Category Archives: Reflections

What do you do with poetry?

I love poems but sometimes I do not know what to do with them.

When a poem speaks to me, it is a super intense feeling, like I glow and rain at the same time. I leave words. I leave time, I reread the poem a few times, trying each time to read it again for the first time. And then – such intense emotion, a pressure, a wanting to engage with the poem and the person behind it and my feelings they evoked more deeply. From that rises a sort of helplessness, and of being lost. What do you do with a poem that speaks to you? Sometimes I copy a poem into my planner or print it and hang it up in my room.

But then what? What do you do with poems?

With a book or a story, it is so much easier. You can revel in all that you just read and lived through. There is so much more material. You can go back and relive favourite moments either by rereading them on paper, or by letting them unfold again in your head. You can look for sentences that were especially neat or profound or whatever. Remember the characters, let them come alive in your head. Come up with different outcomes in situations. Look up discussions of the book on the internet or talk to friends about them. Think about the stringency of the story line. Look for stories by the side, read between the lines. There is so much more to do. And most stories are less controversial and more shareable.

Maybe I am missing out on something and my understanding of poetry is still defective. But maybe I am onto something.

Maybe books and stories are closer to our everyday experience of our lives. We know how to interact with characters and stories we have met with. We do so all the time. In fact, we do hardly anything but move around situations in our heads, thinking about other people, events to come, events past, connecting ideas, things to be done, yadda yadda. We do it every day, almost every waking minute not focused on some other task (and this is probably what mindfulness and meditation is supposed to get us out of for a while).

But poems, they are more transcendent. The heaviness, the pressure I feel radiating from a poem that speaks to me is, perhaps, of the same kind as the deep glow of my magic moments, les instants radieux. They are profound, but they escape direct interaction. They are more momentary, and perhaps best unexplained, quite unlike everything else. They bestow a sort of shimmer, a meaning outside words, to us quite straightforwardly and that makes them feel momentous and in need of further interaction. But maybe they work in a way that escapes abstraction.

And so all we can adequately do in answer to art that touches us is try to share it with others, and make more art.

But that does not really solve the problem, it just tries to explain it. It’s all I got so far.

So what do you do with poetry that speaks to you?

My Why-Statements

“Why do you want to succeed?”

This is the central question of lesson 2 in Little Coffee Fox’s course Fast-Paced Productivity. The goal is to “dig deep and find motivation for your productivity” in the form of a “short explanation of your core motivation”.

I was advised to sit down and try to formulate what it is that keeps me going, and what has the potential to motivate and re-align me in moments of stress. So I went and scribbled down a whole page of would-be Why-Statements, but nothing felt quite right. It was over the course of a few days where my thoughts kept returning to Why-Statements that I finally came up with my three Why-Statements, and in the right order. I will spare you all the ruminations and get right to them:

  1. I want to make myself proud.
  2. I want to be conscious and open towards it all, good and bad.
  3. Les Instants Radieux.

1. I want to make myself proud.

… for me is the motivation I get from the prospect of having acted and decided in a way that makes me proud of myself. This combines two aspects:

First, I am proud of myself when I do my best, no matter the outcome. This refers to days where nothing goes right, but I do not let myself be side-tracked, I do not procrastinate, I just keep trying diligently and calmly. At the end of the day, even if nothing went right, I can be proud of myself. This is a reason for pride intrinsic to my work the activity.

Secondly, I am proud of myself when the product or outcome of what I did is good. This is a reason for pride intrinsic to my work the product. This has long, perhaps since I started primary school, been my primary motivation, and this is problematic for a number of reasons – suffice it to say I believe it to be the root of all perfectionism, and therefore anxiety, self-doubt, and procrastination. But I believe it is still a fair and useful motivation to have alongside the balancing factor of doing my best no matter the outcome.

2. I want to be conscious and open towards it all, good and bad.

… for me is a reminder that there is value for me in my experiences, my being alive and consciously perceiving both what I do and what happens to and around me. It goes in the direction of neutral acceptance; perhaps it is a form of grace, of transcendence without religion. It is about losing the self with its problems to a somewhat stoic, non-judgemental sense, however temporary, of being a conscious part of existence, of the world, of my life as a story. “Less of me, less of me, concede and believe.”

This is a curious and open perspective which I wish to take up more often and which gives me a perspective within which to detach myself from the intense emotional nature of being me in my everyday life, if that makes sense.

3. Les Instants Radieux.

… are about a deep sense of joy; the moments that make life worth living. This joy is not simple hedonistic pleasure, but a more profound, shimmering joy of moments that feel just right, meaningful and authentic. There is a sense of the transcendent here, too; but it is less stoic and instead more connected to what I like, what I think is beautiful, to whom and what I personally love in the world. “Magic moments” might be a more accessible formulation, but I personally love the beauty in this expression taken from Alcest – La Nuit Marche Avec Moi (who have given me so many of these moments with their music).

A Literal Instant Radieux cycling home on the “Promenade” in Münster

dementia & helplessness


Dear beloved little granny,

yesterday, like every Tuesday during our visit, when we said we had to leave, you asked me in a small voice if I could not always stay with you and help you.

It breaks my heart, the way you make odd mistakes in your choice of words and grammar, because the language part of your brain that has been working tirelessly for 90 years cannot keep up with the overwhelming strength of your wish to express what you feel. It breaks my heart, the consistency with which you ask if I can stay, although you forget everything else that happens within minutes or even seconds;
but your helplessness has caught up with you anyway.

What a cruel thing, to know, even if subconsciously, that you do not know a lot anymore. To remember that a lot of what you do is forget. To not understand why, but to feel you need help.
I wish I could do more for you, hold onto you and your memories and your deeply kind personality, but in a way, I am as helpless as you are.

Yours forever, Judith

Vesuvius // Sufjan Stevens

Dear Sufjan Stevens,

I loved what you did to your music at your concert in the colosseum theatre in Essen. You and your band took the essence of the songs, gave them enough room to unfold, then swirled and transformed them into their own reprises, occasionally letting things escalate in a multitude of layers beyond the moon and back, and at other times letting the sounds ebb and swell to Sufjan’s solitary softness of a voice.

And I loved the combination of light and video around the oddly shaped background canvas, the beautiful stills of soothing mountain sea panoramas, the childhood VHS videos, and the weirdly evolving geometric shapes.

And really, I was overwhelmed by you, Sufjan, because I never knew someone could deliver a song so meaningfully with the way they moved, sometimes little, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes with weird dance moves I am sure have some sort of tradition to them, and sometimes just moving unselfconsciously in line with the rhythm (which was kinda sexy).

And to top it all off, we could enjoy the concert sitting in comfortable theatre chairs… I wish to see a concert like this again, some day, but until then, I will try to keep this feeling alive in my heart.

Love love love,


– Here goes the album version of “vesuvius”, which does not do the thing at the concert justice, but nonetheless manages to evoke the atmosphere for me.