Monday, July 21, 2014

The Muse of Freedom

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free

—“Oh Freedom”



Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964

The freedom train is coming, can't you hear the whistle blowing
Its time get your ticket and get on board
Its time for all the people to take this freedom ride
Get it together and work for freedom side by side

—“Freedom Train”

Recently Dan and I watched Public Television’s searing documentary, “Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964.” We were both flooded with memories of a powerful time in our lives, years before we met each other, when we were twenty-somethings, on opposite coasts, both married young with babies. We each remember our shock and horror at the vicious murders of the three civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. When I saw Andrew Goodman’s face in the documentary I gasped. He looked so much like Dan did in photos I’ve seen of him in his twenties—a smart, idealistic, dark haired Jewish boy from New York. He even went to Queens College, as did Dan.



Dan tells me that Freedom Summer was “the thing I missed.” He had wanted very much to go to Mississippi that summer, wanted to make a difference, to take initiative in registering voters despite what was a brutal and difficult environment. He knew about the atrocities and the disappearances, about Medgar Evers’ assassination, about the lynching of Emmet Till. He knew the meaning of the song “Strange Fruit.” He was already a civil rights activist; he had helped organize boycotts and picketing of Woolworth Stores in support of the first sit-ins, had participated in the 1963 March on Washington, had opened his home to strangers who came from afar to March for Jobs and Freedom. The March reinforced his feeling that he was part of something bigger than himself. He was working with the American Friends Service Committee on a project to end discrimination in housing in the Washington, DC suburbs, He saw Freedom Summer as an important next step in the Civil Rights movement. He supported the strategy of sending young black and white civil rights workers south to register African Americans to vote. He knew it would be dangerous and with a young wife and a new baby daughter he decided not to go.

Free Speech Movement, Berkeley 1964

I'm walking and talking with my mind
stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.
Ain't nothing wrong with my mind
Stayed on freedom


Many young Americans were initiated in the fire of that summer. Mario Savio, whose courage would touch my life, was one of them. He came to Berkeley after volunteering in Mississippi to raise money for SNCC, only to learn that the University was banning political speech and fundraising. I was an undergraduate at Berkeley at the time, with a husband commuting to medical school in San Francisco and a baby boy at home. I participated in the Free Speech Movement and was moved by Mario Savio’s passionate speech:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

But I did not join my fellow students to sit-in at Sproul Hall. I wasn’t really cut out to be an activist, though I didn’t know that at the time. I did know I was a writer and that I wanted to be part of my generation’s big experiences. Like Dan, I felt the powerful surge of historical change, but having taken on adult responsibilities young, I had to think of my child—I couldn’t risk jail.

Free to Be You and Me

Come with me, take my hand, and we'll run
To a land where the river runs free…
To a land where the children are free…
And you and me are free to be you and me


Who might Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner have become had they been blessed with fifty more precious years of life? Their terrible deaths have cast a long painful shadow over this country. They were denied their freedom to become themselves. Freedom is complicated, has consequences, requires forethought, ethics and integrity. Janis Joplin expressed Freedom’s shadow elegantly when she sang “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

We were in love with freedom in those years, sexual freedom, women’s freedom, African American freedom, students’ freedom to gather and protest. We were determined to express ourselves, become ourselves, love across ethnic and racial boundaries, expand our consciousness, follow our stars. Freedom is, after all, America’s muse—muse to the French and American Revolutions, muse to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, muse to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, muse to Dan’s father, a music loving seventeen year old who stole himself out of the anti-Semitic Polish army, muse to my family who stole themselves out of Hitler’s Europe to the “land of the free.” We on the left claimed freedom as our muse in the 60s. It’s interesting nowadays, to see freedom as the darling of the right who seem focused on the freedom to bear arms and the freedom of the wealthy to spend a fortune to support their politics.

The long view from maturity reminds us that freedom can be fickle and dangerous. As a student writing for the Queens College student newspaper, Dan recalls mocking a speech by the president of the College who said, “There is no freedom without restraint.” Yet, just a few years later he understood the need for restraint by not going to Mississippi for Freedom Summer, despite wanting very much to do so. In the long view it’s clear that he made the right decision. It was part of his nature, part of becoming himself. Dan has always been a family man, devoted to his children, as well as an activist, mixing a pragmatic and realistic streak with his idealism. Just a few years later he was able to go to Mississippi to make a difference as a trainer for the Child Development Group of Mississippi, a statewide Head Start Program. He learned how freeing and empowering it could be for poor African American parents to get engaged in their children’s schools. This inspired him to become an activist for parent involvement in his own children’s schools.

The long view has taught us that the freedom to become oneself is a meander, dependent on luck, fate and plodding perseverance. It is the inner capacity to follow one’s truth and passion free of the tyranny of collective attitudes but with respect for the truth and passions of others. I feel blessed to have lucked into a line of work—Jungian Analysis— that supports people in the process of freeing themselves to live full creative lives. The etymology of the word ‘free’ is telling. Roots in Old German and French associate freedom with love, friendship and safety. Dan and I are lucky to have found the freedom to be ourselves with each other.

The long view has given me the freedom to see the consequences of my youthful passions, to see their shadow side. I expressed this in a recent poem “Demeter Beside Herself.” It is one of three new poems just published in the online journal Stickman Review. The poem is in the voice of the goddess, whose daughter “is off becoming /someone I’ve never been.” This daughter “wants power,” wants digital devices,” “wants electricity all night long.” All this has thrown her mother “out of orbit.” I am that mother. I am that daughter.

Retirement has freed Dan to do his good works in our community for free. Working less has freed me to write and publish more. I’ve been lucky in my long meander as a writer, to have wandered into the world of Psychological Perspectives, a wonderful journal published by the Los Angeles Jung Institute, which has so long supported my freedom to follow the weird wild places my Muse takes me, by publishing so many of my poetic essays. They’ve just done it again. The latest issue of Psychological Perspectives includes my essay “Abracadabra Tongue: On Poetry Magic” in which my poems and active imagination with dream figures lead me to fly on a magic carpet with the Muslim Solomon, and to an encounter with the Queen of Sheba, the beautiful dark Queen of Ethiopia, who reveals the lusty “old black magic” version of her rendezvous with King Solomon. I hope you’ll read all about it.



Monday, June 16, 2014

The Muse of Feminism

I am a grateful defender of the faith in the study of the humanities and their place in our public and private lives. You and I are at one in having chosen to make the strong columns of our academic foundation from the study of English, its language and literature…Commencement is the Thanksgiving Day of academic life. And it is especially right as English majors that we are grateful for the literary treasure, which we read and the vitality of the language we inherit, and for all who have taught and encouraged us -- family, friends, professors and our fellow students.
Steven L. Isenberg, Commencement Speaker, writer, professor and former publisher
The Bigger Picture

Every now and then life gives one a glimpse of the bigger picture. I was granted such a vision recently, attending my niece Nora’s graduation from the English Department at UC Berkeley. Our family—among many other proud families from diverse ethnic backgrounds— spent hours in the sun at the Greek Theatre to honor our young peoples’ achievement.  Nora came to Berkeley as a transfer student, having spent years supporting herself and going to community college. She took a double major, English and Media Studies, and continued to work part time. I know she often felt exhausted, and wondered why she was doing all this. But she kept on her path in a time when being an English major is considered by many as at best impractical and at worst a waste of time and money. I was pleased and relieved to hear the commencement speaker, Steven Isenberg, a man of my generation and liberal views (also a graduate of Berkeley’s English Department) stand up for the humanities. I loved his quote from Mark Schorer: "Learning to read novels, we slowly learn to read ourselves." In Nora’s case I’d add, “learning to see movies, we learn to see ourselves.”

It turns out I was also at that ceremony to learn something about myself. I graduated from Berkeley in English in the mid 1960s but never walked across the stage to receive my diploma. I have felt estranged from my alma mater for years. Speaking to friends I’m surprised how many didn’t go to their graduations in the ‘60s. Perhaps we were all estranged from our elders. I remember huge classes in Wheeler auditorium, professors who felt far away from me. I remember a University administration that trampled on our civil liberties and rights to free expression, banning political activity and fund raising. The spirit of the times rose up in protest among us students and became the Free Speech Movement, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this coming fall. I joined the protests, but was careful not to get arrested, since I had a baby to take care of at home.

A moving collection of memoirs, The Times They Were A–Changing: WomenRemember the ‘60s & ‘70s gives us glimpses of the bigger picture as experienced by women of my generation. Patricia Helmetag remembers a peace demonstration against the Vietnam War at the University of Michigan. The Chancellor summoned police “who battered the protesters with bully clubs…The resulting rift between students and the administration consumed the university, the national news and the den where my parents watched TV in the evenings…Horrified by the brutality I witnessed daily, I began to question my parents’ worldview.” Helmetag goes on to describe her transformation:
I changed with the leaves that year. I grew my hair long, put aside my pretty clothes, and dressed all in brown. I dropped my sorority…shared “grass” on seedy apartment floors with boys discussing their service options: the draft, ROTC, or Canada. We listened to Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Dylan, Phil Ochs, Donovan and the Stones. We read Ginsberg, and we talked about women’s liberation.

A Change of Essence

Something happened to me at Nora’s graduation, something I didn’t expect. My relationship to the English Department at Berkeley and to my own history changed its essential nature. There had been no women, no African Americans, no Asians or Native Americans on the faulty of the English Department when I was an undergraduate. Sitting in the Greek Theatre on a Saturday afternoon in May I delighted in seeing how the Civil Rights Movement and Woman’s Movement have changed the face of the English Department. (Just scroll through the English Department Faculty on their website and you’ll see what I mean.) I delighted in the brilliant women students who spoke, and in the department chair, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, who was profound and surprisingly Jungian in her remarks. In considering the etymological root of the word graduate, she noted that it comes from the world gradus, used in the late 15th century by alchemists to describe a change in essence—a tempering, a refining—as in from lead to gold. In recognizing Nora’s achievement I realized, suddenly, that I’d not recognized my own. I was married at eighteen, became a mother at nineteen, and managed to get myself to class and home in time to babysit the babies of the mothers who babysat for me. I don’t remember how I managed writing papers and washing diapers.

My memories of Berkeley have changed from lead to gold. I find myself remembering, with gratitude, three encouraging and devoted professors who cultivated my love of language and poetry: Thomas Flanagin, Thom Gunn, Thomas Parkinson. What can it mean, that they are all versions of Thomases? The name Thomas, my dictionary says, comes from the Aramaic and means “twin.” Perhaps each of these men was a twin to some essential aspect of me. Two of them—Gunn and Parkinson— were poets associated with the San Francisco Renaissance—with poets like Ginsberg and Duncan—who would later become my major influences. Flanagin taught Joyce. I remember how he paced in the front of the classroom, chain smoking, spouting long lyrical passages from Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake in his grand Irish lilt. The love of Joyce was burned into my soul. Flanagin became a novelist in his fifties, years after I knew him. I returned to writing poetry seriously in my fifties. I don’t remember how I persuaded Flanagin that a German story was appropriate for an English Department thesis, but he let me follow my muse. I translated the story from the German myself. He praised my paper, said I should get it published. Decades later portions of that thesis became a part of The Sister from Below. I wrote:
Broch, though not Jewish, was a political activist who was jailed by the Nazis in 1935. While in jail, the image of a dying Vergil came to Broch. The image that burnt itself into my consciousness then is…of the angel coming to Virgil, and quoting to him from his own poetry, prophesying the coming of the new god, Christ…What was burned into the back of my mind was the image of the poet as an instrument being played by an unknown god.
As an undergraduate I had caught a glimpse of the essence of what would become my truth in poetry—that it has a prophetic function and that we live in a time of changing myths. I remember thinking at the time that the new baby god would be a girl.


A Change of Story

This change in essence is a change in my story. It’s no longer a story about taking most of a lifetime to find my true life. It’s a story of being given flashes, visions, glimpses of what was nascent within me. It’s a story of being saved by the Muse of Feminism, by my friend Susan who insisted I join her Women’s Consciousness Raising circle when I was just back from India in 1969, and had no idea what Women’s liberation meant. I had not yet admitted to myself how suffocated I felt, how trapped. Sara Etgen-Baker, whose prize winning memoir appears in The Times They Are A–Changing, puts the suffering of women caught in the snares of the patriarchy into the voice of the wind: “I understand broken dreams and silent screams. Share your unspoken secrets and heartache with me.”

Etgen-Baker’s young woman heart was broken when she was accepted to the college of her choice and her mother refused to send her there, saying “only boys need to go to college.” I have a similar story. The college of my young heart’s desire was Reed. I wanted to go away to a small school, renowned for its poets. I applied to Reed and was accepted. My father wouldn’t support my going there. Like Etgen-Baker, I went to a large public university. In her story, the conflict she and her cohort of women students have with the University Administration about its patriarchal double standards—curfews for women students but not for men—becomes the vehicle of her liberation. She writes: “Like the leaves floating on the September winds, I learned to leap past the fear of the changing season within me and to trust the vibrations of a deeper, more authentic self.”


In this new version of my story, I got much of what I needed at Berkeley, which includes the tenacity to keep on keeping on in difficult situations. Years later I tell my story in The Faust Woman Poems, which just received a wonderful review on Goodreads and on Red Room by Lucille Lang Day. Day understands that the muse of feminism is the creative spirit of our generation. It has presented us with the Faustian bargain I describe in my title poem:


Faust Woman

You didn’t know the taste
of your own honey     didn’t know
willow thighs     delta song

until that cast out She
materialized in your kitchen     A dazzle of dust
ridden light     a voice     a hand
offering you the world

Do you want power among city towers, purses of gold, flashy transport?
Would you prefer a country lane, green glow of vineyards, summer breasts?
What about lovers? A stormy character playing the flute?
A silent guy with dreads? Maybe a talkative lover who’ll promise
to publish you     if only you’ll break out
of your kitchen cage     take a hammer
to the dishes     an axe to the door!

This is not your elegant traveling scholar      Grandfather Goethe

             But She’s from your own realm
             you’ve handed her down to us


this home wrecker      this bearer of light
daughter of Mothers who’ve been treading
                                      the untrod untreadable

                                      empty of voice      empty of prayer
                                                                         since Troy fell…
(first published in Spoon River)

Women’s stories have changed radically because we have been freed to write our own stories. As I wrote in The Sister from Below:
I remember the days when a woman could not belong to herself and be in a relationship, or so it seemed to many of us. But soon, everything changed. Women were writing poetry. The goddess was in the air. I was in the grip of this change that played me like an instrument, insisted on its own music, filled me with the voices of a poetic lineage I was just beginning to realize I was heir to: Enhueduanna, Sappho, Mirabai, Goethe, Rilke, Dickinson, H.D. Duncan, di Prima.
My gifted niece enters a world with no fewer problem or terrors. She leaves a University that many believe has been turned into a corporation—lost its soul. Mario Savio’s eloquent words comparing the University to a machine still ring true, though, thanks to him and the Free Speech Movement the political life on Sproul Plaza is alive and well. Nora and my English Department is a sanctuary from high–powered bottom line gear clanking—full of soul and creative self expression. As Nora put it, “it has a kind of purity,” I asked Nora if she felt her time at Berkeley changed her essence. “Absolutely” she said. “How?” I wondered. “I’m not quite sure I know yet,” she said. “But I feel much more self confident.”

Nora and her Aunt Naomi

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Muse of Gay Poets

holy Sappho
make a place for me now
—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky


Hot Flame of Female Word

When I was invited to participate at the symposium, “Will You Marry Me?” on same sex marriage, my first thought was “why me, a straight woman?” And then, as though a window were flung open to a landscape full of fragrant trees and running brooks, I had an epiphany: I have been in love with gay poets as long as I can remember. They’ve been my kinfolk, my soul mates, my muses, my major influences. They’ve taught me how to be the poet I’ve become. I can’t imagine my writing life or my bookshelves without Sappho, Rumi, Whitman, H.D., Duncan, Ginsberg, Judy Grahn, Thom Gunn, Audre Lorde. They are my people. When did Mary Barnard’s tender translations of Sappho fall into my hands? (Sappho:A New Translation) I think I was in my 20s.

When did H.D.’s “poetry of the archetypal moment as it pierces personal mortal experience” (to quote my own essay) invade my psyche, never to let me go? I wrote that essay for the San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal in 1997, but I had been possessed by H.D. for decades before. When I got serious about my own poetry I was told, in a dream, that H.D. was my grandmother. Here’s a poem written under her direct influence:

Initiate
(after H.D.)

White Temple cut in gray rock
I have washed the stone floors
I have put the full blown
white peony
in amber glass
only Hecate knows the dark center

Through an arched window
blood red madrone stains the rocky slope
Snake is sacred here
also mongoose

I await you
daughter of Isis
lover of the blood lord
sister of the frenzied one

climb the stony mountain in your bare feet
bring me your mouth and young breasts
white cave is the place I have prepared for you
hot flame of female word
                          (published in red clay is talking)

That scene could be happening on Lesbos, back in the day of the tenth muse, Sappho, who, it is said, initiated young women in the arts of love as well as of poetry, music and dance. I cultivated an elaborate fantasy about Sappho and me, which became a chapter of The Sister From Below, “Sappho at Midlife.” In it I imagine that I was an initiate of Sappho’s when I was young, and that I return to her, at midlife, for her help in negotiating the archetypal change of menopause. I invoke her:

invocation

tell me, Sappho,
whose delicate fingers
wove the violets into your hair?
whose soft seashell ears burned
at your song?

and would you take her back
after the years
she forgot you

opened her body
to his song

would you come to the tip
of her tongue
leap
to her image making
mind?

would you send for her
the very chariot
that carried the goddess
she of the doves
and the smile that is
evening star?

lady of lesbos
we gather
pieces of you
out of the mouths
of buried vases

I wish it were mine
to remember
how we danced
around the altar in full
moonlight
our tender young women feet
crushing the grass

holy Sappho
make a place for me now
the moon is waning
we whom the tides
have released
long for a fragment
                             of you—
                 (published in The Sister from Below)

Sappho, it turns out, has been waiting to be invoked. She says:
I’ve been here all along, the old voice of female poetry…the ghost of the wholeness of women that’s been ripped into shreds. What woman has written straight out of her body, her feeling, since I did, until now, in your time? My voice is the passion of woman for woman, the passion for the goddess. Every woman needs to know this passion, whether she sleeps with women or with men.
Judy Grahn, whose big breath chant “She Who” opened my lung wings in the 1970s and sings in me still, writes that in Lesbos, in Sappho’s thiasos, we catch a glimpse of a world where “women were central to themselves,” a world where women had access to their ceremonial stories, their myths and their poetry. (The Highest Apple)

Clearly Lesbian poets were a vital element in the ferment and change of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Poets like Judy Grahn and Audre Lorde changed our consciousness in the 1960s and 70s when the Goddess was finding her way back into women’s psyches. Lorde’s invocation of her African Goddess Seboulisa in her great poem “125th St. and Dahomey” is “printed inside the back of my head,” to borrow Lorde’s words:

Seboulisa mother goddess with one breast
eaten away by worms of sorrow and loss
see me now
your severed daughter…
           (Collected Poems of Audre Lorde)

The evocation of the Eleusinian Mysteries by H.D., a generation earlier, orients my soul:

“behold
the dead
are no more dead,
the grain is gold,
blade,

stalk
and seed within;
the mysteries
are in the grass
and rain.”
          (H.D. Selected Poems)

Though H.D.’s analysis was with Freud, not Jung, she is, for me, the most Jungian of poets, “mythic, hermetic, alchemical and psychological in the deepest and wildest sense. Dip into the pages of her Collected Poems and you dip into the living myth.”
(San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal V. 16 #3)

Merlin of the Deep Woods


But its not just women who love women who have shown me my way as a poet. There are many gay men among my influences. Foremost among them is Robert Duncan, my Merlin of the deep woods, a magician, seer, wise man, prophet. Duncan loved H. D. and joined her in the quest to bring myth into every day consciousness. Duncan is profoundly psychological:
The Master of Rime told me, You must learn to lose heart. I have darkened this way and you yourself have darkened. Are you so blind you cant see what you cant see?
(”Structure of Rime XX, Selected Poems)
Duncan’s essay, “The Truth and Life of Myth,” in my well worn copy of his Fictive Certainties, is full of underlining and highlighting. He expresses my experience of the creative process eloquently:
Wherever life is true to what mythologically we know life to be, it becomes full of awe, awe-full…
The surety of the myth for the poet has such force that it operates as a primary reality in itself, having volition. The mythic content comes to us, commanding the design of the poem; it calls the poet into action, and with whatever lore and craft he has prepared himself for that call, he must answer to give body in the poem to the formative will.
(Fictive Certainties)


Ginsberg’s Howl called me with its mythic power when I was a teenager; it sent me prowling around Telegraph Avenue in black stockings, yearning to be a beat poet.


Thom Gunn, who was my professor at Berkeley when I was an undergraduate, newly married, lost to myself and morning sick, has my eternal thanks for praising my writing in an essay on Mother Courage. He gave me courage for my future.

Sappho’s Bride

These poets suffered the homophobic hostility and prejudice of their times. Though the ancient Greeks had very different ideas than we do about sexuality—considering same sex love quite natural—Sappho suffered the loss of her beloved ones who’d go off to be the bride of some man. In recent days our gay poets have had to hide their true desire in the closet, to disguise their forbidden love in heterosexual garments. Those who dared speak their truth, as Robert Duncan did in his 1944 essay. “The Homosexual in Society,” in which he came out publicly, have had their poems yanked out of promised publications. Duncan’s poem “African Elegy” had been accepted by the Kenyon Review, until its editor, John Crowe Ransom, got wind of Duncan’s sexual orientation. I know all this from Thom Gunn’s wonderful essay on Duncan, “Homosexuality in Robert Duncan’s Poetry” (The Occasions of Poetry). Thirty years later Audre Lorde, who had had her poetry collection, From a Land Where Other People Live, accepted by Broadside Press, a prestigious black press, in 1973, was asked by the editor, Dudley Randall, about the gender of the speaker in her “Love Poem.” Her biographer, Alexis de Veaux writes, “When she responded that she was expressing love for a woman, Randall asked her to delete this poem from the work. Ultimately, Lorde acquiesced, sacrificing 'Love Poem' for the prospect of another published book.” (Warrior Poet, 130-131) But Lorde got her revenge. She came out at a reading in 1973 attended by many women, including her close friend Adrienne Rich, by doing a dramatic reading of her “Love Poem.” The poem was published in all its erotic glory in Ms. Magazine in 1974! (Warrior Poet, 139)

An Invitation


I will be reading Lorde’s poem among others at the forthcoming symposium, “Will You Marry Me?” My presentation, “Sappho’s Bride: The Beloved in Same Sex Poems” will be a bouquet of love poems from my literary lineage. I’ll read in the interludes between talks. Christine Downing is our wonderful featured guest speaker, “Querying Marriage / Queering Marriage.” The other Institute member analysts who will speak are John Beebe, QiRe Ching, Carol McRae, Steven Nouriani, and Scott Wirth.

Please join us.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Green Muse

In the beginning all creatures were green and vital.
They flourished amidst flowers.
—Hildegard of Bingen



Veriditas

The world has gone green and blooming. “The Green Man” has returned. He lives in the time beyond time, dies and is reborn in the cycle that returns green to us after a long hard winter. I was getting worried, what with the drought turning California yellow and brown and the Polar Vortex in the Mid-west and East leaving snow on the ground into April.

I used to wonder why old people take up gardening. Now I understand. As one’s body goes dry and brittle one lusts for “The Green Man”—the young sap rising, the bud and blossom that promise that life will go on even if we ourselves must face our mortality.

At our house, it’s Dan who tends the roses. I am giddy with the bounty he keeps bringing in from the garden—gorgeous red, yellow, pink, and white blooms bring joy to tables and bureaus, celebrate gods and goddesses, express the wisdom of Hildegard, who married two words—“green” and “truth” to coin the word “veriditas,” describing the moment God heals you with a plant.

Lakshmi with Roses

My 93 year old mother in Indiana, who is confused about who she is and where, understands the miracle of “veriditas.” She tracks the weather, tracks the state of the trees, tells me in our weekly phone calls about the snow, the wind, the cold that kept her trapped indoors for weeks. She describes the winter trees, how bare they are—no leaves, no blossoms. And yet she muses, they are beautiful, doing their naked dance in the wind. Last Sunday she told me she could see green leaves emerging. There was joy in her voice.


Wild Grass and Cherry Blossoms 

Twenty-five years ago when I was working on my first book, The Motherline, I stumbled across the work of Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist who argued for a new psychological paradigm of “biohistorical continuity.” His ideas were informed by his study of survivors of the atomic blast in Hiroshima. I quoted from his book, The Broken Connection:
Immediately after the bomb fell the most terrifying rumor among the many that swept the city was that trees, grass, and flowers would never again grow in Hiroshima. The image contained in that rumor was of nature drying up altogether, life being extinguished at its source, an ultimate form of desolation that not only encompassed human death but went beyond it. The persistent and continuing growth of wild “railroad grass”…was perceived as a source of strength. And the subsequent appearance of early spring buds, especially those of the March cherry blossoms, symbolized the detoxification of the city and (in the words of the then mayor) “a new feeling of relief and hope.”
I wrote: “It is fitting that those who survived the atomic bomb would be the ones to remind us of the simple and profound truth that we are children of the earth, participants in seasonal cycles, dependent upon the continuity of plant and animal life for our own lives.“ We are approaching Earth Day three generations since the bombing of Hiroshima. Our fears have shifted from nuclear war to catastrophic climate change. As a culture we’ve come no closer to honoring the essential truth which Lifton named. Psychologists have been busy inventing new terms to express the wounds we suffer as a result of our dislocation from the natural world. Here are a couple:
Solastalgia is a term coined by Glenn Albrecht, an Austrialian environmental philosopher. A mash-up of “solace, “desolation, and “nostalgia,” it describes the inability to derive comfort from one’s home due to negative environmental change. 
Nature Deficit Disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv that human beings, especially children, are spending less time out of doors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
If you recognize these disorders in yourself or those you love, please save the date, Nov. 5th 2014. My fellow writers Leah Shelleda, Patricia Damery, Frances Hatfield and I will be doing a writing workshop, Wounded Earth, Wounded Psyche, at the Jung Institute in San Francisco. We will address the need to find language to express our experiences of climate change, our grief, fear and hope for our mother earth.

The Green Man

The Green One

There is a danger that we can become so paralyzed by our “Solastalgia,” so trapped in our “Nature Deficit Disorder” that we don’t take in the beauty of the trees leafing, the roses blooming, don’t experience the earth as fragrant and alive, don’t hear birds singing or bees buzzing, don’t feel the joy the survivors of Hiroshima felt at the sight of wild grass and cherry blossoms, or the joy I heard in my mother’s voice describing the greening trees. We need the truth of green and the green of truth that Hildegard called “veriditas.” We need that vegetative god the pagans call “The Green Man” or “Jack’o Green.” We need “The Green One” of Islamic Sufism, who is a ‘mediating principle between the imaginary and physical world and a voice of inspiration to artists.’ We need to be healed by plants.

“The Green One” needs our worship, our love, our joy, He leaps into poems, demanding my attention, taking me out of historical time and into the “time before time” or picking me up on his camel, and bringing back my toddler self to feel the joy of spring. Here he is in a section of my poem, “A Creation Story,” about Mesululu who created the world, made mountains, made valleys, made oceans, made children, made bear eagle coyote whale, but was still lonely:

What was it she needed?
What would made her glad?

She played with her hair
She played with her own sweet spot
Til she shimmered and flowed and lo!
A Green Man appeared. He had leaves

For hair and leaves for clothes
And shimmer and glow for his eyes
His name was Abradabra…
It was he

Who tossed his shoe
Into that big old empty
Who stirred life into Mesululu
Sang her song to the stars

Made her laugh
Which flowed her hair
Into rivers and hills
Which shimmered her breath

Into flickering fire and the children
Sit round it and laugh, remembering
How their parents would argue about
Who came first, who made whom


You who’ve forgotten the fire
You who’ve forgotten the hair of your Mother
Her shimmer her flow
And the glow in the Green Man’s eyes

You who belong to your cars
To your hand held devices, your face book wall
I wish you the Green Man’s spell
I wish you the web of the Mother

May he fill your dreams with whales and coyotes
May she braid herself into your breath
May you sit round a flickering fire
And remember how lonely you are
For shimmer and flow
For forest and river
For bobcat and salmon and snake
For Abradabra and Mesululu

For the magical time before time
When you came from below the beyond
                                 (published in The Faust Woman Poems)

The Sufi Green One leapt into my poem when I was reading Rumi. He is associated with Khidr, which means “The Green One,” an inner figure in Islamic mysticism, a kind of spirit guide. The poem took me places I did not expect to go, which is, I guess, the nature of “The Green One.” I was further surprised and pleased that “The Green One” found its way into a literary magazine, Minetta Review. May “The Green One” take up residence with you.


The Green One 

has taken up residence
in my garden     bursts out
of the pruned roses    tosses laughter
into the fountain     flings hummingbirds

into the shimmering        He disdains
the clock      insists it’s time
for me to learn his dervish whirl
in the meadow after rain     He has no patience

for my aching joints      forgetting that I’m no
excited toddler      reaching for the bright
beyond the trees          He refuses to distinguish
between this life

and the ones I have imagined
the ones I’ve dreamt
in which I wander ancient lands
hand in hand with    The Green One

who lets the sun into my winter cave
who whirls me out of time’s confines
who makes the sap rise
who makes the lilies of the valley speak

in their forgotten tongues      He’s crow
on a branch above my head    He laughs
because I don’t know how
to ride the rapture currents

to the thunder world    He leaves me dazed
confused and soaking wet    then rides by on a camel
scoops me up     carries me off to his tent     his hookah visions
of a garden with a fountain laughing

among roses    a humming bird that hovers
in the shimmering     and I am
an excited toddler
reaching for the bright beyond
                                                   the trees

Khidr 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Find your Muse in Santa Fe

On April 25 & 26, 2014 the New Mexico Society of Jungian Analysts presents a lecture and workshop by Naomi Ruth Lowisnky

Lecture: Self Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption 
Workshop: Speak, Muse: A Day with the Sister from Below


About the Presenter
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Ph.D. lives at the confluence of the River Psyche and the Deep River of poetry. Her book, The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way tells stories of her pushy muse. She is the co-editor, with Patricia Damery, of the new collection Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way. She is also the author of four books of poetry, including the Faust Woman Poems. Her poetry and prose has been widely published and she is the winner of the Obama Millennium Award. She is an analyst member of the San Francisco Institute and has for years led a writing circle there, called Deep River.
April 25 - Lecture: Self Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption

"Let us build the bond of community so that the living and the dead image will become one and the past will live on in the present…." C.G. Jung                      

"Often I have such a great longing for myself. I know that the path ahead still stretches far; but in my best dreams I see the day when I shall stand and greet myself." Rainer Maria Rilke

When you lose three children, your home and your country, how do you go on? If you are Emma Hoffman, a gifted painter in the impressionist tradition, you paint. Those paintings continue to speak of the redemptive power of art to Hoffman's granddaughter, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky. Years ago, when she was in analytic training at the San Francisco Institute, Lowinsky had a dream in which she was told: "On your way to Jung's house you must first stop at your grandmother's house and gather some of her paintings."

Lowinsky was the first child born in the New World to a family of German Jewish refugees from the Shoah. She had a special tie with her only surviving grandparent, whom she knew as Oma. Oma taught her that making art can be a way to transmute grief, a way to bear the unbearable. A series of self-portraits, portraits of family, landscapes, interior scenes of the houses in which she lived, reflects her lamentations, her wandering, her search for redemption. Lowinsky understood her dream to mean that she had to follow the path of her own creativity. She did not know then that the dream would turn out to be literally true as well. She would need to put her art - her poetry - at the service of her grandmother's paintings. Her grandmother's spirit would demand it. Her opus would need to intersect with her Oma's, and together they'd make their way to Jung's house.

This presentation is the result of an ongoing dialogue between Hoffman and Lowinsky's art. She will weave together Emma Hoffman's story and paintings, her own poetry and prose, and her reflections on Jung's Red Book as an example of the "art of lament and redemption," a form she calls "Jungian Memoir."

April 26, 2014 - Workshop: Speak, Muse: A Day with the Sister from Below

"The spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self existing being." C.G. Jung

In this writing workshop Naomi Ruth Lowinsky will introduce her muse, the shape shifting Sister from Below, and invite her to inspire your writing practice. With the Sister's help she will facilitate an imaginative encounter with the stuff of your inner and outer life - your own Jungian Memoir.

The "Sister from Below" is a fierce inner figure. She emerges out of reverie, dream, a fleeting memory, a difficult emotion - she is the moment of inspiration - the muse. This Sister is not about the ordinary business of life: work, shopping, making dinner. She speaks from other realms. If you'll allow, She'll whisper in your ear, lead your thoughts astray, fill you with strange yearnings, get you hot and bothered, send you off on some wild goose chase of a daydream, eat up hours of your time. She's a siren, a seductress, a shape-shifter . . . Why listen to such a troublemaker? Because She is essential to the creative process: She holds thekeys to the doors of our imaginations and deeper life - the evolution of Soul.

Lecture and Workshop are open to those who write and those who want to - bring pen, notebook, and a brown bag lunch.

Lecture
Friday, April 25, 2014
7:00 9:00 pm
$10 2 CEUs

Workshop
Saturday, April 26, 2014
10am 4:30pm
$80 6 CEUs

Location
Center for Spiritual Living
505 Camino de los Marquez
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505

For information contact Jacqueline Zeller Levine 1-505-989-1545 jzlevine8@gmail.com

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including 
Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, 
and a growing list of alternative titles.