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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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“That Neglected Cloak of Stillness”

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 6, 2012

I love this paragraph from a New York times interview with novelist Ian McEwan, about the pleasure of reading poetry.  It’s so perfectly phrased, and such a complete, rounded thought that it makes me wonder if these interviews are written, or spoken:

Do you read poetry?

We have many shelves of poetry at home, but still, it takes an effort to step out of the daily narrative of existence, draw that neglected cloak of stillness around you — and concentrate, if only for three or four minutes. Perhaps the greatest reading pleasure has an element of self-annihilation. To be so engrossed that you barely know you exist. I last felt that in relation to a poem while in the sitting room of Elizabeth Bishop’s old home in rural Brazil. I stood in a corner, apart from the general conversation, and read “Under the Window: Ouro Preto.” The street outside was once an obscure thoroughfare for donkeys and peasants. Bishop reports overheard lines as people pass by her window, including the beautifully noted “When my mother combs my hair it hurts.” That same street now is filled with thunderous traffic — it fairly shakes the house. When I finished the poem I found that my friends and our hosts had left the room. What is it precisely, that feeling of “returning” from a poem? Something is lighter, softer, larger — then it fades, but never completely.

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