The transformative power of words.
The first presenter at TEDxMaui on Sunday, Jan. 13, was Kim Rosen, MFA, the author of "Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words," as well as the co-creator of four CDs of spoken poems and music. Her work has also been featured in several magazines. Combining her devotion to poetry with her background as a teacher and therapist, she touches listeners around the world with the power of spoken poems to heal and inspire individuals and communities.
Her message: words are born out of connection.
"In the pit of the suicidal depression, I happened to hear a recording," said Rosen. "And those words cut through my despair and touched a tender, innocent, real part of me that I thought I had lost forever."
What she heard and recited to the audience, was David White's reading of a poem by Derek Walcott called "Love after Love."
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
"That poem really did save my life," said Rosen. "I became fascinated--no obsessed--about this magic that some poems hold to dissolve our defenses and drop us into an instant familiar with themselves and other people," relayed Rosen. "I know some of you have felt this when a poem is read..."
The most powerful experience she's had with this universal concept of connection was her first trip to Kenya at a safe house for Maasai girls and women in the Great Rift Valley. Approximately 50 of them left their lives, friends and families, traveling great distances to the sanctuary for protection from violence, including genital mutilation and early childhood marriage.
But, she relayed, being the sole white woman there, and by nature very shy, her "first few hours there were awkward, to say the least."
She was asked to sing a song, but decided instead to recite a poem. But what could she recite, of the many of the many poems she had committed to memory, that these desperate and brave girls could relate to?
She chose a poem called "The Journey" by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mary Oliver.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
"By the end of the poem, tears were streaming down my face, and many of the girls were crying is well," said Rosen.
One of the women asked, "Who is this woman Mary Oliver? Is she Maasai? How did she know?"
"Words are born out of connection and they can lead us back to connection--if we dare," said Rosen. "So I call on you to occupy language. Dare to allow your feelings, your tears, your laughter, I love you, I'm scared, can you help me?
"Dare to allow the rhythm of your heartbeat and your breath into the words you use," she continued. "It's not just fun and creative and liberating--it can be a matter of life and death for our relationships, our communities, our planet and our dreams."