Poetry for Collective Impact

September 30, 2014 1 Comment

Image by Dominic Alves

I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!

“Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

-Lucille Clifton


I share in part for selfish reasons, in that I love poetry. But it is also more strategic than that. Poetry has a way of simply expressing complexity and capturing the essence of things in poignant ways. It can tap a deeper sense of shared meaning and experience that touches a dimension of social space that I like to call “divinity,” without meaning to be religious, per se, or denominational in any way. Bookending convenings with poetic offerings becomes an invitation as we begin and end to stay connected to a higher sense of purpose and deeper sense of belonging. And it becomes a signal that there are numerous legitimate means of expression in our network building and collective impact work which can be important for inclusivity and tapping collective intelligence. Furthermore, and this is for further discussion at another time, I think we often minimize the importance of aesthetic in bringing about social and system change.

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

– William Carlos Williams

The poet Elizabeth Alexander once said that poetry is the freest of art forms . . . because no one gets paid for it. This may be true, and I am certainly grateful for the return of so many poets’ investments over the centuries. I am also a big believer in swapping poetry, so will list 10 of my favorite poems to share here, and hope that you will reciprocate.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford

A Note by Wislawa Szymborska

Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee

On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo

The Three Goals by David Budbill

The Seven of Pentacles by Marge Piercy

i thank You God for most this amazing by e.e. cummings

“Poetry can tell us what human beings are. It can tell us why we stumble and fall and how, miraculously, we can stand up.”

-Maya Angelou

Social Change through poetry

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