I have been writing poetry, or trying to write poetry, half of my life. The day I was graduated from high school an acquaintance reminded me of an early attempt written in the seventh grade: “if I were a starfish/I’d make a wish.” How concise and simple that poem is!
Now, years later, poetry as an act is a source of growth and challenge which I face every day. Sometimes frightening, sometimes friendly, it is always wrought with a fragility and succor unassociated with any other activities. Words are loving spells with which I incant transform play worship.
I don’t remember what first drew me to poetry, but I believe in the primitive newness and unparalleled power of “true” poetry to change lives. By changing lives, I mean the ability of a poem to open the core of an individual to exploring herself or himself unbounded by social or personal restrictions. When my poems are successful, to me, they release a transformative energy which locates the poet, the reader, and the subject in the center of the universe (which is placed everywhere) and simultaneously in the eternal present . . . revealing the everyday personal perceptions of the poem’s participant(s).
Here is a recent poem titled “on a train at dusk somewhere in virginia.”
the armadillos of the sun banter from the sky making pheasants of trees, tiny shetlands graze a cold wind stills the evening my body sweetens the darkened roosters of my spirit crow
This poem is representative of my life as a poet. In writing poems I feel I participate in the perpetual act of creation which is living, helping magically and religiously to create the world. It is no mistake that the sun’s rays are armadillos bantering like hens, making the trees, sunlit, into pheasants. My vision, your vision, of the world has been deepened, coloured and mystified. I have reminded us of the miracle quality of human existence.
Poetry, then, for me, is a journey, a pilgrimage. It is much like the alchemist’s search for the philosopher’s stone, the knight’s search for the Holy Grail, the farmer’s for a good harvest, or the cook’s creation of a nutritious delicious meal. It is my way of connecting with the world. A way which I can share with other people, and a way in which my talents and aspirations as a language-weaver and shaman-healer can grow entwined.
The Great Spirit in each of us has always been, even in my childhood, the most attractive of the world’s mysteries to me. It is the world’s mystery. Poetry is the road I have found to that mystery.
As sexual beings, we are at a great crossroads. This life has brought me very close to the questions which are facing more of us every day. What am I as a sexual being? What are we as sexual beings? How are pleasure and procreation involved in living? Politics and love? My poems are love poems — some to women, some to men, some to the world. Yet all of them speak to my own personal discoveries and problems of the sexual self. In one long prose poem “the rose cocoon” I explored my love for women and for men. “his penis/is a flower blooming in/dark mirrors/yellowred/its mothy odor rises inside/a frosted circle/geraniums nasturtiums grape ivy/pour from its tip/the men grease themselves/with berries/turning their skin/purple and black/gumming/ their hairy thighs with/hashish and opium.” and “her vulva/is the flower/of flowers/indigo/cotton/circling minnows in ears of corn/morning glories/sunflowers/the ivory coast/the women paint themselves with rushes/to attract the wind/each layer of/pink/yellow/burgundy/indigo/is a net painted with rain” and later in a poem called “intricacy”: “the mystery of the splintering of vessels/. . . when pollen/a cloud of animal breath/fills the air/and lovers tangle in the forest/of their breath/. . . is a mystery permeating him/a halo/flush/and muscular.”
Language was one of our first creations and language is most powerful when expressed through image. Images, themselves, express different levels of power. What I like to see and feel are images that jolt the senses, surreal if you wish, but images that are connected to the earth through a primitive relation to the self and the objects approached. The poem as organism is not whole if most, if not all, of the senses are not quickened in its expression. This is called “synesthesia.”
So, it seems my utmost attraction to “doing what I do” is to discover and transform myself through synesthesia. Through language’s image making qualities I may enhance my spiritual relation with the world. It is a very child-like approach to living. And very Zen. And at the same time, intellectual.
It is certainly impossible to make a living at writing poetry in this country. However, ironically, that is what I do — make a living with my poems. When I write I am participating in an ancient and revered ritual, one in which one’s all is given and revealed. This ritual is as old as the first women’s civilizations and is still living in today’s “Age of Reason.”
How difficult it is to reveal the soul, naked. How impossible, and rewarding.
the room of the poet is like no other room there gold-beaked birds sip on remnants of fish candles are frozen with words opaque and blue armpits glisten with saliva and fingers remove garments from the spirit one by one
(his penis and her vulva were printed in Aura Literary Arts Review, Fall 1977)