I recently ran across the following article about making poetry a spiritual practice:

http://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-51/articles/13-ways-of-making-poetry-a-spiritual-practice/

The entire article is well worth the reading, but the first way of the thirteen really rung some bells for me. (I hope they don’t mind I repost)

1. Cultivate Uselessness. Poetry and spiritual life overlap – if they are genuine, neither are undertaken for any kind of worldly advantage, prestige or use. Much of our life is spent in the acquisitive mode, in Wordsworth’s “getting and spending” – we need to butter our parsnips somehow – but the value of poetry is in its antithesis: the appreciative mode. Yes, we need to buy things and earn money, but poets need to stake their claim in uselessness – in non-utilitarian appreciation. Our primary mode of being should be one of appreciation. We should just stand back and enjoy it all – relate to life not for what it can give us but for its own sake. Within this larger uselessness, we’ll need to work to pay the bills and feed the cat, but our real work is appreciation. This implies an element of asceticism. We need to live simply with as few distractions as possible so that we can get on with the real business of poetry.

 

I have never heard this before, but I realized that this “appreciative mode” is where I feel most Shea, it’s where I escape to – but it is also where I experience the most guilt and “ought-to’s” and ought-not’s”. I just want to stand and pause for a moment and tell you I am useless here, by design.

The other little boys wanted to be astronauts and firefighters and cowboy types – I said I wanted to play with words.

I will refrain from over-excusing the last many years, but playing with words, it seems, does not easily buy bread.

Yesterday I discovered I was bored and I thought about why and thought about what I wanted out of life, I thought about my calling and a little boy answered surprising me.

Today I find myself in a self-structured classroom working on a self-defined degree towards an end that matters to me if no one else.

Tomorrow I want to be known, among some at least, as Shea the poet

 

Part of me has always been a poet. I have fed the hunger through lyrics for cheesy metal songs and punk songs about breakfast cereals. A couple of years ago I started (re-re-re-started) a personal journal and prayer log. At first it was a bunch of whining self-pity crap and I quit again several times. Slowly I found the words began spilling out into my journal as poetry, slowly my journaling had meaning and my prayers had true soul. That old hunger grew.

For years I loved the *idea* of poetry more than poetry itself, which seems a strange position to take, but I am learning that it is natural when you have urge without skill. Today I want to build the skill – and this site will be my classroom. I cannot currently afford a real classroom with a live teacher, so I am designing my own course of study. I figure I need 4 things

  • An Expert
  • Example
  • Practice
  • Feedback

For my expert, I have searched the shelves of my local Value Village and found a wonderful manual for “Writers of Poetry, Verse and Song Lyrics”. Written by Clement Wood and published back in 1946, Poet’s Handbook shall be my starting expert to teach me the things I do not yet know about poetry. Of course the web is overflowing with resources to assist, and I will post as I discover.

For Example, I once again went begging at a thrift store. It is amazing how many poetry books, journals and anthologies are lonely there, asking only pennies to be enjoyed. I also ran across Roger Housden and his Ten Poems to Change Your Life in the bargain bin (sorry Roger) and I found I loved reading his essays about particular poems and I think I will follow his example here and write some essays about the poems I read.

For practice, I have my journal freshly stocked with 5×7 white lined paper and this WordPress blog - Common Oddity.

For feedback, I have a writers account at Writers Cafe – please support my efforts by reading and responding there as the energy is available.

If my reader wandered here because they too wish to be known someday as a poet, I hope my notes and logged learning experiences here, along with whatever poetry drips out along the way, will aid them towards their destination.

 

There is an uncertainty
Silent and careless of your seeking
There is an uncertainty
That beckons you seek
That knows your name

Both are mystery
One is a revelation and a violation
Both are fearful
One has balm

You and I both
  agree that there are
First Principles

They
indeed exist, they form
   the reality around us

I
think we agree that these
   are absolutes – not flimsy or whimsy

You
   have been persuaded
that we (the we of humankind)
hold these in hand today,
   or that we shall by the morrow

I
   have been persuaded
that underlying every principal we will
ever hold in hand,
   is another we have assumed

We
   do hold many more in our hands today
   than Pascal did. Should
we fail to destroy
   ourselves by 2212,
we shall hold many many more

Maybe we shall cure cancer and hatred,
maybe we will learn they are the same thing and take a scalpel in hand
maybe we are already so mad with greed that we will paint our nickels gold, again
maybe a new word will be spoken
maybe an old word will inspire a new tipping point – will reveal a First Principle

Wisdom is practiced when discerning the intent within the onrushing stream… I speak to you … my waters are muddied with love… I think you recognize it… the coursing element is foundational … principal … but still flows from some deeper well which is only hinted at … only sensed at … by a existence we have only guessed at

so in the midst of Black Friday shopping I realized there is a certain art to it. To be in the maddening crowd without going mad is not easy, people are rude and angry and rude and impatient and oblivious and … Did I mention rude?

I was tempted to start swinging elbows and return the same energy I was receiving from so many and it was then the Zen snuck up on me – everyone is a mirror of sorts, and a scowl transmits thru a tired and taxed crowd like a field fire in a hurricane.

My first step was to stop being a mirror myself, to become a window too look through and simply observe. Immediately I began to live independent of the negative, and I stopped being a contagion for it as well. I took it a step further and smiled into the crowd – attempting to infect it. The experience was odd, it reminded me of experimentation, it reminded me of art.

And this is what seems to remain, the concept of art and its potential to describe more… All of it even

I’ve heard it said that you should never choose your heroes from among the living – that way they never have the opportunity to disenchant you. This man died just a couple of years ago and the more I learn about him the more he becomes my hero. He lived what he believed and softly touched thousands of lives and made us believe we are special.

The thought of the day comes from Mr. Rogers.
———————————————
As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time.
It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

~ Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003)
———————————————

The In-Between
Miles of dust and sun
40 needful years of turning on a bitter lathe
Yet only my children will know why
and will their children’s children remember?
will any legacy be left written upon hills of sand?
will there be no wind, no moon, no fear?

No

Well…

Maybe

In a way I am begotten of those stiff-necked nomads
In a way, my feet still burn and suffer the lessons learned

But I have my own desert stretching my toes
But I have seen a promised land filled with giants
and I have sided with the ten
and I have labeled the two – nutbrained

But slow your fear shea… slow your darting eyes and consider…

I live
I don’t have to but I live
I live now
At least for now… but
For what?
Must I live *for* something?
I might live for nothing important
but that is not the same as nothing
and important is a tricky thing while this wind carries pain into your face

But I do not lie down
to let dunes shift over me
For this fact I perceive a reason
A something
More even – a Presence
Concepts in the human mind are like these flowing hills – changing
I have not pushed
this far
for the sake of a concept
I know I have not because -truth- it is not even in my power to do so
you are looking at a turtle on a fencepost
do the math

So return behind the How
Let the weight of the What
and the wonder of the Where
Conclude
with the obvious Why
There is only one
and it is a Who

So tell me while my ears are open
Play Solomon for my blistered and bewildered heart
must I chase wind
or worse… turn heel
flee wind
all the way back to Egypt
Can these ashes in my mouth be
swallowed or spit
while I yet live – yet journey

Even in this slim light it’s silly
to ask “what” shall I live for
To be honest now
I must ask Who not what
and
I must start with Do not Shall

So – Who Do
I live for
?
?
Damn – another silliness
not in the question this time
but in the answer of yesterday

-VisionCast 2011

Well he wasn’t exactly raving but I always assume the adjective when someone can speak non-stop on political corruption and secret societies and government devised schemes to control the population through drugs and 7 years of antichrist with RFID chips embedded in our skulls and … oh… there I go raving

There was something about Jay that I liked (it wasn’t the smell) there must have been else I would not have stood listening to Jay in the cassette section of the value village for just over an hour (quite literally Ann Perkins) and every so often as I needed to break contact with the crazy eyes of Jay I was thankful for the Bee Gees album catching my eye – glancing away from Jay to Spirits Having Flown thinking how he might explain the existence of the Bee Gees in the first place but being afraid to ask.

Jay did know his scriptures and had lots directly available to his scattered mind and I suspect that may very well have been the very thing keeping me from making a parting excuse and Jay from a padded room.

Tomorrow I think I might just need to go back there, stepping around the lingering smell and the echoing madness and pick up that cassette copy of the Bee Gees.

In light of
How then
Given that

Moments occur – they may compel action – they may stoke conviction

Response – slow or quick or just null
A squint a stare an awe an avoid

Truth and Beauty have many consequences

Truth and Beauty have many consequences
Some lay dormant
A seed awaiting triggers – sun water soil
A letter lost in a pile – awaiting cleaning day

“If you know these things”
a frightening phrase – if you know these things
frightening because I do know some of them, enough of them, shit! too many of them

Responsibility
not just an ability to respond
to respond
and maybe
not even that but a requirement
to respond

To respond even in the absence of ability
in the absence of skill and motivation and confidence
Even in the presence of fear
in the presence of weakness and loneliness and despair

And thus…
Can it be said that sin is simply the forsaken response?
The despised calling?

In light of truth – this truth – set before you
In light of beauty – this beauty – sought within you

Live

It is peeking into my box
but I distract myself with the floor
It is whispering into my ear
but I hum some dirge or mirth
It is plinking pebbles off my window
but I draw the shade and shift
uncomfortably
stubbornly

“Piss Off!” I say
Enough-Already-Enough and I meant

nothing

Don’t you think I know nothing
but nothing is hard to say
hard to feel
hard to create out of
and I just don’t have enough nothing to justify myself from here

So go ahead…
Peek whisper & plink
I will refuse
I will rant
I will fuck reality sideways
until until it
until it sees things
my way

I was compelled to this page
but once it was no longer empty
Something was lost
It was Something
Something of an altar
A presence of what will be yet is not
A shadow
A teasing
A moment of wonder
A calling for life to arrive

Fashion it of Acacia
A cubit high
Two cubits square
Let it serve your mind
Let it warm your heart

Your greatest work is before you
Behold and worship
Behold and adore
Behold and become

All the proof I will ever need
      proof for or proof against
will be found where I look for it

See I see with eyes forged with desire
      and the colors they will allow
      and the colors they will emit
are under rigid censorship

But how else would passion breathe in this atmosphere
how else could my dry bones come alive
and my skin drink in the joy the wonder the fear

Find within my frame stardust
      yes it is there and it is here
      and yes the stars are still in labor
      giving life even as they die
      and yes the stars are not orphans, nor vagrant vaginas
they too are children loved and servants faithful

I spit or salve but I do so always with anothers  moisture
      I take first I take and take and
by what name do I call these droplets of life in my possession 
            – mine… Really?

This dust is a well-polished accuser against me
If I lived in the wind I might have less to show but more of a story to tell
like a carved mountain, that which creates my scars should be powerful and real – I wish it were real – but I fear it is but weak shadowy sketches

What I need is a hat that tells the mirror something different today
Or perhaps some shoes that will refuse to repeat the blind-mans path
Or maybe all I really need is the next line of the blurred poem that is in my guts and growling

What I want is an instinct, an inborn pull, an unquestionable drive
What I want is like howling sex between two coyotes that paints color and passion and life
around the walls of the burrow that keeps

The edges fray as I grunt under the weight of professional expectations
To play among the moments seems a far-off illusion – “a thing committed to the childish”
But it’s the years that are calling me to question – the years that beckon me to unsuppress some song within

The day has arrived
ink time
The Red-tailed Hawk
Here is a symbolizing of identity
The name Shea – Irish-Gaelic for “Hawk-like”
The Hawk – The Truth Seeker
-this is what I am on better days
and what I desire to be on worse
The Hawk – Teacher of Perception
-this is also part of who I am and who I desire to be
The Hawk – The Protector – Watcher
-this I would also strive to be

These all speak to my values and therefore my identity
perhaps not necessarily fully realized or accomplished
Let this day signify a curtain closing on yesterday
opening to the next act
The stage has a different lighting
the actor bears a new mark
a guiding mark
The Journey have a new force
and the villains have lost strength

Yes – I know ink will not create this change
a decision will
and I am merely choosing to poor my intent into a symbol
A permanent symbol
–well at least as permanent as a right arm can be

Let this tattoo serve me
Let whatever pain results
burn into me
change me
My body will be different after today
Let it be also with my soul

In considering where to start with this learning project, I thought a simple question – “What is Poetry?” – would make for a good first step. It is always good practice to start with definition. Two can say one thing yet mean two things, talking over under or around each other instead of to each other.

The dictionary says…
“Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm;… A quality of beauty and intensity of emotion is regarded as characteristic of poems: ”

Obviously the concept of beauty will always be one of those “eyes of the beholder” things but it is reasonable to say that poetry often aims at displaying either beauty or intense emotional experience in a creative manner – and differently than the common methods of prose or fiction.

A key portion of definition is classification. For example, you might define poetry very simply – “A Grouping of Words”. While this is accurate, it could also describe a novel, a play, an owners manual, a street sign or the fine print on a contract.

How can we distinguish poetry from other groupings of words which are obviously not poetry? We can begin by looking at format. Poetry will tend towards structures and patterns and rhythms which are very different from other common formats. Largely, we understand that prose works within certain rules such as sentences paragraphs, nouns and verbs. Poetry shares the same words, and a few of the same rules but is also free to break any rule in order to accomplish it’s intent. There is a visual concept of paragraphs but there is freedom in poetry to extend a single thought or line across multiple “paragraphs”.

In prose, the line breaks at the margin or at the end of a paragraph.
In poetry the line break is a creative device used in many different ways to accomplish a feeling, a rhythm, or a visual affect.

In prose we have the sentence – must include a subject and a predicate and contains a full thought.
In poetry we have the line, like a sentence sometimes and other times not… other times it is just a word or a list or a fragment of an experience or a collection of similar or dissimilar sounds. The line can stand alone or be grouped with others.

In prose, words and thoughts are joined together to assist the reader in understanding something new or imagining something other – there is a level of comprehension required.
In poetry there are similar purposes of understanding and imagination, but there is also potential for a poem’s intent to simply be heard like a melody rather than understood like a proposition.

Ultimately, it seems easy to say what poetry might be, but hard to say what it is supposed to be. There is a certain subjectivity to poetry that makes it more like oil paintings or blues riffs than like novels. It seems unwise to label a poem “good” or “bad” because from my own experience a collection of words may speak worlds of emotion and perspective and wonder – to another the same words in the same order may be lost or boring or disturbing. Some poetry feels honest to me, while some feels dishonest or affected. This too is subjective when I read the poetry of someone else – but these categories of honest and dishonest seems most useful when I judge my own words.