|I’ve been writing poetry since I was 17 at least. (I’ve written about that here) It seemed like more of a necessity than a choice. However reading poetry has always been a little harder. Somehow easier to write it than read it. The first poet that really lit me up was ee cummings. The deep fuse of joy seemed so wired up in his words. Later I found Ted Huges’s blunt shamanic poetics, Neruda’s humane sensual cosmology, Lorca’s startling imagetics. I wouldn’t say that I was a scholar of poetry. It’s always been more something that burst out in the feel of certain phrases, a kind of threat of meaning that coils out of the words into the nervous system and world.|
Love of words spilled out into lyrics, the WuTang Clan’s dense adrenalised flows, Anthony Keidis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers mix of eros, brotherhood and wordplay, of course Dylan’s ever open road, of wheeling images and mercurial love. Recently I’ve loved Cat Power’s feeling soaked threads, where each word becomes a small bird that could lead you to a promised freedom.
But poetry like any art form has often been encased in hard shells of intellectualisation and high culture. It’s not always easy to read poems, and sometimes it can be hard to work out if that’s the readers problem or the poet’s. Not all poetry might be worth the time or effort, perhaps because the point at the end is not “poetry” but more a the experience of a feeling that connects. It could be there in a car manual or a work of fiction as a poem. Stephen Harrod Buhner speaks well to this. Connects what to what? Well, that’s the question. Connects our life to our soul, to something that binds our nervous system to a deeper tangled world beyond the merely human. It’s definately out there in the woods after sunset.
I prefer the idea of poetics to poetry, because poetics reaches out from the page to that tangle of bird song, vine and branch. I don’t want a pastoral fantasy of poetics; an imaginal ecology lives in small flowers that crack pavements, or at crossroads where dark winds blow traffic lights at midnight.
It feels important to guard against too pastoral a fantasy of nature, because it’s another way of drawing a line around the city and saying the wild is “out there”. It’s either a redeemer or it’s savage. It’s another way of reducing the mystery of nature and life down to a safe landscape or a blind set of jaws.
It reminds me of the general problems of idealisation, that has comes up more intensely in romantic entanglements. Idealisation is the killer of romance, it replaces real people with statues, and invites harsh judges to the wedding of person to that statue.
Even when i fell in love at the age of 20 I could feel the idealisation within it of the woman I was attracted to. Now, having been steeped in Jungian psychology a while, and practiced as a therapist I might call it “projection.” The projected image is not human, but it is irresistable and imbues itself into who you think the Other is. It blends with your unconscious, and take the form of people you know at night in your dreams. Projections needs to be treated with care and respect, as they are full of intense feelings, often related to something that feels impossibly absent to your ego. Something it feels it desparately needs.
If projections are “withdrawn” then some of the feelings and needs that they consist of need to be placed somewhere else, as they don’t fully belong in the ego. One way of doing this is art making, writing, painting, transforming intense affect into metaphor – these become containers for archetypal forces, ways of being moved without having to play the whole drama out in real life.
It’s worth remembering that we don’t only project “outward” onto others, we can also project “inward” into parts of our selves, onto our sense of nature, subpersonalities or of spirituality, powerful ideas or gods. Our sense of what’s within can be as distorted as what we see in others, often more so. It’s very easy to idealise inner forces and to put ourselves down. These projections can be persecutory as well as idealised; Jung wrote of them as “everything the subject refuses to acknowledge about herself” (CW 9i p284)
Perhaps that’s where an imaginal ecology comes in, as it offers a direct experience of how the imaginal flows from what we call nature, and links to the soul. Jung thought of soul as the deeper parts of “personality,” not accessible to the ego. Bill Plotkin in his new book “Journey into Soul Initiation” re-visions this as the finding within your personality of something highly specific to you that connects you to the deep dream of nature, yet that ultimately serves both your human community and nature itself. As a stage of soul to be found when you have been able to heal your initial wounds well enough, to estalish a good enough sense of who you are in relation to others. Plotkin suggests that this transformation requires a deep knowledge of self, wild nature and an ability to self heal well enough to face the depths.
Poetry can aid this retreival of soul, because it renews the awful shackles language can place on us. “Man is half angel because he can speak” wrote James Hillman. He noticed the word “angel” means “messanger” and how words themselves can be angels, as they carry messanges. An illuminating idea, that words themselves may not be just tools, but also have a kind of life to them, a reality of a different order. Words have a particular kind of power. “We need to remember that we do not just make words up or learn them in school, or ever have them under our control. words like angels are powers that have an invisible power over us.” (Hillman a Blue Fire p 28) He goes on to make the curious statement :”words are persons”
Yet written words are far more often used defensively to neuter feelings, or shut down dialogue, to give orders, defend ourselves from attack. If words are persons we employ them as bodyguards, lawyers or PR men too often. The use of written language in legal matters, in advertising, and on social media show all this. Iain McGlichrist writes about how the use of language very easily falls into the kind of attention of that part of our brain concerned about power and control.
This is especially true of writing, which keeps the immediacy of others at a distance. It is as if there are two forms of attention, woven into the very fabric of our brain that are engaged in a continual, subtle struggle. One monitors for threats, splits things into parts and processes, attacks, or defends the self. The other form of attention has no form, it simply opens up to a deeper and deeper world, filled with feelings and images. It is this second form of attention we need to be in touch with if we are to become able to revive our ability to nourish the living Earth we have abused and neglected.
The first kind of attention often arises as a response to trauma, that sends us “into our heads” where we find a rolling spoken narrative, that will make comment on anything coming in from the more open forms of perception. Poetics (noticing the existing poetics in the world) and poetry (writing this down) can help to break through to the felt sense, that allows us to re-connect to the experience of nature and the body as mind. The heart, the elbow, the kidney.
To demonstrate this, I’m going to share a poem I wrote as part of workshop I helped run. The workshop was called “the taste of a wild red rose: soul retrieval through story and myth.” I ran it with Serena Mitchell, poet and storyteller. We worked with a couple of stories that Martin Shaw tells well – the Lindworm and Tatterhood. Do check out his excellent tellings if you haven’t.
However, we began with a poem. So, here’s an exercise for you adpated from Stephen Harrod Buhner, to do if you so please, to help find one of those golden threads between your self, the imaginal and nature.
Firstly read the poem below.
Secondly, listen to the recording of it.
Notice the difference between the reading and the listening, the differences that each mode of delivery has on your body, your nervous system, your mood.
Pay attention to any limages that reverberate with you. Allow yourself to linger with them.
Let any images from turn over in your mind, see what they engender in you, what feelings they bring. The aim here is not to critique the poem, but to allow it to breathe a little, to have a little life. (If you want, pick a poem that you know you love)
Poems like to talk to each other. Images pool together in a common source in the psyche. Remember that if you like a certain line, if it sparks a feeling in you, you can write a line youreself the same way, follow the same feeling.
Then, when the time is right, go for a walk into nature, to the place nearest you that you like best, where you will see the least people. Go alone if you can. Find a place away from others, where there are an abundance of plants or trees and you feel safe.
Take a pen and a notebook and go our for a walk, taking whatever image reverberated in you with you. Just turn it over, don’t analyse it. Go find a spot you can sit. It must be a spot that feels right for you today. Don’t take too long over this, but do pay attention to your feeling for the place you are in.
How does the place feel, not so much how do you feel about it, but how does it feel? Now sit and write down what comes to you in response to the poem and your feeling for this place. Write the feel of the images. Remember, images don’t have to be visual , they can be felt, smelled, half known, heard, intuited. Don’t take too long about, set limits, give yourself 5 or 10 minutes.
Be obvious, direct, simple. Say what is there for you.
Limit your writing to 3 pages of your notebook.
When you get home speak the poem into your phone if it has a recording device. Listen back to it Send it to someone who you trust to recieve such a valuable gift. Make sure you send it to the right person. (if the poem is about another person, it might not be that person! or maybe it is. But send the recording to someone whose opinion you value and who will recieve your work in the spirit it is intended, and not someone who wishes to edit it. If you don’t have someone you can send it to me. But do think about who would recieve your poem in the right way)
Here is the recording:
and the same poem written:
The Wild Red Rose.
Ah! the Wild Red Rose….
It’s fragrance stretches all the way
from Sussex gardens
to London, Sheffield, Kenya,
It might reach you wherever you are…
It whispers in your ear
That you can slow the restless mind
into the same dream state as holly or yew;
You can sway all night with the wild owl’s cry
amongst a tangle of roots,
Ferment your soul within the dark cauldron sky.
I yearned for a tongue
as articulate as hawthorn.
For that eyes that flash silver as
coins under the full moon at midnight
In the telling of my story.
The wild rose longs to make your hair as wild as clematis
your skin as smooth as a young beech tree,
Longs for your speech at stretch it’s gentle vines
beyond whatever masks, shields, gates or locks you placed
to keep trespassers out,
It yearns to transform the shame and the dark abyss they protect
into a temple of roots, leaves and simplicity.
Wild rose kindles a fire that seemed dead,
blows sweet smoke onto the heart’s embers,
You know, even after all these years, something smoulders in those embers.
I waited for years for the return of it’s scent,
never realising that the padlock to it’s secret garden
Had been locked only by myself.
I turned the key, heard the shackle release
pushed open the iron gate,
Walked through the garden and on into the forest.
On the edge of the trees, I found a wild rose
entwined into brickwork of a ruined castle wall.
Her structure as intricate as blood vessels,
petals proud as a flag,
I recognise her traces in the architecture of my heart,
Her twin my every breath
I had to drop my book and pen
to describe her,
Had to become speechless to speak of her,
I had to put down the black sack on my back
I’d carried twenty years to register her in my body;
I poured it’s contents out at her roots to nourish her.
She asked me to surrender romantic fantasies,
About what I though love should be
To learn how to really love her wild honey.
She takes the form of a panther, a deer,
A wandering light, a child.
She came to me in the form of a woman I love one night, and said
“Come a little closer, let me touch your blue heart,
with the promise of a rose;
Let me nourish you.
Let the soul’s story be your story”
Even now, especially now,
As the ragged world,
Flagellated by electricity and pollution
Crumbles back into
The unknowable matrix of it’s own wild soul,
As the oceans choke and coral bleaches,
And the people cry out in seasons of desert, fire, flood
As the stability of the seasons
breaks from it’s tether into a new unknown,
A wild rose clings to the brickwork of a secret garden.
Intricate as the structure of a heart,
As deep a breath,
As wild as a rainstorm
A wild rose still grows, still waits,
still repeats it’s mantra:
“Let the soul’s story be your story”
Enjoy the exercise!
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find a thread of soul and follow it.
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