Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A poem from my old English teacher.

Of the many strange and wonderful serendipities of the modern world, I am still connected to Mr. Pike, my 9th-grade English teacher in whose class I sat way in the back starting way back in 1971.

Mr. Pike (I can’t quite bring myself to the modern sensibility and call people so my older than myself by their first names—I can’t call him, Dick. Nor can I call Dr. Lewis, my therapist of 25-years, Owen. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s how I was raised) but as I was saying, Mr. Pike, being an English teacher, taught me a lot.

He gave me way back in 1971, my first exposure to Charles Dickens with “Great Expectations.” He introduced me to “The Catcher in the Rye,” and a great story called "Haircut" by Ring Lardner. And I remember one morning in class he pointed out a sentence in a story by Dylan Thomas—describing local school girls as having ‘hockey legs.’ That description made a mark on my life. It made me think about words and their beauty in a way I hadn’t before. Not to mention girls' legs.

[As a matter of legs, I looked up just now Dylan Thomas' "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog,' and in my second favorite story from that collection, "Extraordinary Little Cough," I found this passage, which was just as I left it back during the Nixon administration in 1971.
"Fat Peggy, I thought, too jolly for me, with hockey legs and tomboy crop, was the girl for Dan; Sidney’s Gwyneth was a distinguished piece and quite sixteen, as immaculate and unapproachable as a girl in Ben Evans’s stores; but Jean, shy and curly, with butter-coloured hair, was mine. Dan and I walked slowly to the girls."]
Even today, nearly 50 years later, Mr. Pike has a place in my life. Every Tuesday morning on Facebook, he posts a poem he likes. I don’t always love them—that’s not the point. I don’t always love anything, but one time in four or three, I find something I like, or a tiny taste of something I think is wonderful and eye-opening.

Yesterday, Mr. Pike posted a poem by a guy I had never heard of. He wrote the name down as Dan Soliz. I searched online to find out more about him, but I could find nothing. The closest I came was locating a poet called Danny Solis. I found him on Facebook and sent him a note. As I write this, I’ve gotten no reply. If I do get one, I’ll let you know.

It occurs to me that this poem should be memorized by everyone in the agency business. In many ways, if we are to get to the soul of a client and express who they really are, we have to learn to listen. Listen to clients, listen to customers, listen to what is said and what is unsaid. We also have to listen to our gut, most of all.

We can’t listen to every voice in the room, or we’ll wind up with advertising that’s like so much advertising. We’ll wind up with pablum. But the true voice—not the scared voice, to me, that’s what Solis’ poem is about.

Bringing it around to our business—it’s how we should listen to our clients, and yes, the world.

Thank you Mr. Pike. Ever the teacher.
When someone deeply listens to you,
It is like holding out a dented cup
You’ve had since childhood and watching It fill up with cold fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim, You are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin You are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you, The room where you stay
Starts a new life,
And the place where you wrote
Your first poem begins to glow.
It is as if gold has been discovered.
When someone deeply listens to you,
Your bare feet are on the Earth and a beloved
Land that seemed distant is now at home within you.

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