May Day

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Today is Beltane. commonly known as May Day.  It is one of the four major celebrations in the ancient Celtic calendars that mark a change of season.  Beltane heralds summer. Beltane is a wildl festival of a day, beginning at the break of dawn when maidens rise to dew2roll in the wet grass of early morning and scrub their faces with dewdrops scraped from leaves in hopes of becoming more sexually attractive.  May dew also maintains youthfulness and cures skin ailments

The first bucket drunk from a well on Beltane morning was supposed to be particularly efficacious in granting protection and good health during the640px-Leather_bucket_of_a_well coming year.  But even those who couldn’t rise in time made sure to visit sometime during the day,  praying as they circled sacred springs and holy wells three times sunwise before leaving an offering of coins or strips of rags called clooties, tied to a nearby tree.

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May bushes received their share of decoration  . Consisting of small  flowering bushes or branches, usually hawthorn, rowan or sycamore—decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, strips of embroidery. or strings of berries.  Each house had a bush  and so did every settlement.  As ever the Celts relished rivalries and 4 michael fortuneneighborhoods sometimes stole each other’s May bushes much as todays sports teams vie to filch each other’s mascots or trophies.  In some places, it was customary to dance around the May Bush and then burn it at the end of the night on the Beltane bonfire fire.

The Celts were cattle men first and foremost.  May Day was primarily a religious rite wherein powerful  elemental magic in the form of fire and smoke was invoked to protect their beasts.  Each family brought their herds with at least the lead cow scrubbed clean, brushed and hung with garlands of yellow flowers.  The cows were driven three times around a huge bonfire or made two walk between two fires making sure each animal and family member became successfully smudged at some point in the proceedings as protection against disease and promote fertility.

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Kevin Sudieth

Bonfires burned all day, topped up continually with dry fuel and damp healing herbs to make sure every person  and animal received their blessing from the smoke.

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As the day progressed, people visited fairy mounds and stone circles to leave food and milk for the fairy folk.   Caudle, warm alcoholic drinks made of breadcrumbs, wine, honey, and saffron, brought to a boil, then thickened with egg yolks, and sprinkled with spice.  Women baked oatcakes in  the embers.  Once cooled, they were broken into bits and offered to the various domestic animals, supernatural entities, sacred locations, children and adults.

All day the wine and ale flowed the dancing singing, feasting, storytelling and trade continued through the daylight hours. By night time, couples were pairing to steal into the darkness.  It was a night of freedom and license when the usual rules of society were temporarily suspended.

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I’ve only focused on Celtic traditions here but Germanic Europe has its own particular May Day traditions like the May Pole, that are quite similar and equally fascinating. I’m emphasizing the Celts because I want to include a poem from my Irish Book Sitting on the Hag Seat: A Celtic Knot of Poems, but I couldn’t leave out the May Pole, so it’s here too.

 Cathair Crobh Dearg

Cathair Crobh Dearg, The City, is the site of an ancient Irish settlement in County Kerry that sits directly beneath the twin hills known as the Paps of Anu. To this day cattle and people come to The City to perform an ancient ritual in which they circle the sacred well and old stone walls three times, saying prayers for protection and blessing as they go.  They are Christian prayers now, of course, but the practice is almost as old as these hills.
 The city of the Tuatha Dé
lies cradled within a circle of stone
below the Paps of Anu,
mother god of Celts
as shrouded in mystery
as the mist encircled mountains
named for her breasts.

 

Today the hills stand stark
outlined upon a pale sky.
Breeze ripples meadow grasses,
sunshine kisses dreaming faces.
 
This is a thin place, temenos of resurrection
where spirits wander out of body and time
re-enacting ancient rite by rote
climbing the mountainside
building the cairns, lighting Beltane fires.
 
Farmers still march cattle deosil,
thrice round stacked stone walls
praying for protection.
Drop water from the holy well
in ears and mouth and nose
of eldest cow and youngest.
Make a pilgrimage of penance,
scratch rock on rock,  
incise the sign of Christ
on first May mornings
while Blessed Mother
watches from her ledge, beneficent
as that first, oldest Mama.
 
She asks small tokens-
acorn, blossom, feather…
keeping seasonal rites
respect for sacred sites.
 If this is done, we’ll all
be well and prosper.

 

Beltane

 Wild nights and bawdy days

May moon rides the heaving waves

whales leap to arch and moan

churn the sea to creamy foam

inland forests sway and writhe

tangled limbs all long and lithe

part around a dancing ground

level floor, grassy mound

pierced by pole straight and tall

curtained in a ribbon shawl

crimson, rosy, yellow, blue

every known shade and hue

held by maidens, mothers, crones

husbands, sons, codgers, drones

male, female weaving, mating

life in balance, all relating.

 

 

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Lucidity

I’ve just returned from a poetry conference in the Ozarks.  It’s the twenty-seventh time poets have come together in Eureka Springs, AK to confab and critique at Lucidity.  The gathering is aptly named.  It’s all about the craft and how to smooth, polish and clarify poetry.

Instead of our best, they ask for our weakest work.  Thrown into an arbitrarily assigned group we read our precious lines to relative strangers and await their suggestions.  The process is humbling, exhilarating and demanding.  It makes me want to revise everything I’ve ever authored and write a dozen new poems.

The first thing I see when I return to my desk is an unrevised lemon.  I pick up my pen and chop, prune, dead-head and rename till I figured out what I really want to say.   I’m counting it my poem for the day because it took longer to rewrite than compose something new:

When Women March: With A Grateful Nod to Sojourner Truth

 

Feels like déjà vu – over a hundred years of taking

to the street, protesting as crowds mill and move,

chanting, cheering, churning the cauldron, aerating stuffy closets

whose doors burst open from within.  Women, used to

mess and mud, chaos and confusion,

know our work is never done.

We carry laundered rags inside our backpacks

as makeshift bandages, napkins, diapers, hairbands;

print slogans across them with blood, lipstick or crayon.

We are fierce, good-natured, spirited, proud.

Joy prevails, alive on every countenance.  Women

clap, sigh, laugh, yell, sigh again.  We’ve been here before

carrying the same signs– Keep Your Laws Off My Body,

Equal Pay for Equal Work and new ones, ranging

from Ninety and Nasty to Nineteen and Nasty.

Mine says, I Can’t Believe I’m Still Protesting This Shit.

I march because the job isn’t over.

Ain’t I A Woman?

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Breaking Lines- NaPoWriMo

So the prompt yesterday day was about line breaks.  It was a day without inspiration. Happily this morning I woke thinking about literal lines, as in Morse code or the I Ching, both made up of lines embedded with information.  (A dot is after all just a very short oghamcover picline.) I am very interested in the idea of embedded information.  In researching my book Sitting on the Hag Seat, I explored the link between the ancient runic alphabet and the sacred trees of Ireland.  Runes you may recall are made of lines resembling branches, twigs and sticks.  These letters also formed a system of divination.  

My latest book, Return to Inanna, still in progress, is based on the cuneiform tablets holding the first poem in written history  for which we know cuneiform tabletthe poet’s name.  Her name was Enheduanna. The cuneiform inscribed clay tablets also contain myths about Goddess Inanna from which I received my inspiration for the new poems.

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese system of divinity, at least 5,000 years old.  It is made up of 64 hexagrams (6 lines) consisting of a lower and upper trigram (3 lines); each of the characters comes with a meaning of its own; as does every trigram and individual line within it.

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Traditionally, you count the lines of a hexagram from bottom to top. This way, line one is the line at the bottom and line six is the topmost one. All hexagrams derive from 8 original trigrams.   

I decided to pick a character for my prompt.  I chose one I liked the look of and it turned out to be 21- Shih Ho / Biting Through  from Richard Wilheim‘s I Ching translation.

biting through

I read the meaning of hexagram Shih Ho and underlined the phrases that stood out for me.  I listed them in order and then began rearranging them and adding a word here or there in a way that maintained the original meaning.  It is really a found poem, and I cannot take credit for the words or their associated meaning, only for their new arrangement.

Shih Ho/ Biting Through – Hexagram 21

Unity cannot be established.

To prevent permanent injury

proceed with right action.

Obstacles blocking the way

are forcibly removed in nature.

Lightening,

the clinging,

Thunder,

the arousing

at once, take vigorous measures –

the energetic biting through of obstacles.

Deliberate destruction does not vanish of its own accord.

Judgement

and punishment required.

Proceed with right action.

Soft clarity

hard excitement,

two together create the just measure

of a gentle nature

commanding respect through conduct.

 

 

 

 

                                                           

 

  

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Unexpectedly Caught Up in Story

Okay, Maureen warned us that in undertaking this exercise we might be tumbled down unexpected pathways.  The exercise was to find a poem in a language we didn’t know, pair it with a photograph and write our own poem inspired by the photo and the sense of the alien words upon the page.  My poem, Rescue, is nothing at all like the prose poetry of Nicole Callihan and Samar Abdel Jaber , whose style I was eager to imitate.  (But at least I am caught up with the other NaPoWriMo-ers!)

My poem follows the photos, whose attribution I was sadly unable to find.  After it, I include the translation of Max Temmerman’s Das Boot 4.  I didn’t read the translation until after I finished Rescue, but I did deliberately choose a language using the same alphabet as English.  It’s fascinating how the mood of all these pieces translates to tie the two poems and three pictures together.  True, bos, under, water, varient and natuur are clues and prompts, but those four words could also have prompted many many poems quite different in feeling.

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Ook in een landschap dat te ruim is of te open
kan je verzuipen, zoals de man weet die diep in een bos
ten onder gaat aan een overdosis bomen.

Net zo gaat het onder water: je kan in een luchtbel
zitten en toch voelen hoe de druppels
weifelend je longen betasten.

Trek je terug in je gedachten als in een instinct.
Haal er diep adem. Dompel je onder in flarden natuur.
Diep in je hoofd schuilt de ongerepte variant.

 

Rescue

Look how a landscape of ruin opens one to light.

Deep in the wood, a man took me to wife, imprisoned me

among beasts and dank shadows.

I felt as if he held me underwater

drowning in green madness and monotony

I dreamt of waterless wastelands.

By trek and by trudge, instinct freed.

Nature sent her flocks to lift my dampened wings and fan them dry.

Now I drift, let the change I sought so avidly find me.

 

 

DAS BOOT 4
for Tom Liekens & Stefan Serneels
Also in a landscape that’s too wide or too open
you might drown, like the man knows who deep in the woods
succumbs to an overdose of trees.

The same applies to the underwater: you can be in an air pocket
and still sense the droplets
hesitantly feeling out your lungs.

Retreat into your thoughts as if into an instinct.
Take a deep breath there. Submerge yourself in scraps of nature.
Lying hidden deep inside your head the untouched variant.

© Translation: 2017, Willem Groenewegen

Translator’s Note: Tom Liekens & Stefan Serneels are Belgian visual artists

Tom Liekins

Tom Liekens

Pipi's mansion Stefan Smeels

Stefan Serneels

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NaPoWriMo: Describing Abstraction Concretely

Beauty Always Pierces

 

Beauty always pierces through the breastbone

like an angel’s arrow angling down, gliding through tissue,

splicing spine.  I could die of pleasure, transported,

but where to go that’s better than this world, where every pebble,

puddle, path offers such exquisite

prospects for impalement? I understand

the girls and boys adorned with metal,

tiny hoops of shiny stainless steel strung

along an eyebrow or an ear,

silver buds at pleasure points – a feeling

more profound than matter made manifest in metal

as if that could be grasped or held.   Why clutch

when beauty permeates the air we breathe,

the mud in which we squeeze our toes, the garden soil

we crumble between fingers?  It’s not the welcoming

we try for.  No, no.  The keeping out, the pushing back

is what requires effort.  We fight so hard

for separation then complain of weariness,

of loneliness and hunger, thirst, pain, a litany of want

when bountylies around us–

a tree of golden leaves against blue sky,

a man’s strong forearm lightly furred, sun-lit

as he lifts a handle from its cradle in the bay beside you,

pumping gas one afternoon at a pit stop in Poughkeepsie.

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Band List

I took yesterday’s poem into my critique group. namasteAs usual their suggestions lightened and tightened and gave me a stand alone poem with which I was really happy with.   revision is such an important part of our craft.  I especially like this part of the

work because it gives my (inner) Critic  critic   a place to hang out while I compose, then, when we get to revising, she gets her turn to come out and play.  Check out the fifteen comments by fellow poets that Maureen supplied in her 03/31 post.  Because Carl Phillips shares the way I revise, his quote was my favorite.  I love the spoken word− for me there’s always an audience seated at the edge of peripheral vision:

 

“I do read the poems aloud, yes—not while writing, as much, but in the revision stage. I want to test for where things are too rough, or aren’t rough enough, where they fall into patterns of sound and whether or not those are meaningful or distracting patterns.”                                                                                          — Carl Phillips

 

I loved Peter Davis‘ idea of band names, so I opened the MS for my novel Magdalene A.D. and picked a page at random by scrolling down with my eyes closed.

Magdalane Cover 05

Then, once again, I moved the cursor at random, eyes closed, took the place I landed on and began underlining band names.  It really is great fun, though if you begin designing  imaginary costumes, instruments and special effects, not to mention the video for their hit song, it can get a little time consuming!  E

Eventually, I made a list of the titles and commenced moving them around till I got something that worked.  It probably isn’t a poem I’ll grow to love, but it was a fun and I think it makes an excellent prompt.  Using my own prose as the starting point was interesting because of how it both ressembled and differed from the meaning of the original paragraph.  I’m tempted to task myself  to write two more poems, using the same titles, to see if I can come up with some different takes.  Of course, it would be much more fun to use just the plain words without the constraint of having them in titles.  In creating the poem, I added eleven words to add an inkling of order, but the titles are listed at the bottom of this page so you can see what was what…

in the confusion

i meant to tell you

ask the priestess

the significance

of your experience

forgotten sigils

tiny characters

tattooed

for your protection

on your head

feel the pain

pin pricks provide

a kind of provision

you might need money

have to confess

I will be leaving sometime

meant to tell you

for your protection

but in the confusion

left it all too late…

Have To Confess, Ask the Priestess, Tiny Characters, Tattooed, Forgotten Sigil, Pin Pricks, On Your Head, In The Confusion, Your Experience, For Your Protection, Meant To Tell You, Significance, Might Need Money, Leaving Sometime, Feel The Pain, Kind Of Provision

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NaPoWriMo

It’s here ! April and already the Foolfool_roger_von_oech is messing with me, tripping me up so of course I’m “LAtE, ryanlerch-The-White-RabbitLAte…” so here’s yesterday’s poem.

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Hopefully I’ll post again later today as I catch up.  (Knock on wood!)   Meanwhile, the prompt yesterday was to utilize different persons point of view in the same poem.  Somehow, my mind dwelt on tense rather than person and so the following… As I said Himself is already messin with my head, but I already know biggest lesson I need learn from NaPoWriMo.  It’s the same every year – let go of the literal.  A prompt is a nudge not an order or a shove…

Ever More and After

Yesterday, when I was still tomorrow

I tried to stop now in her tracks, but she’s

confusing that which I remember

from years to come, with yesterday’s

soft melting snow, green spears, push,

 pushing ice aside.  Full of hope, I kneel

in snow-soaked jeans, sneeze loud enough to startle

deer who come to graze on sap-sweet wands,

pussy willows lined the creek galore

and sun will flash when I raise bright

new pruning shears to cut.  Blind eyes.  Finger

nicks bright scarlet on the rusty blade, fuzz buds

soft and gray as rain, it might be yesterday

as dazzle slowly fades and daffodils unfold

their butter-yellow to trumpet glory to the skies.

Spring was and will be ever more and after…

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April’s Fool

            This year Easter coincides with April Fool’s Day.  It’s an odd conjunction that’s only happened once in my lifetime.  The next time is not until 2029.  It got me thinking about fools and saints.

          elephant's child 8-alison-fennell Of all the archetypes embedded in our psyches, my favorite is the Fool.  She is an Elephant’s Child, full of insatiable curiosity.

The Fool stands forever at the beginning place, poised to step, plunge, leap, jump, sail into the unknown.  He carries baggage like everyone else, but it’s only a bindle full, not a 50 lb. backpack or a trunk, and there’s nothing left in storage.  She travels freely, quite of her own accord, out past the edge of town.  The Fool possesses only his innocence and from that innocence, arises an immediate and direct form of truth-telling that can be extremely aggravating and extremely wise.

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         hare riding to hunt with snail perched on gauntletnaked man cover

 

 

 

Theia mania (madness sent as a gift from the gods) is an ancient Greek expression for the erratic, contrary, bizarre, silly and and seemingly mad behavior (“crazy wisdom”) of certain types of saintly ascetics found in all world religions.  Sometimes called God’s Frank_C_Gaylord_-_Francis_of_Assisi_(God_s_Fool)Fools they deliberately practice grotesque, anti-social behavior meant to upset apathy and complacency.  They play practical jokes designed to shake people awake and force them into presence. God’s Fools ask difficult questions, and shout things aloud others are too afraid to mention.  Their behavior pokes fun at societal assumptions about how people ought to behave.

This odd conjunction of holy and foolish set me to thinking about Christ as April’s Fool.  His parables equate to zen koans, he breaks traditional dietary laws, disrupts the marketplace, allows a bleeding woman to touch him and consorts with SamaritaHeyoka-1-1ns.  He walks on water, roams the wasteland, living off the land and the kindness of strangers, with no possessions of his own.  Like any good shaman, his intent is always to awaken people up to the larger, more intense and brilliant world of the spirit that surrounds them.  Acting as April’s agent, he encourages men, women and children to renew their lives; to plant themselves in fertile ground and bloom.  Rebirth is the Christ’s mantra.

Poet’s too, are often called fools.  April is their month for celebration and calling attention to themselves.  Unlike the saints, poverty is not our goal!  Nevertheless, trying to make a living purely on poetry, is near to impossible.

Some would call our versifying a form of madness.   Like the Fool, poets are truth tellers, often saying things in verse that others do not dare to say aloud.  We are adept at clever metaphors, allusions, innuendo, and parodies, that question or protest the status quo.  No subject it too taboo to tackle.  Like the heyókȟa (Lakotan sacred clown) we insist the sky is green, rather than blue, just to get folks to look up for a change; to see and hear and think for themselves…

Turns out that April is a perfect month for saints and fools and poets…

when faces called  flowers float out of the ground

by e.e.cummings

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

 

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Eros

If I could start over, knowing what I know now, I would go back to school and study that endlessly fascinating, miraculous amalgam of bone and flesh, mind and psyche, soul and spirit – the body.  Not just my body.  I want to know the hows and wherefores of cellulose, beetle carapace, sharkskin and feathers.  I want to know about granite and obsidian, clay, salt, sulphur and mercury.

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Surreal Anatomical Collage Art Made from Vintage Scientific Illustrations
by  

I want to know in the biblical sense – carnally with all the senses of my body.  I want to embody all I know, integrate it into flesh and blood and bone until I become attuned to the voices of my liver, my gut, my sex.  I want them to advise, and complement my every thought.

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DNA Dreaming- by Russell-Kightley

 

Symbol-Cross-eruJsalemThis is gnosis– the coming into relationship with the divine through self-knowledge.  This is the bliss Joe Campbell advised us to follow.  What stops us?

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What’s stopping me is self-consciousness, self-awareness – the sense of being an individual isolated being.  Paradoxically, the same attribute which allows me to observe, relate to and integrate the wonders of the world is exactly that thing which separates and distances me from all that is.  This dilemma is crazy-making and painful.  Luckily, we humans have been given something to ease and ameliorate our suffering.

Above, below, beside, before, behind, within, without and beyond, we have been gifted with beauty…

 

When our human ability to perceive and appreciate beauty is married to our animal ability to feel pleasure through the senses, we arrive at Eros.

Eros moves us to cross the bridge of distance between ourselves and another.  Tempts us out of our existential loneliness into another pair of arms.  Makes it easy for us to stay. Eros quiets monkey mind, electrifies the body.  Allows us to remember.

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Eros is the language of the divine.  When logic fails in the face of the ineffable, the holiest of holy women and men resort to the language of Eros.  Whether they be virgin, mendicant, soldier, priest, martyr, pilgrim or recluse, whatever their experience or thinexperience with the physical act of making love, when it comes to speaking of union with god, sexual sensuous phrases drip from their lips like honey from a comb – Hildegard’s1 Earth sweats its green vigor, St. Teresa2 sinks to the floor with her beloved and Sheba’s3 maidens, so restless with desire they can not sleep, go questing for their men on the midnight streets of sleeping cities.

song-of-songs-ii-1957-9

Marc Chagall “Song of Songs” Series

We never lose our connection to Spirit.  That loss is – illusion.  Through Eros we recapture, reclaim, reunite with our lost sense of the divine.  This is how we come into Presence – by being completely present to all her manifestations; by reveling in the beauty presented when we fully open eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin to sensation.  We sink into God as if she were our lover, our soul mate, our perfect One.  When we invite Eros in, we facilitate the sacred marriage between spirit and matter; make it easy for Spirit to insinuate and penetrate; slip between fascia, fizz through the blood, and soak the very marrow of our bones with love.

wild roses

  1. This 10th century BCE queen has been called a variety of names by different peoples in different times.  Ethiopians revere her as Makeda, the progenitor of their royal Queen-of-Sheba-600x800family.  Her epic (the Kebra Nagast) includes a visit to King Solomon of Israel.  She appears in the biblical book of Kings as well as being the subject of Solomon’s sensual erotic love song.  In Islamic tradition she was Balqis. The Roman historian Josephus calls her Nicaule.

 

hildegardweb_orig 2. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179), also known as Blessed Hildegard, Saint Hildegard and Sybil of the Rhine, was a German abbess, author, linguist, naturalist, philosopher, herbalist, composer and visionary.  Elected Mother Superior by her fellow nuns in 1136, she became a counselor to kings, popes and emperors.  Hildegard wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play.  Although she lived a sequestered life from the age of six, her work in every area overflows with the sensuality and vitality of Eros.

3. Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, author during the Counter the-ecstasy-1Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of her time and the movement she initiated, later joined by Saint John of the Cross, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither she nor John were alive when the two orders separated

 

 

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Swan-diving Across the Corpus Collosum

swandive

As a poet I am always pondering what makes a “good” poem.   Of course, subjectivity plays a big part.  Nevertheless, some poems appeal to vast numbers of people of all ilk. What makes a poem or dance, a symphony or painted picture touch the golden cord /chord of universal appeal?  My daughter Kathleen Irving’s theory of enlightenment helps me figure it out.  Turns out it works for evaluating any kind of art.  Best of all, I’ve discovered it acts as a jump start when I can’t come to grips with a poem or when I lack inspiration.

Kathleen’s Buddhist perspective led her to think that enlightenment requires “a swan dive across the corpus collosum.” brain

The corpus collosum is the bridge in our human brains connecting the left and right frontal lobes.  Kathy says to achieve a sophistication of the spirit, heart and mind must connect.   But it takes more than a first fertilizing plunge.  Again and again the diver must cross and re-cross the distance between feeling and thought, strengthening the connection needed to carry the juice, the energy, of new creation.  The finished piece embodies the vitality of this surge.

Reading, touching, gazing at such work, observers experience swan diving between their own hearts and intellects.  They undergo two simultaneous experiences.; something like interacting with the famous picture where one can see both a young girl or an old woman in the same drawing; crone-300x158or the way a shaman sees an alternative dimension existing simultaneously with our everyday world.  Intuitive and logician, sensate and dreamer come together within the observer and both become en-lightened – made lighter and more whole.

Bringing the swan dive to consciousness has helped me grow as a writer; especially during the process of finishing my most recent book, Sitting on the Hag Seat: A Celtic Knot of Poems. 

sitting

Composed in the glow of my pilgrimage to Ireland, the first few poems almost wrote themselves. The second tier took a little more thought.  Delving into memory, reliving the journey, I thought deeply about the personal significance I found in places and events I had witnessed.  More poetry transpired, but soon enough the moment came when I felt I had written all I had to say.

The problem was that I had made a pact with Ireland, or rather with the spirit of the place we call Ireland.  I had promised it a book.  I am not a superstitious woman, but I know the oathramifications of breaking such a promise.  It was a sort of geas, an oath undertaken knowing that to forswear meant I would be haunted forever until the promise was fulfilled, possibly in some unexpected and unpleasant way.  Besides, I like to keep my promises.

So, I began to research the places I had visited, delving into myth and folktales.  I looked up every archetypal symbol that presented itself, explored Irish history, traced the lineage of its kings and queens.  I widened my focus by including my family history, former visits to the Ireland and even far-fetched associations,  Ireland’s appellation, The Emerald Isle, had me googling emeralds.  I ended up with a wealth of topics to write about, but everything I wrote was forced and artificial.  I kept crumpling, discarding and erasing before remembering the swan dive.

In order to write an authentic poem, I needed to find a heart connection with the ideas on my list of topics.  For instance, in the book into thematic sections it occurred to me the sacred trees associated with Ireland’s ancient runic alphabet would be a good choice. tree alphabet

Sadly, I had few real connections with the fourteen trees I had chosen.  Back I went to their specific myths, stories, etymology and dendrology.  I began making mind maps with my chosen tree drawn in the center, adding associations and memories as they arose. Soon enough some visceral reaction would occur and I’d find myself mid-dive.  Take, for example, my poem:

 Beith – Birch – Ogham Letter B

Night forest reflects the moon

in intermittent silver streaks,

slender threads of argent

woven through dark tapestry,

each filament a guardian birch,

tree nurse, soil minder,

Lady of the Woods,

She-Who-Comes-Before

preparing soil, venturing

in barren places ravaged

and laid bare by flame.

First tree to follow after ice,

mammoths nibbled her limbs,

aurochs sheltered in their shade.

Her branches drive out evil

sweep away detritus.

Leaves heal, sap sweetens,

wood burns bright against the cold.

She is the beginning place,

herald of the New Year

reviving, replenishing, restoring

and Beith is her beautiful name.

My way in here came through Beith, the word for Birch in Irish and the letter “B” in the Ogham alphabet.  Beith looks like Beth, a shamanic friend of mine who reminds me of a birch tree.  She is tall and slender with a wild cascade of long silver hair.  Beth became the heart connection, linking my idea about sacred trees to a person I care for.  The birch in the poem, incorporating aspects of the real tree, became a metaphor for her dear self.  A birchfurther correspondence exists, between the mythical and magical attributes of Birch and Beth’s spiritual path, deeply embedded in the mystical aspects of our natural world.  Though I don’t mention my friend in the poem itself, the truth of my affection for her translates into an authenticity that informs the poem and gives it vitality, power and tenderness.

This process of purposefully searching for the connection between my idea and a corresponding personal meaning evolved out of trying to define “good” writing.  By incorporating my daughter’s “swan dive across the corpus collosum” I found a means, through research and association, that precipitated my own swan dive and its resultant poetry.

Acts of creation seem to arise from the meeting of intellect and heart.  I’m reminded of Kierkegaard’s leap of faith across the abyss of the absurd.  Perhaps, ta artist needs both an abyss and the willingness to engage with nonsense to manifest something  original.  Perhaps only the void, the space between the things that are, can generate and contain the spark of creation that precedes the birth of new life.

swandive

spark

 

 

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