Confession time. I’m not much of a poetry buff. I don’t have the ear, the brain, the whatever-it-is that might afford me the deep enjoyment I know so many people get from the medium. And poetry performances? Maybe it’s my Britishness, but too often they leave me simply feeling a bit embarrassed for the person on stage. I know, I know. This is absolutely all my own problem, but there we have it. Safe space here, right?
But it seems that maybe my dark days of horrific philistinism may be drawing to a close, prompted by this performance by Rives, whose mellifluous ruminations on the vagaries of life, love and everything are, it should be said, always entertaining. But this TED Talk affected me in a different way. Sure, his story of developing a hobby he didn’t know he wanted is resonant and affecting. But it felt like something else was at work. In his concluding tale of how his new project reconnected him with an old love, “the one that got away,” he reminded me of the one poem I have ever remembered or been able to quote. In “To My Friends,” Primo Levi wrote:
Each of us bears the imprint
Of a friend met along the way;
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by everyone.
I’ve always been taken by the magic and majesty of these lines, the idea that every meeting of every new person helps shape us into who we are and who we will be next. And I love that in telling his story, Rives somehow brought this poem to the surface of my brain. Not to sound all high-school-philosophy-student-like, but so much of life is about connections and associations, and this felt like a useful moment. We’re all on a journey, after all, and who knows, maybe mine will see me develop a genuine appreciation of poetry.