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Margaret Renkl on the Poetry of Nature

How to Breathe With the Trees

By Margaret Renkl

Even on a computer screen, Ada Limón, who is serving her second term as poet laureate of the United States, projects such warmth and reassurance that you could almost swear she was sitting beside you, holding your hand. This kind of connection between strangers, human heart to human heart, is so rare as to be startling, especially these days.

April is National Poetry Month, and it strikes me that no one is better positioned than Ms. Limón to convince Americans to leave off their quarrels and worries, at least for a time, and surrender to the language of poetry. That’s as much because of her public presence as because of her public role as the country’s poet in chief. When Ada Limón tells you that poetry will make you feel better, you believe her.

In her nearly weekly travels as poet laureate, Ms. Limón has had a lot of practice delivering this message. “Every time I’m around a group of people, the word that keeps coming up is ‘overwhelmed,’” she said. “It’s so meaningful to lean on poetry right now because it does make you slow down. It does make you breathe.”

A poem is built of rests. Each line break, each stanza break and each caesura represents a pause, and in that pause there is room to take a breath. To ponder. To sit, for once in our lives, with mystery. If we can’t find a way to slow down on our own, to take a breath, poems can teach us how. Read the full essay at the New York Times.

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