I went for a walk one afternoon a week or so ago. That's nothing new; I do that now and then for several reasons. I find it takes me away from the stresses that pile up over time; if I've had more time in the company of a lot of people than I feel comfortable with, a walk is the perfect way to re-focus myself; and surrounded by the natural world, I don't need to be anyone or play any role - just be. So, I took a peaceful stroll through a semi-secluded valley beside a slow-moving stream, kept my mouth shut, and my eyes and ears and mind open.
Somehow along the ramble, a line of thinking developed. I'd been hearing my share of poetry read in the last while, but there seemed to be an integral part missing. Whether the poet who read was dramatic or bland didn't matter. It seemed that all were so intent on getting the words out there, often rattling along like gunfire, that only at the end of a long line (or even several lines) or at the end of a stanza could the poet take a short, sharp breath before continuing. And even that pause was as short as possible so it wouldn't interfere with the delivery of the words, the message.
I believe pauses, stretches of silence, are important to a poem and poetry in general. When I read a printed poem for myself, I am free to pause where I will or must to aid in the comprehension, the digestion of the poem and whatever it delivers. At a public reading or presentation this is often not the case. The better readers, in my opinion, use the weight of silence, of pauses.
Like my quiet afternoon walk, a poem also often needs the emphasis of silence to enhance its full power. We should listen to the silences in a poem as much as to words and meaning. So much of our lives are spent with the awareness of and bombardment by words and sounds that the importance of silence has been lost. We need to re-integrate it into our lives and our poetry.