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Poetry, Business of the Past, Present, Future

“Images that appear before we assign meaning”
An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:
“Don’t be ashamed to be human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that’s how it’s meant to be.”

—Excerpted from Tomas Transtromer’s poem, Romanesque Arches

At Roundstone, we use poetry in many of our programs to facilitate risk-taking. This is because poetry contains “images that appear to us, in us – before we can assign a meaning to them.” In this sense, poetry provides us with the visions we need to guide our actions. Poetic images evoke something new before our minds can edit the meanings away and boil them down to a bunch of meaningless, empty conclusions.

It’s essential to talk about how most people live from their pasts even while they are in the present. They imagine something new for the future but then come up with all the reasons why the new thing can’t work: It’s too strange and unfamiliar. There aren’t enough resources. They need more knowledge or training.

All of these reasons come from the past – from our history, from the biological imprint of our experiences, and from the stories we’ve created about them. So the past is projected into the future. And we keep waiting. Waiting until we know, or have enough, or until something stops feeling so strange. Because we are human, we edit our ideas away before they ever see the light of day. In essence, we sentence them back to the vaults.

But the truth is: we will never be complete. We actually create our lives and ourselves as we go, laying down the next step. We don’t have to wait. And the world won’t wait for us. Our world is moving faster and faster and our interactions are increasingly complex. Our images, our imaginations, need to guide us. Poems like Transtromer’s show us the images that can support us in laying down our path. And he encourages us to come up with our own – not wait to be complete.

All of this requires faith – an enormous act of trust. It means learning how to trust those around us. It means whispering to our ideas, coaxing them out. The more we trust, the more ideas we share – the more we become vaults turned inside out.

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