‘The real prayers are not the words, but the attention that comes first’ says Mary Oliver in her poem of the same title.
Oliver’s detailed exploration of a hawk’s tumultuous flight essentially pays homage to a moment of perception. She leaves out no detail and describes the specificity of the moment with deep respect. Tied in with her witnessing of this bird’s flight, is a moment of introspection on the speaker’s part: ‘-it flew off as my mind sang out / oh that loose, blue rink of sky where does / it go to, and why?’. As Oliver leans on a minute moment witnessed in nature, she imbues it with her own personal momentousness. Reifying the bird’s fall in her poem, Oliver demonstrates how the attention we give to things, scenarios, elements, animals, imbues them with importance. Giving subjects space on the page, gives them space in our minds and our hearts.
In conversation with Krista Tippet for an NPR Podcast, Oliver goes as far to say that “attention is the beginning of devotion” and a fundamental part of her poetic practice. Her perspective encourages us to ask what we might be devoted to today? In the context of our desperately distracted, highly digitised and sped up daily lives, where does our attention lie? And are we aware of what we are showing devotion to?
If we are currently experiencing a ‘crisis of attention’, as suggested by writers such as Rebecca Solnit, David Shields, Andrew Epstein and many others, then poetry might well be the most fitting crisis aversion tactic we have available. Where we are being called out of ourselves by a cacophony of screens and digital mediums, poetry calls us in to our minds, our feelings and our memories. Poetry can ground us in the moment where elements in our daily lives seek to wrench us out of the physical moment, into past, present, future, or digital dimensions.
David Zweig’s 2013 piece ‘The Inroads of Slow Art in a Fast Culture’ precisely highlights the imminent heightened value of slowing down in a world where attention has become a highly prized commodity: “As the technologically-induced speed of everything continues to exponentially increase, people will desire, indeed , require time slowing havens to ground us, let us pause and reposition how we experience and interpret the world.” Poetry is a mode of attention, a new lens through which we might interact with the world. Poetry not only asks us to pay attention to its language, imagery, meaning and emotion, it also asks us to pay attention to what we are paying attention to in our own lives. Poetry then might help us to unfurl the culture of distraction, and engender a new culture of intentional attention.
In The Decisive Moment Studio, we’ll be focusing our attention on specific moments in our lives, that may have been overlooked, pushed to the side or simply too large to place our eyes, hearts and minds on. These moments might be ones of magnitude, of banality, of suffering, or of epiphany. The heart of the workshop will lie in paying close attention to these moments, their shape, their weight, texture and consequence on our lives. Through studying the work of writers such as Rachel Richardson, Claudia Rankine, Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds and many more, we will experiment with various techniques through which to mine the moment.
Exploring these various works will help elucidate the ways we can imbue the moment with our own poetics, crafting it to speak of issues we are most moved by, whilst still rooting the work in a poetics of close attention. How can I make my moment sing like Kim Addonizio in ‘Stolen Moments’? ‘- Love’s / mercileess the way it travels in / and keeps emitting light.’ How to build the suspense of Rachel Richardson’s ‘Relic’? And more personally, what might happen when I devote myself to my own moments, small and large? What seeds are waiting to be sewn or watered, beneath the field of memories we are in exile from?
I’ll leave you with this apt quote from philosopher William James’ Principles of Psychology ‘My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those times I notice shape my mind’. Let us take time to attend to ourselves and our minds, who knows what worlds are waiting to be discovered and shaped.
Explore what matters to you most by mining moments of magnitude in your life on Remi Graves’ new online course, The Decisive Moment Studio. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.