Saturday, 7 July 2012

Living with poetry

I like that poetry connects me to a moment in time, a shining moment that is clear and true and filled with something that takes me out of the rush of  life deeper into the moment of living.  Life is this moment, right now.  Poetry - and writing - and  meditation, is about standing still and being right now, in this moment.  Feeling this grief, this love, this beauty, the extraordinary gift of being alive, and breathing. Everything falls away except for this moment, now.  When I read a poem that moves me, that's what it does, it reaches down into me, and stills me, and I am connected to it, and made richer because I have connected to someone else through the medium of poetry.

This is the link to Naomi Shihab Nye's interview and poem Kindness.  It's found in the magazine Spirituality & Health.  I picked it up on Thursday because of an article that isn't featured online, called "The Medicine Of Poetry: How Words Can Save Your Life."  I had just come from handing in the retainer for my divorce, and I needed to draw a deep breath and settle into myself again.  This article talks about Kim Rosen's discovery of poetry at a time when she really needed it in her life. The poem" Kindness" saved her, taught her she could get through an extremely difficult time.  Naomi Shihab Nye is the author of the poem, and her story about how she came to write it is incredible also.

  I read "The Medicine of Poetry" there in the store, and started to cry, for this is how I have been feeling about discovering poetry over the past two years. Kim makes this same connection, that poetry is healing:
          "Those poems not only infused me with their wisdom, but they actually brought vibrancy to my body.  How, might you ask, can a poem have a physical effect? As the poet Emily Dickinson says, "If I read a  book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire could ever warm me, I know that is poetry.  If I feel physically as if the top of my head has been taken off, I know that is poetry!"  Like a shaman's drum or a Sanskrit chant, the rhythm of a poem entrains your heartbeat, the phrasing changes your breathing, and the sounds resonate within the crystalline structures in your bones and fascia.....
      I became fascinated with poetry, not primarily as a literary art, but instead as a powerful healing medicine to unlock the richness of the inner life."
                               from "The Medicine of Poetry, How Words can Save Your Life "- Kim Rosen, in Spirituality and Health, July/Aug 2012 issue.

How often do you turn to poetry in your life?  Do you read it often, or occasionally, or almost never?  Kim Rosen was afraid of poetry for a long time  - she explains this in the article, and I really wish this article was online so you could go read the whole wonderful thing. She discovered poetry by accident one day, in a tape cassette she discovered while cleaning (she is a therapist). She listened to it, and it was spoken poetry that called out to her, and set her on her course to discover more.  The article is also on a few another person who had discovered poetry, through Mary Oliver:

     "It was a poem called 'The Summer Day' by Mary Oliver.  Much of the first stanza was about a grasshopper.  The description of the creature's 'complicated eyes' and 'pale forearms' was lovely, but Jan didn't see what it had to do with her.  A few lines later, though, she caught her breath.  "I don't know exactly what a prayer is," she heard her own voice say.  Suddenly she was awake, listening.  The next lines of the poem spoke directly to her - addressing a conversation that ran constantly below the surface of her life, but which she had never spoken out loud: How do  I pray when I am not religious?  How did my life become so meaningless?  What do I hold sacred anyway?  The final lines left her heart pounding: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?"

In the store when I read those lines, I felt a chill on my arms, and that is when I began to cry.  It is exactly how I felt when I discovered Mary Oliver, that something that I didn't know I was longing to express, leapt up and took hold of me, and ever since then I have been reading poetry and exploring what it can be about.  I have been thinking about how to bring poetry into my life more, how to open myself up to the world around me, and if I can find a way to devote myself to writing more deeply, which has been on my mind ever since reading the interview with Mary Oliver earlier this year. Here is a link to the post I wrote about that interview.  That interview is changing my life, and is changing my relationship to how I write.

 Mary Oliver's poetry is called praise poetry, a term she devised when she realized she wrote hymns to the world, love poems to nature,  poems about the sacred in nature around her.  I am deeply thrilled that there is a place in the world for poetry like this, because without knowing it, it's what I have been writing all along, trying to express, the wonder in life around me. 

One of the things that Kim suggests is to make a list of the poems that have moved you, that have the deepest meaning for you, and track when they came into your life.  She says to write out your favourite poems, verses, and lines, and put them up where you can see them - on the refrigerator, taped to the mirror, frame them,  carry them with you. She says  this is a way of bringing the poems into your life, of letting you live with them.  This is an interesting idea.  I have a little book I used to write down the poems I especially liked, so they were together, but I haven't done this in over 20 years.

 I think all art is like this, paintings, music, dance, theatre, movies, singing, all the ways we have of expressing ourselves, is our souls reaching out, saying - this moment, this life, this extraordinary time.And it's not all about beautiful moments.  Grief, loss, pain, darker emotions also have their say in our souls.  I love this poem that Kim includes  in her article, "The Guest House" by Rumi.  Here is a link online to it.  Suddenly, I am able to make room for all my mean feelings, too, for darkness and despair, and sorrow.  I don't have to like them (who does?) but they have a place, a say in who I am, too, a place at the table of my soul, and I like how Rumi says that they may be clearing me out for some new delight. 

It seems to me that poetry can be a way to connect to life spiritually.  It is a way to give voice to the sacred, to give meaning to our moments and our lives.  I am incredibly grateful, profoundly moved by the poems I am finding, especially now as I move through  this stage of separation and loss in my life. Poetry reminds me that life is sacred, and that this is a moment, and it is safe to feel it, and see it, and be in it.  This is where life is. 

So do you have a favourite poem that you return to again and again, my friends?  A poem that has sheltered you, or comforted you, or led you to an unexpected realization or view of the world, that has woken you up to possibility?  Let me know, drop me a line, I'm curious to see how many of us read poems, and what some of your favourite poems are.


Chris said...

What a beautiful post, Susan :) I just wrote about poetry myself last night and I love it for much the same reason as you do. I love the immediateness of it. The immediate sensations and emotional reactions to it. I can't get that from anything else. It's such a beautiful form of writing :) Thanks for sharing this!

Susan said...

Chris: thank you so much saying my post is beautiful! *blushes* I am thrilled you love poetry too. It is a beautiful form of writing. I'll come see what you wrote now :-)

The immediacy and the reactions to it, and that yes moment, when you understand exactly what the poet means - it's exciting, isn't it? and moving.

Booklogged said...

I just about skipped your post because I am not a poetry reader. So glad I didn't skip over this. I agree with Chris - beautiful post. I teared up when I read you were getting a divorce but then was cheered by your strength to accept the feelings that go with this trying experience. I kept thinking how I wish you were here to read poetry to me and help me understand it. In lieu of that I am going to try getting my hands on some Mary Oliver poems. Best wishes to you.

Also wanted to let you know that I tagged you for a rather lengthy but fun award. Check it out at A Reader's Journal. Only do it if you want to.

Booklogged said...

Since my last comment I read Kindness and searched my library for Naomi Shihab Nye - no luck. I did put one of her books in my amazon cart, tho. Also, discovered that my library only has one book by Mary Oliver so I will check that out soon. Not this week though because the library is moving into a new building on Sat.

Thanks so much for your post. I totally loved it.

Susan said...

Booklogged: I am so delighted and awed that my post inspired you to try poetry again! Thank you, and I really hope that you do find a poem or three that capture you and hold your attention. Between my post and Chris's, there are some wonderful poets mentioned. Which Mary Oliver book does your library have? I'm surprised they only have one though very glad they do. My library has 4 poetry books by Nye, so I've got one on order now too to borrow.

I am really thrilled that you loved my post so much.

Now to come see what the award is, and thank you so much for it!

Snowball said...

A touching post on the power that poetry can have in your life. I hope you always find the words that give you the strength and comfort you need.

My favorites change continually, but one thing remains constant. The act of writing poetry pulls and grounds me like meditation.

Sometimes while working on a poem I'm able to work through something in my life. Poetry is more than something I read, it's a part of who I am. Boy, that sounds kind of schmaltzy.

Kathleen said...

My son has been writing poetry and it speaks to me so deeply because I understand his experience and the difficult relationship he has had with his father (my ex husband)so I do understand how poetry can speak to us and also heal us. One day I hope my son's poetry will be published and speak to others. I'm glad you have found words of healing in the poetry you have been reading.

Susan said...

Snowball: I like how you put it, that writing poetry grounds you and is like meditation. That is it exactly for me also. It's a way sometimes too of expressing something I can't express, or the most direct way of expressing it - I don't know how else to describe it, because sometimes they come rushing out of me and I have to put them on paper. It's definitely part of who I am, though it's taken me many years to become comfortable with it. Definitely not schmaltzy! lol I think of it as a gift, do you?

Kathleen: I am so happy your son has been able to find poetry as a medium to express himself. As I was saying to Snowball above, it's taken me a very long time, many years, to realize I am a poet. I can't not write one, I have to write them when they come welling up. So I understand how your son feels, and it's so good to hear you say you support him in this, too. He's one lucky son to have you for his mother!

I hope he gets published one day too. I wish that for all of us....I'm working towards it too. Is he studying English, or does he read much poetry? who are his current favourite poets?