The Sheer Poetry of Dullness


Quotidian. Mundane. For most of us, it’s the relentless repetition and ordinariness of the sun also rising and setting. But make no mistake, it once started in the fertile soil of dreams. And, somehow, a tendril of hope remains in the ground beneath our feet, no matter how scorched it has become by the cycling sun.

I think of this each time I feel empty of ideas and inspiration. I think of it when I hear students say the same upon being assigned memoir writing: “I can’t write because nothing ever happens in my life.”

Dull. Life is dull. The assignment changes on the fly. The assignment, then, is to write about dull. Find beauty in dull. Find heartache in dull. Sniff out hope and acknowledge despair–odd but constant bedfellows–in dull.

I think of this because we all have such ample material when it comes to making music from such ordinary chords. I think of this when I read about Gwendolyn Brooks’ bean eaters in their rented back room full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths and tobacco crumbs and vases and fringes. A polysyndeton of purposefulness, day in and day out, putting on their clothes and putting things away because life demands it of them.

Consider it, next time you’re feeling down. Consider it, too, next time you think you and you alone are denied of ideas–ideas which humbly lie all around you, hidden by a cloak woven of ordinariness.

“The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, 
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
          is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
          tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.