Poems from Me to We: harvesting humanness

I recently happened to join a group that was gathered in Ottawa to design a new conversation model that can engage all Canadians — in response to the divisive, polarizing attitudes that appear to be trending in the US and Europe. As we first came together, not knowing each other, we started with a check-in, putting in the center of the room the thoughts, stories, experiences that led us to be together in this place and at that time. The question that was asked was simple and powerful=: what’s on your shoulders?

As people started to share, a collective story started to emerge, through the weaving of individual experiences: thus creating the soil for an experience of belonging that could lead to the collective work that needed to happen. Words were spoken that told stories of loss, violence, displacement, belonging, hope, reconciliation, grief, love, and agency. It was emotional, raw and beautiful, and you could feel in the room the importance of the moment. People stripped themselves of their layer of professionalism and competence, and showed up as humans who were invested in doing good work to create a better world.

In those moments, good harvesting is an act of love and service to the group. It can help a group amplify and make sense immediately of its collective voice beyond all these individual stories. There are many ways to do this. In Percolab, my colleague Paul uses his talent to create visuals that convey those stories and harvest those insights. Poetry can have the same powerful impact, and help host a group by staying present to all stories that are shared.

Listening for patterns is what informs us on who we are, and who we can be collectively. I tune my ear to the question that is asked. As the poem takes shape I become able to see associations, relationships that are forming between people who do not yet know each other. I can enter a space where I am in service of this collective that is emerging. The ego starts to dissolve, but the warrior for what is important comes into focus, at the same time as the collective story. There is no need to edit, just to listen and play: if this is to be a reflection of the humanness of this community it will be partial and imperfect. If it is in flow it will retain the islands of meaning and collective strengths within the complexity.

Here is an extract of what came out of this process:

on our shoulders

is our father’s boat

on our shoulders

are bridges and boats that are not build yet

on our shoulders

is the responsibility to be

better ancestors

and better descendants

on our shoulders

is our need to learn, care, connect

and tap into the wisdom

of doing without knowing

on our shoulders

are our lives of privileges

on our shoulders

are our lives of oppressing

and of being oppressed

and of being afraid

on our shoulders

is the need to celebrate and hold curiosity


and with humility

learn to be with what is needed now

burst our bubbles

with kindness and humility

and grace

on our shoulders

are the curtains that have been pulled

from our eyes

and a world that is not what we thought it was

and the need to see

on our shoulders

is the need for a tower

to find the 100 pairs of eyes

that will help us see the world

What becomes important at that moment is that it is shared in the circle, as is, without filter. As a pure offering, a mirroring of what is there, giving an image of who we are through the woven words and stories that have been shared and put in the collective center. The poem in that moment is the first artefact of a commons held by the emerging community. Our role as hosts and space holders is to give « it », what wants to be born, a tangible shape, or form, be it through poems, visuals, or any other mean. It might be early, imperfect, a little dirty, a little raw, a little noisy, but it needs to be there in that moment for what it can then make space for: becoming a community anchored in something bigger than ourselves.

That early harvest is important work, as it can then be a difference between a group that stays focused on its purpose and a collective that falls in the trap of arguing about philosophical differences. What this experience helped me realize is how Hosting and Harvesting are really two sides of the same coin. If hosting is the art of creating and holding containers, harvesting is listening for the insights that help our groups make sense of their collective experience in those containers. My experience of slam as a harvest practice is one where poetry comes in service of a collective to help us surface our collective voice, make sense of the work we do and create more intentionality and presence to one another.

Methodologies and tools:

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