It is precisely this audience I ask almost daily to chew slowly the text before them—the poem, the novel, the essay. But my students’ collective appetite for experience sometimes seems too expansive and insatiable to fit inside the long periods of contemplation I have scheduled. There is so little time to linger, to break words into succulent constituents, to let tongues peel back the skin and taste the sweet flesh of syllables, which offers—to me—the sustenance of a feast.
Can we go slowly? Can we linger in a heedless world? I argue there’s value in this dawdling regardless of how often we observe it in our lives.
I hardly see it myself. I tell students to savor the poem even as I am out of breath from checking email, copying handouts, and grading essays with the same attention I give to magazines in the dentist’s office.
In my creative writing class, I watch some of my most beloved students struggle to write a poem over the course of a week. They play cards instead. They talk about prom, life after high school, and Statistics. I point them back to the assignment, and they return to their journals like starlings to a telephone line. They settle and I see them take up a word or a phrase or an echo that plays vaguely in their memory.
Dani works on a piece about breaking rocks at her grandparents’ house as a kid, about the divorce of one thing from another, about parents separating. “The world is a broken place, but like flint is filled with beauty and color. It is our job to pocket the pieces and love all the shades in the shale.”
Kristin writes about oatmeal raisin cookies in a nursing home, including the phrase, “…the only sweetness they have left.”
And their pens keep moving across the page.
I find myself invested in their thinking, in the wrinkles pinching the tops of their noses between their eyebrows. I hold my breath. I bite my tongue and resist the urge to interrupt and ask why they’ve chosen this moment to ignore the myriad stimuli around them offering quick fixes: pods and pads, playing cards and prom plans. I want to know why they’ve given themselves over.
I am so rarely now ushered into this moment. So rarely given pause to ruminate. I stay silent.
Kolby Kerr teaches high school English in Dallas. He holds an MFA in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University and has appeared in Relief journal.