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SharingPoets for February 2023

When I was preparing this article, I had intended to cover two more ideas and then realized I was falling into the bad habit of the age: trying to put ten pounds of potations in a five pound bag. Poetry presents those who choose to read it the opportunity of pondering deeply, of making connections that are purposely hidden for the joy of discovering, of raising up the smallest things so that they may be seen. Because of all these reasons poetry is a service to our society and ourselves. This is especially important as we are drowning in “facts” that that are so shrunken and compressed they are merely distractions. Why not write a poem that invites the weary text and email reader into a place where it is OK to…contemplate.

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In the preface to his essay collection Tremendous Trifles (1909), the English author, ontologist and professional paradox-weaver G K Chesterton told the fable of two boys who were each granted a wish. One chose to become a giant, and one to become extremely small. The giant, to his surprise, found himself bored by the shrunken land beneath him. The tiny boy, however, set off gladly to explore the endless world of wonders his front garden had become. The moral, as Chesterton saw it, was one of perspective:

If anyone says that I am making mountains out of molehills, I confess with pride that it is so. I can imagine no more successful and productive form of manufacture than that of making mountains out of molehills… I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet.

There’s a similarly reductive exaltation in defining attention as the contents of a global reservoir, slopping interchangeably between the brains of every human being alive. Where is the space, here, for the idea of attention as a mutual construction more akin to empathy than budgetary expenditure — or for those unregistered moments in which we attend to ourselves, to the space around us, or to nothing at all?

Digital artist and collector Jenny Odell talks about how work life shifted from an 8 hour workday into an always on approach. In this opening keynote, visual artist Jenny Odell will explore the architecture, politics, and rewards of nothing, arguing that the cultivation of nothing has new salience in the age of everything. She wants us to reclaim the public spaces such as parks and libraries for personal reflection and restoration. Jenny believes time and places for the practice and art of doing nothing are crucial to uncover underlying problems and to understand yourself. She regularly spends time in a nearby rose garden for observational activities such as bird watching and doing nothing to discover what unfolds from her inner journey and peace in mind. [Two years after this conference, the presenter, Jenny Odell wrote her book on the topic: “How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.”] – our infinite appetite for distraction

I look forward to your creations!

Fr Tom

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