Monday, July 18, 2011

Suspend Self-Judgment and Be a Poet!

By Judith England

"Breathe-in experience,
breathe-out poetry.”

~Muriel Rukeyser, quoted in Highs by Alex J. Packer

I love discovering and rediscovering poems, reading them, sharing them, as well as attempting, at times, to climb inside an author’s psyche to understand the origin of some particularly juicy bit of poetic wisdom. Even songs don’t do it for me unless they’ve got terrific lyrics.

Writing it myself is an entirely different story.

Oh, of course, I’ve got the small spiral bound notebook that holds a few adolescent creations. They are as awkward as I was at that age. And yet, when I reread them I can recall things in a way memory alone fails me. The emotions come back as well – the newness of everything, the hurts and disappointments, the way time seemed so expansive at that age. I’m glad I still have that little book as a reminder.

It occurred to me that poems are documents of mindfulness – recording the sensations, thoughts, and spiritual essence of a moment. The really fine poets have a way of reaching beyond the specifics of their time and place to something more, some common denominator of living this human life. We read their words and identify with the experience. We feel connected.

Here’s a perfect example taken from “Poems of Awakening,” a poem by Kabir, written in the 15th Century:

Lift the veil

that obscures

the heart

and there

you will find

what you are

looking for.

It never seems to fail that when my thoughts are moving in a particular direction that what I need to see or hear just shows up. Grist for the mill so to speak.

There’s a super video of Lynda Barry, cartoonist, poet and playwright, talking about poetry – how to read it, understand it, and why it’s important. She looks a little like an aging version of her cartoon characters – usually teenagers- and the video says important things in a humorous way. Poetry works, says Barry because it can “travel through time intact” through generations and across continents evoking in a reader the sentiments of the poet from long ago and far away. She continues, and makes a plea for poetry and the arts in general saying that these are “the stuff of mental health, and we ignore them at our own peril.”

Another plus is putting pen to paper, is the opportunity it presents to suspend self-judgment. One of Barry’s iconic cartoons is that of a woman, hunched over her desk pen suspended mid-air. Above her head are two bubbles of thought: One, “Is this good?”, the other, “Does this suck?”. We want so much to be good, to be right, to be valued – it’s difficult to relax and just write – even if we know no one else will ever read it!

My belief is that its’ possible for anyone who has some level of mindfulness to be a poet. Maybe not in a Big “C” Creative sense like a Dickinson, cummings, Whitman or Rumi; but a more personal, small “c” creative, able to give voice to life as they are living it.

There was an article on by award-winning poet and non-fiction writer Honor Moore entitled “How To Write Poetry”.

She offers the following:

"Let’s say I’m sitting in that room with you now. Take out a pad and pen, your favorite pen—the one that just slides across the paper. Be sure you have an hour or so, so you can take your time with each prompt.

12 Ways to Write a Poem

Make a list of five things you did today, in the order you did them.
Quickly write down three colors.
Write down a dream. If you can’t remember one, make it up.
Take 15 minutes to write an early childhood memory, using language a child would use.
Write a forbidden thought, to someone who would understand.
Write a forbidden thought, to someone who would not.
Make a list of five of your favorite “transitional objects.” Choose one and describe it in detail.
Write down three questions you’d ask as if they were the last questions you could ever ask.
Write down an aphorism (e.g. “A stitch in time saves nine”).
Write down three slant rhymes, pairs of words that share one or two consonants rather than vowels (moon/mine and long/thing are slant rhymes).
Write three things people have said to you in the past 48 hours. Quote them as closely as you can.
Write the last extreme pain you had, emotional or physical. If the pain were an animal, what animal would it be? Describe the animal."

So that’s your Holistic Health “Mission Possible” for this week (should you choose to accept it). Give it a whirl. You’ve got nothing to lose except a little time, ink and paper. Relax, have fun with this. I’d love to have you share your efforts here on the Holistic Health blog if you’re so inclined – you can even remain anonymous if you like.

OK,OK, I’m not going to ask you to do something I wouldn’t I’ll post what I’ve written next week. How brave of me.

Writer Judith England, a certified yoga teacher and a massage therapist, has been keeping the Albany Times Union's Holistic Health blog since January of 2008. This piece is cross-posted with the Holistic Health blog P.S. We sure hope that Judi will send her poetry to MyStoryLives!!

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