When my daughter Rose was small, we decided to investigate pet ownership. To start, she and I visited the local pet shelter every week to clean the kitty room and walk dogs. The executive director of the shelter, always welcoming, kept a small note near his telephone that read, “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” I gathered that he filtered his conversations through those three questions.
Later—years later—I discovered that those three questions (sometimes written as four) provide guidance for Right Speech in Buddhism. They’re part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path to “the extinction of suffering.”
Psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield mentions in his dharma talks that, when we learn to cut out unnecessary statements in conversation, we might find we have nothing to say.
So yesterday morning I subjected my written words to the same filter. I planned to write poetry—was it necessary?
Quickly I concluded that poetry in general is necessary. Didn’t William Carlos Williams say so in his poem “Asphodel“? And just this month in Lion’s Roar Magazine, Noelle Oxenhandler writes:
We talked about the irony that while poetry, in our current culture, is considered the most marginal of literary genres, at critical moments—whether celebratory or catastrophic, personal or communal—people turn to poetry for illumination.from “The Zen of Jane Hirshfield,” by Noelle Oxenhandler, Lion’s Roar, November 2023