Tag Archives: Poetry Pilgrim

On Revolution

It maybe looks a little different for each of us, that scene you most wish to manifest upon opening your eyes, as you pulse your breath into the realization that you had been dreaming, for better or worse. Some of us, take our waking slow and look for a series of small comforts: a lover’s touch, the smell of fresh coffee, an extra moment or two of luxuriating between bed sheets. Some of us are more demanding of life, waking with sore bodies, our eyes darting to windows from the sun to skyline to ground, envisioning it happen little by little: the coming of the kingdom of god, feeling each burning and rebirth in each of our cells, tears welling up for the fact that we haven’t yet convinced that new light to hit our retinas.
For me, it’s a scene from Paris 1968, theatre doors burst open, costuming distributed to the newly dubbed starlets of the streets, each corner a concert, a dramatic recitation of a holy text, a circle of friends and lovers gazing into one another’s eyes, sharing in infinity, remembering what heaven looks like, chests heaving, Yes, yes, it’s in there. There you are. I remember now. Situationist slogans and lines from surrealists and saints are painted over billboards, new chants, new hymns, new spells, new prayers being composed on brick walls and broken plasterboard. We hold onto one another’s shoulders, leap, and sing them to the sky, both old and new: “Redemption Song,” “Amazing Grace,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “All We Need is Love,” “Let It Be,” anything by any of us, by all of us. We’ll know all the right words, because we remember now that we wrote all of this. Every single line, every single point.

The sky cracks open. Thunder. Lightning. We’re dancing in the rain. We’re watching the old world wash away. We kneel in front of one another and sob with joy. We beg forgiveness from ourselves for each moment we did not see this beauty. We thank one another for the gift of feeling, for the gift of pain, for the mad and unreal forming rivers out of our bodies. This heat. This creation. Unmanned torches set old buildings to flame. The embers rise up to the skies and we do not sleep, but make sure each item as it burns leaves space also in our spines, our throats, our skulls. Some of us place our hands in the fire to be sure. Some of us laugh maniacally. Some of us dance until we collapse from exhaustion. Some of us sit silently and stare. Some of us vomit. Some of us fuck. Some of us fly. All of us do all of this, the new body, the organs, the cells, the stars.

I spent three months asking complete strangers to describe heaven for me. I pulled their visions of paradise from their heads and watched them leak water, salt, and sulfur as they did so. I didn’t feel guilty until now. Until I thought about revolutions. About the chaos in our bellies that must become the dancing stars of Nietzsche. About the destruction that primes the canvas for the creation of Bakunin. I’ve been ready to launch the first stone, pulling back the band on the sling shot. Yet more and more must hold it the further back we step. More and more must hone that vision, as we look off to distant Eden, setting our sites. I tricked these kind strangers into helping me. Squinting their eyes, arms shaking, they told me of bonfires, of mandolins, of great walls, of singing, of silence, of gardens, and great trees, and log cabins, of children, of games, of ripe fruit, an end of work, of joyous creation, of peace, of lover’s embrace. And each wept and each also said, “I can’t be sure,” spoke of the unknown, the infinity, the fate that terrifies them.

It’s somehow easier to be fed the certainty of well-structured screens, of a colorful spectacle which appears to do the work of gaining paradise for us. They use empathy, our greatest human gift, to stunt us, to convince us to procrastinate the embodiment of our creative nature. But we must share the work in building the vision, recognize that it needs honed not only in ourselves, but in one another. Because our true desires, the real ones that we were born with, not the ones programmed into us out of fear, not the ones that are ten steps separated from that which they pretend to represent–but the full ones, the ones that you taste, hear, feel, see, smell–the ones that are self-illuminated are all the same, are in fact the same moment, the same place–the absolute center.

We don’t need a big house, we need to be at peace in the world again. We don’t need a pool, we need rivers and lakes with pure water. We don’t need a fast car, we need right where we’re standing to be solid ground, to be home. We don’t need hot youngsters to swoon over us, we need to feel confident in our own skins, worthy of our own affection and admiration, and therefore the care of our community and peers.

We’re been aching for truth, justice, connection, beauty and it’s been there for us to take, but we’re terrified of it. We’ve been taught to be ashamed of it, critical of it, scornful of it. It seeps into our nightmares: standing nude in a roomful of peers being mocked; being swept away by rushing waters, holding onto rooftops; trapped alone in a dark cave where anything could appear. We wake up in a sweat, happy to be in a room, in a bed, with a blanket that if we’re lucky belongs to us, at least for now. Maybe we take refuge in our bed. Maybe we take refuge in our lover. Maybe we take refuge in consuming something beautiful. But we’re taking our waking too slow.

We don’t want to accept that we are who we are. That we’re our own entire worlds, that nothing belongs to us. That we belong to one another. That we are responsible for one another. That each person who suffers is a piece of ourselves suffering. That everyone oppressing us is a part of ourselves of whom we’ve begged oppression. We have a choice, but we don’t want to make it. We’re too comfortable in our suffering to be released from it.

Walk away. Take your power. Give your tired neighbor a place to rest. Give your loveless neighbor a shoulder to cry on. Makes beautiful moments. Make strange moments. Make bold moments. Take risks. Stand on the table and scream a poem. If you want to cry do it. Let people see your tears. Don’t hide them away. This is what makes you human. Laugh hysterically. Show your joy. Share in someone else’s joy. These are your brothers and sisters. Recognize them as such. Refuse to let these screens between us keep us from looking at one another.

I have eyes. You have eyes. Let’s bring them together more often. This will be revolutionary. Break out of the script. I bet you can think of something more honest, more beautiful to say than “have a good one” to your clerk. Write your life like the most beautiful story you’ve ever read. Make it yours. Make it new. Make it revolutionary. Make it look like heaven. The closer you get, the closer I’ll get. Remind me. Is that me in there?

Even by entertaining these thoughts, you’re pulling that sling shot back a little further. It can hurt, when you step out of the script. You lose the ground your feet have been nailed down to, for years and years. Those holes through your bone will have to grow anew. You’ll need new places for them to set down on, and you’ll have to build that ground yourself. But just think how beautiful. How real it could be, even if precious few others agree it exists. It’s your job to convince. To bring them with you so far that you don’t have to ask them to help you hold that sling launching the first stone of our new world.

For months I vowed to live amongst strangers trusting they would all treat me as family, that they would see heaven in my eyes and help me built it. Every person whose door I knocked on and asked to sleep on their lawn would recognize me. I forced that to be my reality, and it hurt. I was alone and terrified up until the moment of proof. Slowly it revealed itself. And I’ve never known anything so beautiful as when I saw my faith take material form before my eyes. And it always did. Always.

Here I reaffirm that vow and ask you all to take it. I ask you all to be brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers, caretakers, caregivers, mirrors, feet, hands, but most importantly voice washing over all of us when it hurts, when it seems confusing, to speak I know, I know meaning you know, you know. You know this is real. This is absolute. We can make this everything. The unreal mad world will flare up, and we’ll always be there to rub balm over it, look us in the eyes and show us what power we have together…the power to explode stars, tiny ones within our retinas, the palms of our hands, tree trunks, helicopter engines, arches of black ink, steel beams, our tightened thighs, whole worlds gone white and gold. Believe that every single person you meet will save you and they will. Believe that every door you step through can take you to heaven, and it can. It worked for me because I needed it to. Please know that we need this now. Please. We need this. We need to remember where home is, what is looks like. Please let me help pull it out of you. All you have to do is look at me! All you have to do is walk up to me, anywhere, see me as human and say, hello, I am another you. And the revolution’s been won.

The graffiti on the plasterboard has turned to dust, and there are great willows where perhaps they once stood. The street corners where we sang and discovered infinity are overgrown with morning glories, and sun flowers have exploded the concrete sidewalks. There is a bonfire raging in the center of the street. Everyone knows how to play the mandolin beautifully, and we’re all adept at flight. It’s getting closer. It’s coming faster. Can you feel it buzzing in your fingertips. It’s right there. Now open your eyes.

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The Rules of Trail Magic or How to Ride Synchronicity Halfway across the Country

As integration ever-so slowly and painfully and achingly beautifully sets in along with autumn, I grant you all a bit of reflection on the operation of trail magic. This is how I road a terrifying wave of synchronicity halfway across the country and through the entirety of my childhood. This is why I’m more human now.

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Trail magic operates as one of the most universally recognized forms of magic. Everyone who has done a long distance hike has performed it and its prevalent in their vocabularies. Hikers are constantly pouring out energy into the universe, becoming one with the act of giving and smiling as they do so. People receiving this in their wake recognize it, even in a nebulous fashion and desire to just simply connect with it. That connection comes most often in the form of generosity. Magic. Synchronicity. A unification. This is neither good nor bad. It just is. It can hurt sometimes, too.

But the giving just feels right. It’s the only possible path at the time and always completely spontaneous. This recognition of connection produces pure energy and tears down borders that have made us think we’re separate from its flow: I’m a woman, I won’t be safe. I’m weak, I can’t run that far. I’m ugly, they won’t love me. I’m afraid, I can’t go there. By recognizing yourself in each person that you see overcoming these pejoratives, these borders, there is a part of your spirit that has overcome them already and sees it happening in real time. This is the purest essence of magic. You’re one step closer to becoming exactly who you want to be, exactly who you already are.

Magic stems from the recognition that giving and receiving are in fact the same action. Once you recognize that “I” and “other” are false concepts. Once you act against suffering, with no need for bringing the golden rule to mind, others will treat you in the same way. The reality you manifest about you is reciprocal, beyond binaries. If you give someone a meal, receiving a meal becomes more likely. The neural pathways in your mind are honed for it, you universe is open to it.

Chogyum Trungpa writes that generosity is one of six transcendent actions, or paramitas, in Buddhism. It translates as “Par” meaning “the other shore” and “Mita” being the one who got there–to the other shore.

Out of his simplicity and awareness, the bodhisattva develops warmth. He does not act on religious or charitable grounds at all. He just acts according to the true, present moment, through which he develops a kind of warmth. And there is a great warmth is this awareness and also great creativity. His actions are not limited by anything, and all sorts of creative impulses just arise in him and are somehow exactly right for that particular moment. Things just happen and he simply sails through them, so there is a continual, tremendous creativity in him. That is the real act of karuna–a Sanskrit word which means “noble heart” or “compassionate heart.”

Rinpoche Trungpa then continues on to explain how the absence of a radiation vessel in the midst of radiation is how that energy is able to develop and expand into a network of connections. The energy instead of being “used” simply flows on and on.

We don’t often associate “magic” with traditional spiritual paths such as Christianity and Buddhism, but weren’t they founded after our greatest known magicians. The concept of magic has been tainted for us by Disney and Hollywood. They make us think it’s for kids, just a glimmer, a fantasy. Their plastic doesn’t resonate with our inner world, leading us away from the truth that magic could in fact be the most important thing a person can believe in. That it can guide our entire lives. In fact, most of us erase our most magical moments out of our lives almost instantly–chalking them up instead to random coincidence. Or worse yet, we end up forgetting them entirely, making them non-existent without a conscientious witness around to remind us.

When I got to Cincinnati, I went with two stranger/brothers to a peyote ceremony with the Native American Church. The most important thing that I took from the vision I received there was not forget–To cherish the unexpected things in life that we are given. To be ever grateful. Otherwise, it never happened. It will remain tucked away the deepest recesses of you mind to be dealt with in some other fashion, to become some tweaks of a muscle during sleep, an unusual symbol in a dream. It will never work its way into your reality. Never emerge from possibility, from its cocoon. It will never spread its wings about your body with iridescent rainbow wings, will never become magic.

This is why it’s so vital that we tell the story. It’s all we get from our pasts–the story. It must be told and retold from as many perspectives as possible. It must mutate with the ages. The story must come from far and wide and diverge and intersect until they create every shape and color and continent possible for them to create. That is how we are building bridges, slapping mortar on the concrete blocks for our new cities, where we will be unified with one another fully. This will be what peace looks like. This is how we manifest heaven, re-enter Eden. We’ve messed up the stories of our greatest magicians–forgotten the gratitude of Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Moses, because we stopped really believing in them. Meaning, we’ve stopped knowing that we are them.

There’s a cardinal rule of trail magic: it never happens when you’re looking for it. This rule is tied into the observer effect which happens on the quantum level. When the wave function of a particle is observed is when it collapses into its mass function. Which means that all of the possibilities of the places where the particle could exist collapse into one space. On a very real scientific level, before the particle could have existed and did exist, everywhere in the universe (to a non-zero degree “wave function). It bonded eternally with each other particle with which it has ever interacted (known as “spooky interaction at a distance”). You’re wondering what this has to do with magic. This has everything to do with magic.

Did you ever wonder why it often happens that when you cease to want something it appears: the boy you’ve been lusting after begins to take an interest in you after you stop caring whether he returns your text messages or not; You finally get that job interview after you’ve settled into another career. We call it cruel irony, but its a law of attraction. When you’re desperate for something, you push it away. The force of your need for the thing, of watching the space where it is not, of bearing witness so intently to its absence makes it less likely to appear in that space. Its absence is too busy being confirmed by you. In the Buddhist tradition, this is seen to be caused by a lesson that the universe teaches us about attachments, that we must break them before we’re able to truly enjoy a thing for its essence, for its eternal nature.

We’re constantly giving things up, letting loose our attachments, but often not paying attention. It takes focus to see our smaller deaths. It takes ritual. When you’re walking for the majority of your day everything becomes a ritual. Waking in the morning. Brushing your teeth. Splashing your face with water from a freezing cold stream. Taking a piss in the woods. Setting up your tent alongside the road. It becomes instantly more meaningful. You pay attention more. Your mind follows your eyes, follows your hands, follows your body, follows your spirit. You actively interpret the codes of it. You develop intention. You see how there is no space around it. The air is filled with tiny living organisms, colliding entangled spinning particles, and they’re all apart of your world, and they all will sustain you, if you recognize it as a possibility. They’ll invite you in for a cup of coffee when you think you can’t stand the cold anymore. They’ll give you a place to sleep when you’re legs are aching. They’ll make you a sandwich when you’re not sure how you’re going to get groceries for the next fifteen miles. They’ll hand you twenty dollars that you’ll discover you really needed two days later. They’ll give you a ride up the hill that you didn’t realize went on for the next half a mile. They’ll show you appreciation when you felt all alone in the world. They’ll hold you when you couldn’t love yourself enough. They’ll forgive you when you say that you put those wounds there yourself. They’ll stand with you as you open and heal them. They’ll guide you when can’t see for tears when you are walking through the pain. They’ll say, “I believe in you” when you begin losing faith. They’ll tell you “I always believed in you” and you will realize, that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have possible if they didn’t.

Trail magic exists to remove fear. Ticks were perhaps the most real manifestation of the fear I am attempting to abolish on this solo journey. When I left Cincinnati, I thought I had abolished of my fear. I had been bouncing along the road, maybe overly confident, maybe foolishly thinking that any of the magic I was experiencing stemmed from myself. The universe reminded me otherwise. I went to sleep early one evening in the gorgeous old growth pine studded ravine of Versailles State Park, thinking that I would wake at sunrise and start writing. However, there were people camping near me, blaring bad pop music and drunkenly shouting over one another. I tried to remind myself that the noise was produced in my mind, but couldn’t calm down. Just as I began falling asleep three hours later, I reached my hand to my neck and pulled out a tick, then two more. I feared that each mole on my body (which are many) was a tick. Clearly, I could not sleep for this. I found two more ticks on my coat. It began pouring down rain. It was cold. I was stuck in my tent for hours surrounded by ticks. I tried to read. I couldn’t. I tried to write. I couldn’t. I called friends who didn’t answer. My phone died. Hadn’t I already purged enough on this trip? I’d been stranded in the middle of the night without a place to camp. Eight nights of below freezing weather. Knees that ached for three days straight. Four days of intermittent vomiting. Accidentally camping in a hydraulic fracturing gas drilling pad.

But there is always another lesson to lean. Your good intentions alone are yours. What comes into being, what appears before you is only going to be what you need to stay on the path. Sometimes that is loss, death, danger, suffering, ticks. Magic is not performed for your benefit. It is what you need to do the work that universe needs done. Only when you align your intentions with that will the world be magical. The sky open on an overcast day just above your head, so that the layers of smooth cotton glisten like prisms, revealing the red, green, indigo of each particle of light as it streams to earth. Only then will each item laying alongside the road speak to you as a relic or lesson from your past or future self: a church sign that reminds you of the heaven you left Tend your heart well, it is God’s garden; a video cassette of the Jane Austen novel that got you through middle school; a syringe next to a pen that reads like a note from the friend who you lost to opiates six years ago; a bag of blue gills, which are the only fish you ever caught as a little girl; a stuffed lamb, which is the dear friend you left behind Lebanon. Only then will you see your own name everywhere, will everyone be a prophet, will everything be a lesson.

Last night I dreamt of trilobites and ticks. They were falling from a screen and onto my lap. The ticks did not connect to my flesh, they fell off in patterns and became the trilobite fossils that an old man I met on my walk collects. He reminds me “these are not merely dead things. They still vibrate. They speak to me.” It is never our last chance. We will continually be learning, giving off vibrations that connect. Yet also each lesson is complete when we see it for its beauty. I kept a tick in the pages of my book on meditation by Rinpoche Trungpa. It really is beautiful. Its front legs curled in a spiral. It’s shell a deep brownish red with a half crescent of gray just below its head. I will keep it.

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The Quest Part II: AWP ’13

This was supposed to be a post about Margaret and I walking for hours in the snow-ladden fields and woodlands behind my grandparent’s/parent’s farmhouse discussing sacred color patterns, interdimensional beings who reside in the blacks of our eyes, the best means of seeking out worm-holes and collapsing them into living creatures, and how all of this must be found in any good poem–inside of any code you expect to point a finger towards the place you must pass through to meet god.

But somehow this post is instead about wrestling poets at the AWP conference in an alien mask and a bumblee bee costume. I promise I can still get us to enlightenment from here.

Friday night’s keynote was by Derek Walcott who spoke about brotherhood, about how you need a partner to push you to keep writing the good poems, the ones that only come when someone helps you rip down your borders, not expecting a single thing to come through that you actually want. Margaret and I exchange a glance that says “thanks for pushing me.”  Sometimes we fall and split open our skulls, sometimes we fall into the VIP party. Either way we laugh. Yeah, in the former situation it’s not very nice, but we do it anyhow.

This kind of partnership involves metaphorical and literal handholding as we strip naked and jump into icy lakes in January at midnight in the middle of the woods, no flashlights, no towels, dead body discovered the month before half a mile up the trail–three dunks to the top of your head, I don’t care if you go blind, I don’t care if you can’t move your feet, because if you cheat, neither of us pays, and even if we almost die, every single time, its the only way to live.

So, when Margaret gets teary after I hold up a bumble bee costume to inaugural poet Richard Blanco and ask him to wrestle–I know I’m doing good work. And when we get recognized in the hallway by a stranger who says “You two again, you’re always such a problem,” we know we’re drilling the right holes to let god in.

The people at the Pitt Poetry Series table will not be soliciting our next manuscript.  But Blanco understands the embodied metaphor and requests masked wrestling at the afterparty–you know, when he’s not under contract. Agni editors will not remember us fondly if they see our names on a submission. But the harpist at the Agni party appreciated the twenty bucks for one more song and my almost bar-fight with a guy who wouldn’t heed my advice and shut up long enough to listen to it. And poets after eye gazing trying to answer “what is nothing,” thank us for helping them earn their keep, because at least one alien needed to get his ass kicked here, and at least one bee needed to not lose his stinger after vanquishing his foe–and what the fuck are we all really just networking here in a room full of rebels, poets, imagineers, and dreamers? Please take off your shoes, your skirts, grab someone’s shoulders, scream at them a line from the Songs of Solomon as you toss them to the floor and stare into their eyes behind the alien as someone counts to three–someone else will see this and think “Who am I writing for anyhow?”

Margaret and I danced twice one night to Ass and Titties as sung by a homeless man sitting outside a bar with a clear plastic cup and a paint tub as instruments. He was a choir of angels, and only we could hear him. Margaret met god standing next to him and gave him a pendant. It was the most important thing happening in the universe. It was a fucking amazing poem.

I cut my hair while standing on a folding chair behind Conduit‘s book table that was one of two mountains that I walked between seven times and scaled. And I was Abraham’s scorned wife. And it was communion with my higher self. And it was ritual. (Thank you for the story and instruction Hiba!) And what kind of gathering of poets has no ritual? And I cast it off–my expectations of success, of having more than two eyes/Is ever read my words, of needing more than one witness for anything, ever again for the rest of my strokes of keys or pen.

I need my words to only push one other through to the other side, not 10,000, not even ten. It’s not even my choice, it’s theirs.  It’s all for them after all. All of the others. The universe. My god. “My god, what have you done/spilt/split/broken/fixed,” every time I look at the page. All these symbols and not one of them I understand, and that means it must be perfect–a perfect fucking joke–Let’s tell another one sister. I promise I‘ll get it this time–

So, I walk up to Richard Blanco with an alien mask and a bumble bee costume and ask him…

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The Quest for “Real” Poetry Part I: Aphorisms from Carolyn

I am ecstatic to welcome on board to the Poetry Pilgrim Project an official philosopher/spiritual advisor, Carolyn Elliott from Awesome Your Life. Last week we met to discuss the project and swap tales of our respective creative/spiritual struggles post-2012. The conversation quickly turned to our attempting to find consensus on the role of poetry in the human spirit and how we, as individuals not yet free from the restraints of a civilization bent on obscuring that role, can assist others in its creation. The following morning she sent me a list of aphorisms on poetry which are strikingly beautiful and heart-achingly honest.

Aphorisms on Poetry

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by Carolyn Elliott

1. Poetry makes the soul.  The soul is the aetheric body.  We are all born with the beginnings of a soul, but to become fully formed it must be cultivated, made.

2. The energies of desire and aggression commonly arise from and support delusive ignorance.  Tantra, or alchemy, is the subtle art of using the energies of desire and aggression to destroy delusive ignorance rather than to support it.

3. Poetry is an essentially tantric enterprise.  It seeks to take in the physical world with its pleasures and violences and to transmute those into awakening symbol.  As Rilke said, “we are the bees of the invisible.” Through our physical sense perception we collect the pollen of beauty and terror.  Then we must make these into the honey of truth.

4. Poetry is the union of compassion and emptiness enacted in language.  Language is the house of being, as Heidegger noted.

5. The Institution of the literary academy and academic creative writing exists to inoculate us against the radically transformative powers of already-existing great poetry by pretending to study and promote it. One can suppress something far more effectively by pretending to love it and creating warped doctrines regarding it than by countering it outright. The academy bears the same relationship to poetry that the Church of St. Paul bears to the radical teachings of Jesus Christ.  As Nietzsche observed, St. Paul was the anti-Christ because he taught a way of relating to Jesus Christ that actually obscures what Christ revealed.  The academy is the anti-poetry.

6. One can develop the aetheric body in a wholesome fashion by carefully cultivating and opening the chakras through the practice of altruistic attitudes and actions.  This process was outlined by Rudolf Steiner in Higher Worlds and How to Know Them and is also present (among many other places) in Buddhist teachings on the Noble Eightfold Path (which develops the throat chakra) and the Six Paramitas (which develop the heart chakra) and the Vajrayana.  There may be other wholesome ways of making the aetheric body of which we are not presently aware.

7. One can develop the aetheric body in an unwholesome fashion through esoteric technologies of concentration and visualization practiced in the absence of altruistic intention and action.  This kind of unwholesome development might be likened to the genetic engineering of fruits to suit human commodity convenience – such fruits are edible, but they are also monstrous and harmful.

8. Poetry is language used in the service of joining together love and wisdom, world and dream, Christ and Sophia.

9. Technology, or techne, is at its best not when used to serve avarice and violence but rather when used to skillfully aid phusis, or fruiting.  The highest goal of technology / techne is the wholesome fruiting of the aether body.  Poetry is techne joined with phusis.

10. Pharmakons like Ecstasy and acid can serve the same purpose in our modern world that mindstream empowerments from awakened masters served in ancient Tibet: they act as initiating glimpses of the awake aether body and world.  These glimpses can then inspire and guide the dedicated practice necessary to cultivate hearty lotus flowers (chakras) of our own.

11. Tantric texts (i.e., great poetry) can also serve as pharmakons, offering this initiatory function of temporary arousal and awakening that points the way for independent development.

12. Poetry without movement-towards-infinite-compassion is not poetry, it’s vain scribble with fancy line breaks.

13. Poetry without movement-towards-infinite-dreamliness-fluidity is not poetry, it’s vain scribble with fancy line breaks.

14. Great poets are people with wholesomely developed aetheric bodies and cultivated spiritual sense organs (lotus-flowers, chakras).

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Many of my conversations as of late have been somehow dealing with the issue of what good/real poetry is and what function it serves. My friend Margaret Bashaar and I recently recorded a conversation as we trudged through the snow-laden woods and fields of my parent’s farm about poetry, the act of seeing, and how we are capable of and responsible for creating and destroying our own universes while simultaneously giving up any hope of controlling how it manifests in consensual reality. While Carolyn’s aphorisms utilize Buddhist and Christian metaphors, mine and Margaret’s conversation  was constructed with symbols from the natural world we were passing through and theoretical physics (a topic in which we are both interested but lack sophistication). However, I feel that we are all viewing the same higher reality that poetry points towards and striving for the same state of openness to communication with our divine/higher vibrational selves which poetry has effected since the time of Enheduanna  (the first known poet and author). Come back in the next couple of days for Part II of the Quest for a mini-essay composed of our findings and some words from Enheduanna, the high priestess of Sumer and avant-garde Christ-like mystic Simone Weil.

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On Burning Man, Gift Poems, and Why this Project Began

My three-year-old niece has recently begun a cycle that myself, my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother all experienced around the same age. She dreams of snakes each night, wakes up screaming, still seeing them slither over her bed even as she regains consciousness. She never had a traumatic experience involving a snake. I’ve never even seen her shriek at the sight of one.  In fact, I once placed a small snake in the palm of her hand, and she giggled joyously as it wiggled about in her palm. “He’s tickling me,” and then an uneasy look emerged over her face, “Okay, it’s time for baby snake to go home to mommy.”

It’s no secret that man has a natural enmity towards snakes. The serpentine form and vertical pupil is deeply ingrained in our psyche. It inspires fear from deep recesses of our primordial memory, wherein their jaws were mysterious threats to our species’ survival.  But there is a reason the ancients used snakes as a symbol of power, wholeness, and health. The fact is that healing takes wounds, and overcoming the fear of their existence, looking in the depth of the bite marks, acknowledging the teeth and the flesh from whence they emerged—and not flinching back, is sometimes all it takes for the unification to begin.

My final full day at Burning Man I woke up an hour before sunrise, dressed in my favorite Victorian gown, grabbed my typewriter, neon arts and crafts supplies, a couple scoops of hemp hearts and almonds and made off for Center Camp. I had intended to write poems for people at Burning Man before this. My friend Margaret and I were hired to create wearable self-reflecting poetry for audience members as the TypewriterGirls for the Work of Art Awards Ceremony in Pittsburgh about five years ago. It quickly turned into one of our favorite activities. But somehow each time I planned to set up shop at Centre Camp, I was sidetracked—by Gnostic Masses, Sufi Whirling, Acro-Yoga, adjustable four story climbing structures, Elvis Espresso Camp, cinnamon toast stands, steam rooms, Old Testament story re-enactments, 10 am contact dance parties, etc. But this time, I had new vision and was determined to inaugurate it in the desert dawn.

I was inspired by a sacred stone ritual held at Nectar Village wherein a group of women wrote the most damaging stories they carried as a part of themselves on piece paper, wrapped gemstones inside them, and then burnt them in a pit full of playa dust after reading them out loud.  It was a process intended to alchemize the words and stones into powerful amulets for future battles.  This was precisely the kind of healing that I hoped to accomplish through the interview poetry writing sessions. Beyond writing out a short personal narrative or extended vignette packed with symbols snagged from dream recollection or intuited from conversation, I would attempt to write out each burner’s full-blown fantasy self, attempting  to produce a condensed hero’s journey.

The interview process lasted about fifteen minutes or until I felt like I had enough material and structure to begin alchemizing. I asked each burner questions about powerful childhood dreams, their driving goals and fears, their most formative battles, the most important symbols in their lives, their earliest and most recent experiences of awe, other individuals that shape how they view themselves, and their conflicts and contractions. In short, I guided our conversation so that might discover potent images and structures that could be used as powerful personal symbols to effect transformation.  The most important thing in each of these poems was to create both a narrative that the individual could identify with and strive towards utilizing a system of symbols that could take on a myriad of layers of meaning. In as short amount of time as possible, I also tried to make them aesthetically pleasing and accessible. This was not easy. It was exactly as draining as you would think it would be, but oh so worth it. After composing the poem, I typed it onto the colorful cart stock, punched a hole in the corner and strung it with ribbon to be worn as an amulet for protection in future battles or placed on their altars.

Perhaps due to the ethereal surroundings, but also due to the fact that merely having someone listen to you intently and bear witness to your most personal stories is powerful in-and-of-itself, each individual that heard these poems aloud for the first time was moved to tears. Half of them stated it was one of their best Burning Man experiences. Then around 2:30, I discovered that a fellow who I thought had been watching the acro-yoga going on around my station at Center Camp had been listening to my questions for the past couple of customers. “Are you a psychologist? You should join up with my camp. We have free advice booths.” “No, no. I’m just a poet. I’ve been writing poems for people like this for a few years with my performance group.” “Well, you know it’s very like narrative therapy. Have you heard of it?”

This doesn’t surprise me, but it cinches something. I’m suddenly certain of why I’m here. I’m trying to heal some of the wounds that our toxic society lays on our psyche with their damaging stories of “you’re not good enough” “that person is hurting you” “you have to be better than her at____” or “you have to defeat this____”, or that any such qualifiers should even exist in the ultimate reality that we should be attempting to build in our collective psyche.

It took a while to fully process this experience. I quit my job. I looked in a million different directions to fulfill this calling. I’m still not certain of my future, but I know where I’m heading now. I’m going to walk across the country doing what it is that makes me that happiest. I’m going to write poetry for people. I’m going to write new myths that break down borders and wash away the soot. And while I’m at it, I’m going to try to inspire others to do so, and collect them in what I’m calling The Poetry Pilgrim Project (still drafting).

 

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