp and today’s round-up, visit Violet Nesdoly.

Liz

Reader’s Apology

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Reader’s Apology

What? Were you talking to me?
I’m sorry I didn’t hear.
I hope you will understand.

Even though you can see me,
I’m not actually here.
I’ve been sucked into my book.

 

This month Michelle Barnes shines her spotlight on Jane Yolan. To celebrate her book The Alligator’s Smile and Other Poems, Jane has challenged readers to write septercets, a form she invented. Septercets are composed of stanzas of three lines; each line has seven syllables. The poems can have any number of stanzas and may be rhymed or unrhymed. I found them interesting to write. Every form has its own characteristics and part of using a new one is discovering its secrets. Apparently I was not alone in finding the septercet appealing because Michelle’s September padlet is booming.

Next week I’ll be at Poetry Camp at Western Washington University with many other Poetry Friday poets. I can’t wait to meet everyone in person. I’m pretty sure we’ll be breaking the world record for most children’s poets in one place.

Happy Poetry Friday!

Liz