Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Poetic Language of Leadership // Roger Lundin on Emily Dickinson

Full interview here (or free for download on iTunesU) // Excerpt below

Q: Could you talk about the contrast between Dickinson, one of our great poets, who guarded her words so carefully, and our present age of intense chattiness?

I've never thought about whether Emily Dickinson would have had a blog. I imagine the answer is no. Like so many great writers in the 19th century, Dickinson had an incredible ear and she knew, as Mark Twain said, the difference between the right word and the almost right word, which is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Until you’ve got the right word, you probably don't want to put it down.

I don't have any statistics on this, but it's a good bet that the more we talk, the fewer words we use. The fund of commonly used words has to be down culture-wide. Once that fund of useable words is down, so too is much of the surprise and nuance. These come from words that you don't commonly use, but they're in your quiver.

Q: Is there a parallel between being a good poet and being a good leader?

Dickinson’s poem “After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes” is about responding to pain. The poem closes:

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

I read that poem, and it brought to mind my experience of grief in losing a brother and grandmother at a very early age. She got it exactly right. A hundred years before I came along she was describing my life for me.

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