My days of writing poetry were a long time ago.
Poetry is something that I have deeply enjoyed reading, especially in the last ten years—and lately, learning poems by heart as a ‘soul practice’—but I’ve not put my pen to writing poems on any sort of regular basis.
In my college years and early twenties, I used to dabble in creating poetry from time to time, nothing serious, and certainly very little worth remembering or saving. There were some heart-wide-open poems written for my beloved in the early days of our love affair, and after an embarrassingly long dry spell, one written for our ten-year anniversary—hand-calligraphied into an exquisite, one-of-a-kind, handmade paper book, and read aloud by me at the gathering. Not a very good track record for an artist who writes and loves words (especially in terms of writing poems for my human beloved, who surely deserves a great book of sonnets and stanzas).
Occasionally, the rough form of a poem would appear, usually whilst out in ‘nature’ or someplace semi wild, and I would jot it down or at least sketch the bones of it, and later try to sculpt it into something with more flesh and form.
Overall, I would say that writing poems is not something I have a particular affinity for… nor aspirations.
A couple of my friends are poets, both published and not, and when I read (or listen to) their creations, I bow to their evocative way with lyrical words. And silence. I think that sometimes in a poem that what is not said is equally important to the chosen words themselves.
I have repeatedly referred to my little artist’s studio in the Carmel Highlands as a ‘poet’s cottage’, not because I was writing any poetry here but because it was actually built as a studio for a poet. A hundred years ago, a German man, missing the castles along the Rhine, erected an imposing, very unusual, one bedroom stone castle of his own. Designed primarily as his (rather grand) art studio, the one-room castle is complete with a large picture window looking north to Point Lobos, where he sat to paint.
His wife was a poet, and after some years, she wanted a space apart from his to create her own art. Accordingly, at the rear of the property on this rocky point, tucked amid some young cypress trees, this small cottage was constructed, reminiscent of a Swiss or Austrian chalet. Here she found her own sanctuary in which to pen her poems, gazing out at the flashing sea and quietly singing stars.
My landlady, who has owned the castle for twenty-odd years, says that two other writers have resided here in the years since the poet. (Along with the folk singer, John Denver, but that is another story entirely.) It was part of the reason why, among the other applicants, she chose me to rent the space; she felt it was ‘right’ for an author—especially one in love with the gracefully windswept cypress trees, as I unabashedly am—and that the cottage had good writing ‘energy’.
I’ve long had a morning practice of rising early and going outdoors, barefoot, to greet the dawn. Stepping out to greet the Holy. (Sometimes clothed, sometimes not.) I’ve written about it in posts here in the Soul Artist Journal, and the ritual makes its way into my book(s). Here at the cottage in the early morning, often when it is still dark, after offering my bare soled (souled) poems and prayers aloud to All That Surrounds, upon reentering the house I sit at the small round table in the front alcove. A flickering candle beside me and a pot of tea, in the quiet hush of the house, I write.
Along with the candle and lighting a stick of resinous, piñon incense, part of my creative writing ritual is the ‘first sentence of the day’: on a clean sheet of paper, I scrawl the first creative sentence that emerges. Then I read it aloud, fold the paper up, and never consciously use those exact words again in my writing. It’s an act of reciprocity, an offering to the creative Source. “Create simply to give it away,” a former mentor of mine once told me. I place it on top or alongside the other folded pieces of paper in a handwoven Native American basket, and when enough have piled up to motivate me, I burn them as offerings in the fireplace.
I then usually move into three pages of longhand, stream of conscious writing, the Morning Pages as popularized years ago by Julia Cameron in her über-bestselling book, The Artist’s Way. It’s a practice that, for me, is a way of ‘clearing the leaves from the gutter’, allowing my words and creative impulses to unblock and stream through (something surprising often emerging), and then I can move into the morning’s other writing or editing work with a better sense of flow and ease.
Something unusual has been occurring here at the poet’s cottage in my morning ritual, something that began quite spontaneously. After the ‘first sentence of the day’ and adding it to the basket of origami-style offerings, rather than opening my spiral bound, European A4 notebook for the Morning Pages, I have reached for a second sheet of blank, unlined paper and breezily transcribed a poem that emerges from seemingly nowhere. Emerge is the most appropriate word for this—I don’t think of what to write or how to write it, nor try to conjure any images or decide where the line breaks should fall. I simply write what comes through without editing or censoring. It is not an active mental process but a passive, receptive one.
Like a small bird alighting on a branch, the first line appears, soon followed by another. And another. I welcome them without reaching or grasping, just following the flow of the fountain pen as it scratches quietly along. Some of the poems are quite brief, a couple of stanzas, others a bit more lengthy (though none would be qualified as long). One does not emerge every day, as much depends on my state of openness and receptivity and inspiration; I’m not always ‘available’ to welcome them in this way. Sometimes I simply want to shut the gate.
When the poem has finished emerging from my pen in veins of charcoal ink, I read it once aloud, absorbing it quietly in an auditory sense, and place the paper into a folder containing the other poems. I’ve not reread, edited or typed any of them; they are just quietly humming within the embrace of the folder, a collection of roughly hewn words I’ve now begun to think of as The Dawn Poems.
A few months ago, arriving back in the Carmel area after an extended time away, and staying briefly with friends until I found a new artist studio (this dear little cottage), I wrote the SAJ post, “Hummingbirds and Communion,” in which I shared the exquisite collection of poems by my newly discovered friend, Carolyn Brigit Flynn. In the Preface to her book, Communion: In Praise of the Sacred Earth (White Cloud Press, 2014), she writes:
“For over a year, I woke at dawn and came to my writing table set before a wide sliding-glass window. I greeted the sky, three redwood trees across the way, the tall birch tree in our garden, and mourning doves, crows, squirrels, ring-necked pigeons and robins there on any given day. Then I opened The Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke. Each morning I read one poem, and found myself in a call and response, writing a new poem with one of Rilke’s lines as a title.”
In my new experience with The Dawn Poems, sitting by the window as the day arrives with color and shape, I reflect on Carolyn’s beautiful Communion poems—one each morning at dawn by her window, each one a prayer to the Beloved, and I feel a sort of kindred spirit solidarity in welcoming a bit of the Larger Story into the world via early morning words.
As I struggled with what to write in this week’s SAJ post, feeling densely and heavily uninspired, a little voice said, share The Dawn Poems. I immediately retracted in a somatic ‘no’, a muscular contraction in my core and shortening of breath. Too personal. Too raw and unedited. The familiar critic’s voice, grating and nasal, ever loud amongst that inner committee, clucked disapprovingly, they’re not good enough to share with others. What will the poets think?
Oh what tedious nonsense that tired, old, toothless bastard still spews forth. Please, someone give him a piece of whale blubber or dried, salted leather to chew on awhile so he’ll be quiet for awhile.
Tipping my hat to him, here is yesterday’s arrival (I did not welcome or catch a poem this morning), exactly as it emerged in spidery lines on the page:
Can you feel it, he asked
fathomless blue eyes
peering deep into my soul.
Feel what, I responded.
The touch of the world, he said.
I considered for a moment,
closing my eyes, sensing,
searching for something obvious
like a hand on my shoulder
or a high clear note in my ear
like a silver bell.
I started to say no,
a cold sense of regret and failure
like icy fingers touching my gut,
but then, suddenly,
a subtle opening outwards,
a golden poppy
unfurling to the first warm kiss
of morning sun.
Gently drawn outward by ten thousand
invisible fingers of light and unheard sound.
Yes, I whispered,
I feel it.
He smiled, the angel,
and a hot, salty tear rolled down
my cheek for the beauty
of being alive,
beneath the dawn sky brushed
with flaming apricot clouds.
Here at the threshold of earth, sea, and sky, the poet’s cottage seems to be working its quiet charms upon me.
Gentle reader, there are countless ways to engage in a ‘soul practice’—that which opens us to something beyond our daily, limited experience of life and the ego’s very limited, often superficial, perspective. It might not be greeting the dawn barefoot, or Morning Pages, learning poems by heart, cooking a special meal, gardening, meditation, singing, being outdoors or communing with nature, but hopefully there is something that you engage in that enlarges your perspective, your sense of self and connection to something larger, or stirs your creativity. If not, ask yourself, why not? What could possibly be more important than nourishing the deepest, creative essence of who you are?
Soul Artists know that in a busy world, we have to make room for the sacred. We have to invite it into our lives, offering the gift of our time and attention. And if we are mindful, quiet and welcoming, gifts appear that would otherwise go unrecognized—a poem, a brightly smiling flower, birdsong, light on the hills, a softness in our lover’s eye. Creativity and beauty is everywhere. Our responsibility as conscious beings is to appreciate and celebrate it… ad generate our own.
I ask, what will you share of your own openhearted beauty today?