The first time I encountered “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” was five years ago, on September 10th, 2001. I remember the date primarily because it marked the first class of my freshman year at Juilliard in New York City. As a dozen eighteen-year-olds from all over the world sat uncomfortably around a hexagonal table trying hard not to catch each others’ eye, wondering what would become of us both in the next few hours and over the next four years, our humanities teacher recited this poem to us. The message was clear: as creative and performing artists, we would either survive together, by creating an environment in which it was possible to understand and support one another, or we would not survive at all.
I remember that date for another reason, too, though: The following morning I awoke to find many of the same people who had been at that hexagonal table crowding around all the south-facing windows high enough in the residence hall to watch the growing clouds of black smoke that rose ominously from the south tip of Manhattan. At first none of us had thoughts other than that we were lucky to have been spared the atrocity that had come to pass downtown. But as reports started coming in, as we began piecing together the story, huddled together in the underground theater four stories below Lincoln Center, and began to reel at the overwhelming magnitude and gravity of the situation, there was only one phrase that emerged from the chaos. It was the last line of Stafford’s poem: The darkness around us is deep.
This piece is dedicated to Peter Rojcewicz, the humanities teacher who read us that poem, and through all that he believed in and taught us, truly expanded our repertoire of ways of knowing.
There is no recording of this piece yet.
The text of William Stafford’s poem, A Ritual To Read to Each Other, is available on the Poetry Foundation website.