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Laundry Room Concussion Makes Way for ‘Poems of Refuge’

Philip Metres [photo by: Heidi Rolf]

Phil Metres was doing laundry in his sister’s basement when the unexpected happened.

“The back of my head was clocked by the door of the laundry machine,” he said. “I had got serious concussion symptoms.”

The writer and John Carroll University English professor found himself in need of quiet, still rest in a dark place.

Then panic set in.

“I thought… about all the things that I had taken for granted, how much I love to read and how much calm it brings me, how much refuge I find in it,” he said.

Not able to read, look at screens or listen to music, Metres turned to the prose and prayers he had memorized.  

Going over the words to the Lord’s Prayer, he considered how the line “give us this day our daily bread” is not just about hunger for food, but also spiritual and emotional needs.

Then he started writing in the dark.

“It just reminded me again just how powerful language, memorable language, can be to help anchor ourselves, to find refuge in the chaos of our lives,” he said.

The experience led to his new book, “The Sound of Listening: Poems as Refuge and Resistance."

Poems can be a way of listening to ourselves as well as the world outside, Metres said.

It can also help people give attention to the present and live with some ambiguity as he did while feeling the concussion symptoms.

In the case of his college students, Metres said they sometimes stuggle with that.

“They face a world that is in some sense far more chaotic and confusing and difficult than the world I faced at their age," he said. "Naturally, they, some of them, want answers and now and yesterday. And one of the things that poems can help students do, and all of us do, is to have a little patience with the nature of reality, that it unfolds slowly and that we don’t need to have all of the answers all of the time.”

Metres’ book also examines poetry as resistance, reflecting upon the relationship of poetry and social change in history.

Being too caught up in present day issues isn’t helpful, as “many of the things that we're dealing have been dealt with before,” he said.

It is a balance and intention Metres sets with poetry.

Metres leads a poetry reading to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and immigrants Thursday at 8 p.m. on the John Carroll University campus.   

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.