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The sun is just beginning to rise through the spindled sailboat masts and motor yacht Bimini tops in the marina, and I’m enjoying the solitary, quiet room that morning is – before the guests wake and I prepare their state rooms for the day, before I arrange the flowers, before I plan the evening’s cocktail party and pair wine with the four-course dinner that will follow, before I move through all of the other rituals and tasks that comprise my day as Chief Stewardess of a 100-foot megayacht. While my current occupation has no direct connection to what I studied as an English major, I still publish regularly, and the financial foundation I’ve built allows me to teach, read, and lecture around the country. My Whitworth education also prepared me to think about how my dual vocation of writer and hospitality professional inform and enrich each other.

The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil once wrote that academic study trains the mind for paying attention: “that attention which, oriented toward God, is of the same substance as prayer.”[1] The kind of attention I learned through literary studies also energizes the work I now do in the yacht hospitality industry. One of my favorite poets, Jack Gilbert, articulates this power of attention beautifully: “When we slow, / the garden can choose what we notice. Can change / our heart […]”[2] I find that poetry and hospitality both call us to awareness of the world through sense – to make sense of the world through sensing the world in body, mind, and spirit. Another of my favorite writers, Angel F. Méndez Montoya, writes: “[T]here is a relationship between sabor and saber (savoring and knowing). Perhaps the kitchen and the library are in fact united by one and the same splendid desire: the desire to both savor and know.”[3] Both my Whitworth education and experience as a poet in the world suggest that hospitality is about being open to seeing poetry everywhere and being conversant in the many ways that the world communicates to, and connects, us. Likewise, being a poet is learning to see hospitality everywhere, which is to say, learning to listen and welcome those connections (and sometimes the creative tensions and disjunctions) through which others, and perhaps God, speak to us. The life of poetry, like hospitality, allows the world’s garden to change the ways in which we pay attention, and perhaps in the process, allows the power of our renewed attention to transform us.

 

[1] Weil, Simone. Awaiting God, trans. Brad Jersak (Abbotsford: Fresh Wind Press, 2012), loc. 581

[2] Jack Gilbert, “Burning (Andante Non Troppo),” Refusing Heaven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 18.

[3] Angel F. Méndez Montoya, The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 28.

Leah Silvieus (’07) is an interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & Writing, CURA, The Collagist, and diode, among others. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Miami and currently divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her online here.