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Noticing the small things through poetry

How really diverse are cultures around the globe? Robert Li ’12 made some surprising discoveries last summer in London.

Li, a religion studies major, traveled to England’s capital through the study abroad program of Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.

While there, he was busy with class and an internship at Peace News, an online magazine.

He also entered and won the First Annual Arcadia London Study Center Poetry Contest, whose theme was life in modern London.

Fascinated by unexpected differences between British and American culture, Li wrote an untitled, free verse poem about the sights, smells and sounds of the city.

Li has been writing poetry for most of his life, inspired by American poets such as e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman and by his studies in religion.

On the surface, the American culture he was used to, and the British culture he was adjusting to, did not seem different.

“It was like observing a new culture even though you didn’t think it was,” he says.

At the beginning of his poem, Li gives the impression of daily life in London, bustling with people in the morning, much like New York City near Li’s hometown of Floral Park, N.Y.:

And the town begins to walk,
      Jog,
       Run,
         Cycle…
The gears of the town begin to turn again.

Like the subway system in New York, mass transportation huddles Londoners together as they make their way to work. The people move with the sounds of the city:

The gates open up,
With the masses lost in the trance of the Tube Station Shuffle.
Filing in and out,
Up and Down,
Drones to the beat of that city music of car horns and sirens.

On his commute to and from the Peace News office, however, Li found something in England’s social scene he was not used to.

“A lot of people go to the pub, which is more of a social and family setting where everyone knows everyone else,” he says.

And down at the pubs of Shoreditch, the sound of laughter rises,
As men and women of all ages begin to gather,
As the sun fades from the skyline.
And they laugh, and sing, and dance, and play.

At first glance, it appeared to Li as if there is a lack of British pride because of their laidback style, in contrast with the patriotism of many Americans. However, Li discovered that the British have national pride, even though it may not be apparent.

“It’s there,” he says. “They are happy to live a relaxed life, and they have pride in living in their own skin.”

In the end, maybe New York City and London are not so different after all:

Each and every one has some kind of dream aligned.
And they are never too concerned with whether or not they get there.
Because in their heart, they know that they’ve always been where they belong.

And for some moments, London falls silent.
But London never sleeps.

Story by Caitlyn Prozonic '12

Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2011

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