More than rhyming and roses, consuming poetry to set us up for success.

One positive outcome of quarantine is the people who are providing comfort and community through art from musicians performing above the streets of Italy to the communal clanking of pots and pans in highrises of Vancouver. Actors are reading children’s books and late-night television hosts are broadcasting from their home office. And there is Sir Patrick Stewart, who is reading one William Shakespeare sonnet a day via his Twitter account.

When I was a child in the 1940s, my mother would cut up slices of fruit for me (there wasn’t much), and as she put it in front of me, she would say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” How about, “A sonnet a day keeps the doctor away?” So…here we go Sonnet 1.

Sir Stewart started his daily reading on March 21 and has been going ever since.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the journalists working at the National desk of the New York Times have started to incorporate poetry in their morning editorial meeting.

When the National desk gets together to discuss stories, it can be a grim half-hour. We dissect natural disasters. We reconstruct mass shootings. We delve into political scandals and all manner of domestic tumult. Recently, though, we added a new feature to our morning meetings aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.

We read a poem.

The article continues with this great quote from Morrigan McCarthy, a photo editor on the team:

[Poetry] jolts your mind into thinking about a subject or theme in an unexpected way. That’s exactly what we want to be doing on the National desk: looking every day for smart and interesting ways to tackle the most important stories in this country.

I have known poetry to be a source of creative inspiration but never thought of it as a way to help develop different points-of-view. John Coleman writes in the Harvard Business Review that poetry helps us create meaning to our observations and our ability to tell a story: Reading and writing poetry can also help us “conceptualize the world and communicate it—through presentations or writing—to others.

The more you know, right?

This morning I happened upon all of this while researching topics related to leadership, and I have to say I’m happier for it. I had no idea of the power this type of prose provides, but given the outcomes now, I want to incorporate it into my life and into my work.

I’ll leave you with a poem I came across this morning that I saved to revisit. My take away is that there’s never going to be a perfect time to start, so why not get started now. Or as Captain Picard would say, “Make it so.”

You Reading This, Be Ready

By William Stafford

Standing here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
Sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
whoever you go right now? Are you waiting
for a time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all the you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater that now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?