Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Muse of Catastrophe

The Sister from Below Announces a New Series: 
The Poetry of Resistance

Hermes, Greek God of thievery, writing, roads, and more


The way of women    is our way      The moon swells
the moon goes dark    pulling the tides   in and out
The way of the trees    is our way      So raise up
your branches   sisters   for we are one   gathering
Soon sap   will rise   apple trees flower

We’ll weave us a canopy   all over this land
It will be uprising time   once again
 in America
                        Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

                               “Wishing in the Woods   With Hillary”



The Muse of Catastrophe 

But who can resist this all–engulfing force…? Only one who is firmly rooted not only in the outside world but also in the world within.
                                          C.G. Jung

Thoth, Egyptian God of Writing

In early 1933 Jung gave a lecture in Germany. He spoke of a “feeling of catastrophe” in the air. We are in such a moment in America. How do we withstand the “all–engulfing force” of chaos, hysteria, terror, and rage which rampages the land? How do we stay connected to our inner life, our deep natures when we are assaulted and over–stimulated by outrageous events and disturbing threats, haunted by ancestors who were slaves, refugees from catastrophe, stateless, disenfranchised, oppressed? Catastrophe, it turns out, can be a muse. That is what the Sister from Below whispered in my heart one day when I was feeling overwhelmed and impotent, struggling to find my mode of resistance. She said: “You’re a poet. You know many fine poets. Do what poets do. Use your blog to post resistance poetry. In times of catastrophe, the people need poetry. 

But, you may ask, as did the poet H.D., “What good are your scribblings?” H.D. answers herself, in her great poem written during the catastrophe of the London blitz, “The Walls Do Not Fall:”

this—we take them with us

beyond death; Mercury, Hermes, Thoth
invented the script, letters, palette;

the indicated flute or lyre–notes
on papyrus or parchment

are magic, indelibly stamped
on the atmosphere somewhere,

forever; remember, O Sword,
you are the younger brother, the latter–bon,

your triumph, however exultant,
must one day be over,

in the beginning
was the Word.

H.D. is claiming the power of the Word over that of the Sword, the power of Creation over that of Destruction. And yet we know she wrote this during wartime, when all she held sacred was threatened and her city was in ruins. When our souls are battered, our hearts broken, is often the time when we open to the deep river flow of poetry, when we find words to “translate the dry rattle of the newscast into image and myth. Poetry says the unsayable, bears the unbearable, speaks for the voiceless, transports us into the spirit realm, the ancestor’s lodge, ushers us, in Jung’s words, through the “small and hidden door that leads inward.”

A Poem by Daniel Polikoff

The first Poem of Resistance came to me by synchronicity.  It was during the recent storms which caused flooding, mudslides and other disruptions in Northern California. The national news was disturbing, causing political storms and public displays of resistance all over the country. At the time I was in dialogue with the Sister from Below, about catastrophe as muse, about poetry as medicine for the soul, about devoting my blog, for the duration, to Poems of Resistance, when a beautiful poem showed up in my e-mail, by Daniel Polikoff. I knew when I read it that I wanted it to open this series.

The weather and the news remind us of Biblical stories of catastrophe as an expression of God's wrath. This is where Polikoff goes in his poem, only his focus is on a "heavenly mother...weeping/for her lost children." The poem's speaker voices our grief and disorientation, and names our collective shadow, for we have "gone forth and built/sky-scratching cities," and we have "forgotten/her name." This is the voice of the prophets--those ancient poets of resistance.

Weeping Icon

Flood
February 7, 2017

Rain floods the streets and overflows
river banks and inlet sluices,
pours from the water-bearing sky
as if a heavenly mother were weeping

for her lost children. The puddle on the red-
brick patio; the streams that run
down the twin cheeks of Spring Drive;
the spreading lake that drowns the footpath—

tears, all tears. For she who bears us
endlessly in her heart
is weeping, weeping endlessly
over her children, the numberless

ones who no longer know her,
all the children who have forgotten
her name. They have gone forth
without regard; gone forth and built

sky-scratching cities; gone forth
and closed their doors against her,
locked their gates and bolted the chambers
of their steel domes. She has come

often to those proud towers; come
and rattled the gate-chains; come
and wrapped upon the heavy doors
of their bronze hearts. But they

do not choose to hear her soft
or loud alarms; dumb and unmoved,
they stand upon their feet of clay,
statues in the hall of a putrid king.

And so the widespread waters of pain,
the tears of grief and of mourning
pour from the sockets of heaven, pour
ceaselessly down, as once did

the flood that drowned the earth—
for the wrath of the Father
and the Mother's deep sorrow
will not part like ancient seas.

Daniel Joseph Polikoff is a poet and internationally recognized Rilke scholar. The most recent of his six books are Rue Rilke (a creative non-fiction account of his initiatory Rilke pilgrimage) and a new translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. Daniel lives with his wife and family in Mill Valley, and will be teaching a course at Pacifica Graduate Institute this spring. For more information see danielpolikoff.com

"Tower of Babel" by Lucas van Valckenborch

Announcement

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky will be a speaker, along with Steven Nouriani and Carolyn Bray on The Role of the Divine Feminine in the Transformation of Consciousness. The program will take place on March 18th at the SF Jung Institute, 9:30 -1:30. We need Her right about now. Please join us.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Muse of Hillary



A woman on fire is a wonderful thing if you are dreaming of a bright new future. Burning Woman is…a trail–blazer for those of us who dream beyond the strangulation of patriarchy.
—Lucy Pearce, Burning Woman


Wishing for Hillary

Approaching the winter solstice—longest night—I long for Hillary. I miss her on the radio. I miss her thoughtful, policy wonkish voice. I miss her on TV, her radiance, her ability to laugh at herself, that little shimmy she did during a debate, when her opponent blamed her yet again, it seemed, for all the ills of the world. I watched her intently during the debates. I saw the fire burning deep within her, a fire cultivated throughout her life, since she was a young feminist leader at Wellesley in the late ‘60s. I watched her take on the bully, refuse his bait, ignore his jabs, take a deep breath and deftly pull the rug out from under him. She became my hero—a warrior woman.

During the dark days of the endless election campaign, I held myself together by reading and writing political poetry. I needed to remind myself that others had gone through dark days. Some survived, some did not. I needed to make sense of what we are going through in the way that poems do, through wild associations, leaps of imagination, mythic stories, slant– wise truth. After we lost Hillary for president my daughter sent me a link to a Facebook post: A young mother, baby daughter on her back, had met Hillary in the woods the day after the election, and taken a selfie. I was moved by that photo. Hillary was still in the world, though not on stage, not on TV. She was a woman walking in the woods with her husband and her dogs. That’s when she became my muse. I dealt with my grief and fury by working compulsively on a poem about her, about women in patriarchy, about women’s sacred circles in the woods, about our archetypal connections to the trees, the earth and the seasons.

I read this poem recently, at a poetry reading on the Northside of the UC Berkeley campus, my Alma Mater, my old stomping grounds. [Many years ago] I used to live on the Northside, walk to campus, leaving my young baby with a sitter. I realized, reading my Hillary poem, that I had come full circle in my life, for two members of the [very] consciousness raising group that had blown open the top of my head in the late ‘60s and made me a feminist, were there, that evening. Hillary was their hero too. I give you the poem I read that night, in the hope that it will speak to you who miss Hillary, who mourn her, and our country.


Wishing in the Woods   With Hillary

I wish you’d surprise me in the woods    Hillary as you did
that young mother    baby daughter on her back    the day after we lost you
for president    She took a selfie    My daughter sent me the link
Who will we be without you    in your moon bright pantsuit?
Who will stand up to the strongman    when Michelle and Barack
walk out of the White house    and speak to us only in dreams?

My wish is to see you among trees      their leaves gone gold
and crimson    or dry and dead on the earth    Your little dog
will sniff me    And you    who’ve been pilloried
your goodness debunked    as though working
for women and children    lacks gravitas    As though gravitas
is a loaded scrotum    whose natural enemy    is a woman with powers

Mother trudged from father’s study   to kitchen    to bathroom
and back when he whistled   I kid you not   He whistled   She typed
his manuscripts    cooked    bathed children   darned socks   Hillary
She was the air we breathed    the water we swam in
the earth we walked on    our hearth   our heart beat
Her powers invisible    to the kingdom of men    But O

she was fierce   about voting for you in ‘08
Now she’s lost   her way in the woods
lost my name   your fame   lost the whole world
of visible powers   lost to the outcry
the pandemonium    the kids walking out
of their schools shouting   “Not Our President”

The trees raise their boughs    and prophesy
When the moon comes closer to earth
than it’s been since the year you were born
the haters will crawl out from under their rocks
the “white only” nation come out of the woodwork
You won’t know whose country you’re in


Maybe our time is over   Hillary   All that e-mail evil
because you’re attached to your old familiar   that Blackberry
you refuse to waste time    learning new smartphones    I’m with you
But my dear   the world is passing us by   That young mother
in the woods    after we lost you for president    posted you
and her baby daughter on Facebook    It went viral   My daughter sent me the link

Hillary   my wish is to surround you   with sisters
of the secret grove   We’ll sit in a circle   kiss the earth
with our holiest lips   We’ll lift up our hands and pray
for your healing our healing the healing   of the dis–
respected    disaffected   molested   undocumented   Jim Crowed
And let’s not forget   the trees   the bees   the buffalo

We’ll breathe into our bellies    Our backbones grow
into strong tree trunks   our roots descend   While I’m wishing
let’s throw in a chorus of frogs   and the smell
of the earth after rain   For it’s downgoing time    in America
underworld time   time to hide out in a cave
How I wish for your company in the dark    Hillary

We’ll make a fire   talk story   remember our mothers’
invisible powers    Maybe we’ll sink into dreamtime   Maybe Michelle
will visit   She’ll wear a wonderful dress    remind us of grace   of joy
She’ll speak from her heart   Though the weather’s becoming
a banshee goddess    Though the “white only” nation
is trolling the web    Though the emperor elect


is tweeting our doom   My wish is   Remember
The way of women    is our way     The moon swells
the moon goes dark   pulling the tides   in and out
The way of the trees    is our way   So raise up
your branches   sisters   for we are one   gathering
Soon sap   will rise   apple trees flower

We’ll weave us a canopy   all over this land
It will be uprising time   once again
               in America


My Lady Tree

In my just published book, The Rabbi, theGoddess, and Jung: Getting the Word from Within, the symbolic meaning of the tree is revealed as I contemplate a painful childhood experience. Here is a section from the first chapter of the book:

I am haunted by a memory. When I was five or six I once drew a female figure—her arms reached upward; her feet were the roots of a tree; she was numinous to me. I called her my “Lady Tree.” Proudly, I showed her to my father. He was a college professor, a musicologist. He could make music shine. He could make a Renaissance painting radiant with his words, even to the eyes of a young child. But he couldn’t see the beauty of my “Lady Tree.”

“That’s silly,” he said. “Is it a bull?” The hurt of that moment is still palpable. I imagine we can all remember moments like that, when our young spirits were crushed. Looking back I can see that my “Lady Tree” was a living symbol for me, an archetype that would shape my life and my fate. I had no idea then that the “Lady Tree” was both the goddess and her priestess, that she was sacred to the old religion in which the feminine is worshiped, that she was a divinity who would seek her way into flesh through me and many others of my time. I had no idea there was an ancient “Celtic Tree Alphabet” which Robert Graves argued was a secret code by which poets handed down their worship of the forbidden White Goddess. I had no idea that in Africa, a young man, Malidoma Somé—who was to become a well known shaman—would see the Goddess in the Tree, while undergoing his initiatory rites. He would recognize Her body glowing with green, as an expression of Her “immeasurable love.” I had no idea that the goddess was associated with trees in cultures all over the world, no idea that in the Middle Ages the tree was addressed with the honorific “Lady,” or that Hildegard of Bingen had married two words—“green” and “truth” to coin the word “veriditas,” to describe the moment God heals you with a plant. I had no idea that the Tree of Life was the sacred glyph of Jewish mysticism, or that I would spend much of my life reclaiming the living symbol of my “Lady Tree”—she would come to me in dreams, in life, in poems—she was the primordial form of my shape-shifting muse, “The Sister from Below.”

I had no idea that just a few years later I would find a tree to sit in—an oak—which would become my friend, my familiar, and in its branches I would begin to write poems. I had no idea I was becoming an oak-seer, haunted by the spiritual world of the Druids…

How could I have known then, that I was not only carrying the wound of a little girl whose father mocked her “Lady Tree,” I was carrying the wound of generations of women held in a patriarchal worldview that cut them off from their primordial roots in the earth, their arms that reached for the sky.


The Motherline, Redux

I was recently approached by two writers, Melia Keeton–Digby, whose book is called TheHeroines Club: A Mother–Daughter Empowerment Circle and Vanessa Olorenshaw, whose book is Liberating Motherhood:Birthing the Purple Stockings Movement. They both had been influenced by my book, The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots, first published a generation ago. They hoped I would give them a blurb. They were being published by Womancraft Publishing, which is committed “to sharing powerful new women’s voices.”

I had no idea anyone was still reading my book. I hadn’t known of the press, or that there were women, younger than my children, writing exciting feminist books that reach down to the ancient roots of the feminine. The founder of Womancraft Publishing, Lucy Pearce, I learned, has written a powerful book called Burning Woman, in whose acknowledgements I was flattered to find my own name. I gather from the titles of her books that she shares the passions that moved me to write The Motherline, about which my daughters used to tease: “Mommy writes about the moon and the womb.”

I want to share this good news with those of you who mourn Hillary, who, like these writers, is a passionate feminist committed to improving the lives of women and children. There will be a new day after the longest night. There is a future for feminist writing that honors the archetypal feminine. The Goddess has not been forgotten.


The Heroines Club: A Mother–Daughter Empowerment Circle by Melia Keeton–Digby. 

Keeton–Digby understands the magic of the sacred circle, of story, of the talking stick. She knows that girls need heroines, need a relationship with their mothers “based on love and mutuality.” She has created a curriculum for a circle that meets once a month for a year. She has chosen twelve diverse heroines, each of whom stands for psychological theme. Among her heroines—my heroines too—are Frida Kahlo, “I Express My Feelings in Healthy Ways,” Ann Frank, “I Am Resilient in the Face of Adversity,” Malala Yousafzai, “I Am Worthy,” and Maya Angelou, “I Speak My Truth.”

Keeton–Digby writes clear and easily understandable instructions for the circles, in an intimate personal tone, based on the archetypal circle of women and the mother–daughter bond—held sacred in the Eleusinian Mystery religion and in matriarchal cultures. I wish there had been such circles when I was a girl, when my daughters were girls.


Here is the blurb I wrote for The Heroines Club:
Melia Keeton–Digby has created a wise ritual, rooted in ancient practices and invoking the issues of our times. The Heroines Club brings relational sensitivity and a fierce fighting spirit to the support of mother–daughter bonding, the creation of community, the calling forth of the Motherline and the honoring of a pantheon of heroines who inspire women’s empowerment as well as their psychological and spiritual development. A blessing for women and girls. I hope the Heroines Club will travel the world.


Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purple Stockings Movement by Vanessa Olorenshaw.

Olorenshaw is a sharp–tongued critic of the patriarchy and of capitalism. She’s burning mad about the denial of women’s power, disrespect for the work of mothering and the deification of the bottom line. She writes passionately of the profound experiences of embodied motherhood:
From the power of our bodies to create life and give birth, to the nurturing of our children we, as mothers, touch something outside the ‘machine’ of modern economic existence.
She dares to criticize feminism’s devaluation of motherhood:
So the work of pregnancy, birth and motherhood are overlooked in our culture (by many feminists and patriarchs alike) but so too are the joys, beauty, power, majesty and spirit.


She writes in an intimate sister to sister tone, and has a wicked sense of humor:
One biological feature that defines us as mammals is our mammary glands. They sustained our species for tens of thousands of years. Yet, the way Western culture reacts to our breasts, you’d think that they had been invented by the porn industry in 1970.
Here’s my blurb:
“The time for a mother movement has arrived,” proclaims Vanessa Olorenshaw, in her smart, funny, provocative and highly political manifesto, Liberating Motherhood. She confronts the fear and loathing of the female body, which undermines a woman’s pleasure in her glorious mammalian body. She argues that a woman’s choice should include staying home with her children without being impoverished. What a radical—in the sense of having deep roots—idea!
Liberating Motherhood is a breath of fresh air in a culture deadened by the soulless grip of the money machine. Olorenshaw’s call to mothers to honor the mysteries of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and childrearing, brings joy to the heart of this old feminist. Olorenshaw is a “Purplestocking”—her phrase—a “maternal feminist” intellectual who honors women’s life–giving power and remembers when the Great Mother ruled heaven and earth. So, all you mothers, grandmothers and children of mothers, read Liberating Motherhood, pull on your purple stockings and join the revolution: #MothersOfTheWorldUnite!


Burning Woman by Lucy H. Pearce

Though I didn’t write a blurb for this profound book, I want to praise it. Burning Woman, Pearce writes, is a lost archetype of the feminine. We know her in her negatives form, she is the pilloried, despised, feared witch, bitch, heretic, whore of the “burning times,” burned “simply for speaking [her] own truth.” We hear our latest witch hunt in the chant “Lock her up!” at the rallies of our president elect. But who is she in her positive form? Listen to Pearce:
Burning Woman is she who is inflamed by her own direct connection to the Feminine life force. She who dares to follow her own vision, who speaks up and tells her own stories. She naturally sails counter to what she has been taught…The process of unlearning is long, as she learns to uncover her own authentic source to life’s power, and claims her own authority to navigate her life according to her inner flame…
She has often been depicted in the forms of the dark goddesses: Kali, Medusa, Oshun and Hecate. When she is given her way, she gives birth to the world.
Is this a way of understanding what happened to Hillary and to us? Why her loss feels so unbearable? As though we were all expecting the birth of a divine girl child, and suffered a miscarriage?

And yet, all is not lost. I remember feeling an unbearable loss when The Motherline went out of print. Years later, my wonderful publisher Fisher King Press, reissued it, with a beautiful cover painting by my dear friend Sara Spaulding–Phillips, a cover that put the Lady Tree and the Motherline together in one image. It was read by a new generation of feminists with roots in the archetypal.


Burning Woman is grounded in a Jungian sensibility. Pearce writes that she has been researching lost archetypes of the feminine for many years. Pearce sees Burning Woman as “the archetypal Feminine we all have within us from birth, one we are programmed to be, and our role is to unwrap ourselves…” I recognize that process in my own development, and in that of the women with whom I work. One of the forms of the Self, for a woman, is Burning Woman. Pearce writes:
The process of embodying Feminine Power has a distinct pattern and structure that our bodies instinctively know. It is not the pyramid of masculine power, but the endless flowing of the spiral. It will lead you in and out of the darkness and towards the fire.
I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote the poem I gave you, dear reader, “Wishing in the Woods With Hillary.” But if you look at it again, you will see the pattern Pearce describes. Hillary is our Burning Woman in both senses. She represents Feminine power lighting our way in the woods, and in the world.




Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Muse of Inwardness

The Sister from Below is delighted to announce the publication of


by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky


We’ve volunteered, ecstatically volunteered, to place these illuminated rectangles between ourselves and the world. How eagerly and expensively we buckled, surrendered the immediacy of experience, the tactile facts of our being, to a battery–operated autocrat. I ponder the spiritual helplessness, the puncture at the hub of us, that facilitated such a happy vassalage…The way…literary art responds is not by attempting to compete with it…Literary art responds by remaining steadfastly itself…, by honoring its responsibility to inwardness…—William Giraldi in Poets and Writers  Sept/Oct. 2016
The Rabbi, the Goddess and Jung, a book of essays written in tribute to the depths and the riches of Jungian Psychology—how it helps us get the “word from within”— enters the world at a time when most of us get the word from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, when the suck of all those e–mails demands our response before we write down that dream or take time to listen for the still small voice of the soul. As William Giraldi says, we are in thrall to our “illuminated rectangles.” I was moved to read his passionate defense of inwardness. I think it is not only literary art that needs to remain “steadfastly itself,” but Jungian Psychology, which does the subversive work of countering the dominant culture, honoring the “word from within” and the practice of tracking the dream. As Jung tells it in The Red Book, being a slave to “the spirit of the times” can annihilate the soul. A descent to the “the spirit of the depths” can release the spiral serpent of wisdom and creativity.


A powerful example of creativity in the service of inwardness can be seen in the paintings of Jane Zich. Her magical painting “Visionary 3” graces the cover of The Rabbi, and she tells me, just won First Place in an exhibit titled “Introspection” put on by the Marin Society of Artists. Apparently there are others who value such soul work.

The essays in The Rabbi seek to create a sanctuary for the soul, to demonstrate the ways in which cultivation of one's inner life creates sacred space. Admitting that this is not an easy practice in our hectic, fearful times, I seek to show how the word from within orients—whether it comes as gift or disturbance, guest or ghost, riddle or revelation. It may force a confrontation with one’s worst fears. It may visit in nightmare images, such as the enormous spider with hairy legs and eight baleful eyes that appeared in a dream, come to warn, it would seem, of the perils facing human nature and Mother Nature.

It is essential, especially in difficult times, to make space for what the Kabbalah calls “the beyond that lies within—” the still small voice of the Self, the long view of the wisdom traditions. In this collection of poetic, visionary essays, I tell stories of the Lady Tree who showed up when I was six, and has wandered in and out of my life, revealing her Goddess nature. Active imagination enables me to work out unfinished business with ancestors including my father and Jung. Dreams introduce me to my spirit guides, and to a dancing rabbi who insists I study Kabbalah. And that scary spider turns out to be Grandmother Spider, a creator goddess who has the power, if we recognize Her, to help us reweave our relationship with earth.


Here’s a foretaste of the book:

Introduction


Dreams pave the way for life, and they determine you 
without your understanding their language.[1]

A long time ago, when I was a candidate at the San Francisco Jung Institute, I dreamt a large lion prowled the Jung Institute Library. He told me he loved me. He told me he would eat me. That’s a good summary of my story. For I have, indeed, been devoured by the fierce, wild energy of the living psyche as Jung understood it. Leo is my sun sign and my rising sign, astrologically. That lion is part of my nature.

It sounds painful to be eaten by a lion, to be torn apart by great teeth, to do time inside the dark gut of a predator. But what better description for how it feels when life forces you to surrender your conscious intent, throws you into the chaos of not knowing who you are or where you are going? Jungians—borrowing from alchemy—call this “the nigredo,”—the dark night of the soul. It happens in most people’s lives and in most long Jungian analyses. It has happened, many times over, in mine.

I have learned, as in the famous story Martin Buber tells about himself, that I didn’t have to account to God or my analyst for why I wasn’t Moses, or for that matter, Jung. I had to account for why I wasn’t Naomi. On the way to becoming myself, I came to see that though the library was my true habitat, I wasn’t a big idea person, a great thinker and theorist. It was my calling as a writer and as an analyst to bring ideas into the living flesh of personal experience in a poetic way.

It’s not enough to figure out your calling, your true nature. You have to know what time it is in your life. I was certified as a Jungian Analyst in my 50th year. An intense period of study and psychological work—of being digested by the lion of my own nature—had come to fruition. It was time to reclaim my writing life, which had been put aside while raising my family, developing a practice, and becoming a Jungian Analyst. So proclaimed my Muse, The Sister from Below.

Now, in my 70s, I am informed by the chorus of inner figures who bring me word from within, that it’s another kind of time in my life. Time to lie down with the lion and reflect on the journey; time to express my gratitude for the gifts of the Jungian Way—access to dreams and inner figures, access to the source of the word from within—my own wild and fierce creative spirit. It is harvest time—time to gather the fruits of my work and offer them as soul food to my community.

To that end, I have organized nine of my uncollected essays in this volume. As I’ve worked with these pieces—written over a period of fifteen years—I’ve been amused to see how the living symbols in my psyche have engaged and possessed me over the years. The Rabbi shows up early and shifts forms dramatically. So do the Goddess, the Lady Tree, and Jung. Words are magic, and getting the word from within is a spiritual practice, as are wild leaps into poetry.

Most of these essays were first published in Psychological Perspectives and the Jung Journal. One is a chapter in a book I co–edited with Patricia Damery, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way. These are stories of my Jungian way, as an analysand, as an “apprentice to the alchemist”—Jung’s term for the process of terminating an analysis—as a dreamer, a tree and goddess worshipper, a conflicted Jew, a conflicted Jungian, a mystic and a poet. I offer them to you, dear reader, in the hope they will support your own practice of getting the word from within.



[1] C.G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 233.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

News from the Muse: The Muse of Gathering

The Muse of Gathering 


Beyond the open window
the edges of the leaves,
a river of earth and sky
spinning like Sufi women
surrounded by morning glories
and galaxies.
—Diane Frank


Lost and Found in Poetry Land

Once in awhile a book comes along that changes how you gather your life. The anthology, River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty–First Century, selected by Diane Frank, published in 2015, is such a book. Poetry is a solitary practice. I’m used to sitting alone in my study, talking to inner figures, listening to the intensities of my muse. But as I wound my way through this luminous, soul–stirring gathering of poems, I found myself in the company of so many kindred spirits—some I knew, most I did not— that it occurred to me, I had found my tribe. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, given that Diane Frank, the editor of Blue Light Press, had chosen my chapbook, The Little House On Stilts Remembers, along with Lucy Day’s Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems, to share the Blue Light Poetry Prize in 2015. But that welcome recognition is a different experience from the long meander along the river of poems Frank selected. Rounding each bend I was surprised and delighted, as earth met sky in many voices and moods, with striking imagery, musicality, sensuality and a flow of themes that resonate with my own passions. The poems are illuminated with striking artwork by Melanie Gendron, and a lush cover image of naked female figures among trees and birds, in shades of green, blue and earth tones, called “Nurturing Forest.” Under the spell of this collection, I found myself musing about anthologies, how certain of them can define an epoch, a poetic movement, a change in consciousness, how certain ones have been significant sign posts along my way.

It’s easy to get lost in Poetry Land. There are so many literary publications in print and on line, so many poets, well known and not, so many poetry readings in small cafes and big auditoriums. It’s easy to get confused about where you are, who your people are, who your ancestors are, as you wander through your years of apprenticeship—for poetry is a hard task master, requiring endless study and devotion. It never ceases to amaze me how many fine poets are writing today, and how many of them are women. In our wealth and celebrity mad culture they devote themselves to poetry for no money and little glory. River of Earth and Sky testifies to this brilliant flowering.

“Flower Mandala,” Melanie Gendron*
*Note: all the titled art in this blog is by Melanie Gendron, and was published in River of Earth and Sky. 
Art in color here appears in black and white in the anthology.

How did this happen? Three poetry anthologies mark the sea change poetry has experienced in my writing lifetime. They trace my long meander in Poetry Land, gather my songlines, trace my obsessions. The word anthology comes from the Greek, meaning flower gathering. Anthologies, also known as garlands, go back two thousand years, more if you think of the Bible as such a gathering. The fourth anthology, River of Earth and Sky, feels like a homecoming, a promised land. It gave me the gift of an epiphany: I saw my path in four anthologies. I want to share with you the fruits of this gathering.

The New American Poetry
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self–conscious looking at the full moon. 
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! 
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
—Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”

If you’re of my generation, a fellow traveler in Poetry Land, you likely know this anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960, edited by Donald M. Allen and published in 1960. It gathered poems from what Allen calls the third generation of 20th century American poets. The first generation are the modernists—Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens etc. The second generation includes Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Kenneth Rexroth, and Louis Zukofsky. The third generation, writes Allen, is “our avant–garde…Many are closely allied to modern jazz and abstract expressionist painting.” They include the Black Mountain Poets, the Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, the New York Poets, and assorted others. These poets cracked open the idea of the poem; they made a mash up of high and low culture, vulgar talk and high flown phrases. They believed that form and rhythm should emerge organically, that imagination was poetry’s chariot. Thus Allen Ginsberg meets Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca in a Berkeley supermarket in 1955.

When I was an undergraduate in English Literature at Berkeley, lost and unseen in academia, this anthology helped me gather my influences. My father’s first job in this country had been at Black Mountain College, which hired many refugee German Jews like him. I was a baby, a toddler, a little girl in the heady environment of that radical school in the mid 1940s. The famous poets, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, had not yet arrived. But there was an atmosphere of creative exploration and political courage. My parents led the effort to desegregate the college, the first school in the South to do so. With Allen’s exciting anthology in hand, I decided I was a Black Mountain Poet, though those writers were a generation older than I, their poetry was written during my childhood, and I met them only in their books, which still grace my book shelves and inform my work.

As a teenager in Berkeley, under the spell of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, I wore black stockings, prowled Telegraph Ave.—a wannabe Beat—entranced by what Ginsberg, writing a statement about his poetics in the New American Poetry, calls the “Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath” which inspired him. “The first section typed out madly one afternoon, a huge sad comedy of wild phrasing, meaningless images for the beauty of abstract poetry of mind running along making awkward combinations like Charlie Chaplin’s walk, long saxophone–like chorus lines…really a new poetry.” This was a poetry of music, magic, image, the collision and collusion of the quotidian, the taboo, and the sacred. That’s what I wanted to write.

I am struck, looking at my 50 plus year old copy of The New American Poetry—which cost $2.95—that the one poet I marked with an asterisk in blue ink in the Table of Contents was Denise Levertov. There are few women in this gathering of poets. I must have been so hungry to find a woman ancestor. I marked her poem, “The Goddess,” with a blue arrow.
She in whose lipservice
I passed my time
whose name I knew, but not her face… 
flung me across the room…
I did not yet know it, but that would be my story.

"Inner Glance"

News of the Universe: Poems of the Twofold Consciousness
Oh friend, we arrived too late. The divine energies
Are still alive, but isolated above us, in the archetypal world…
What is living now? Night dreams of them. But craziness
Helps, so does sleep. Grief and Night toughen us…
Poets…are like the holy disciple of the Wild One
Who used to stroll over the fields through the whole divine night.
—Friedrich Hölderin/1800
from “Bread and Wine, Part 7,” translated by Robert Bly.


The news from this far flung gathering, including poems from far away lands and times and places, was chosen and introduced in News of the Universe, by Robert Bly, and published in 1980. It shook the earth under my feet in Poetry Land. Bly has long been a passionate critic of the post–Enlightenment poetic stance in which “the body is exiled, the soul evaporated, the mind given executive power.” He has opened our doors and windows to let in the music and magic of poetries from all over the world. He championed language that “reaches outward to plants and metals, as well as inward to night–intelligence and sleep.” He brought me news of my German roots in poetry, writing of the importance of the Novalis–Hölderin–Goethe tradition:
Hölderin, whose poems have such immense sound, reported that the new had come; but to him the new is not irony and dislocation, but the awareness that the old non-human or non–ego energies the ancient world imagined so well were impinging again on human consciousness.
Bly notes that Freud and Jung grew up reading those German poets, which deeply influenced depth psychology’s “twofold consciousness.” Jung could have used the words of the epigraph above from Hölderin to introduce his life work. Bly uses an epigraph from Novalis for his anthology:
The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.
I did not know it yet, but it would be in that overlap between the worlds, which Bly calls the “twofold consciousness” that my poetry would flourish. What is twofold consciousness? Bly writes of how we have all, “since the rise of technology…been torn into parts so often that we can hardly grasp what an interior unity could be.” As a young woman I railed about that split between body and mind, human and animal. Bly, a prophet down from the mountain, expanded and deepened my understanding of the problem, railing that “the entire non–human world has been denied consciousness…” Twofold consciousness, then, is where inner and outer, male and female, human and animal, plant and mineral, night and day, sun and moon, heaven and earth—all the archetypal couples who lived among us before we exiled the gods and our souls—meet. Bly reminded me of what I had always known but easily forgot, that the animating desire of the poetry that moves me, the poetry I seek to write, is about healing that split—Bly calls it the “Descartes wound”— which privileges mind over body, soul and nature.

“Creation of Lovers”

The blue arrow pointing to Denise Levertov’s “The Goddess” in The New American Poetry, is the thread that gathers the three anthologies that trace my steps, for Levertov is in each one of them. In News of the Universe Levertov appears in magical abundance in several poems. In “An Embroidery (I), a fairy tale poem, we meet Rose Red and Rose White, sisters, who sing to the bear:
it is a cradle song, a loom song,
a song about marriage, about
a pilgrimage to the mountains
long ago.
The bear, we learn, is the bridegroom. Levertov draws from traditional forms a story that sings to the animal in us all:
Rose Red in a cave that smells of honey
dreams she is combing the fur of her cubs
with a golden comb.
She elegantly articulates Bly’s theme, that in order to be fully ourselves we must know our animal natures, or, to borrow from another Levertov poem, we must “Come into Animal Presence” for “Those who were sacred have remained so…”

“Moon Raven”

She Rises Like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets

We are crying for a vision…
This is our day.
Your ancestors have all arrived.
The past has arrived.
                        Behold!
                               Listen!…

This earth is in our hands
Let it fly, bird of earth and light…
—Meridel Le Sueur, “Make the Earth Bright and Thanks”



She Rises Like the Sun, published in 1989, edited by Janine Canan, brought news that was dear to my heart and soul, news that the divine energies Hölderin lamented two hundred years ago, are finding their way back to us, especially in women’s writings. Meridel Le Sueur is one of a number of women poets with Native American roots who speak for the new/old consciousness of the goddess and the earth. It is striking, from this mountain top view of my lifetime, to see how rapidly the forgotten, neglected, taboo voices of women who write to heal the split in themselves and in the culture, have found their way into the plentiful harvest of this beautiful anthology. It includes the wild, mysterious invocation of the white wolf, the Loba, by Diane di Prima, who was to become my teacher:
Oh Lady
whose hair is the willow, whose breath
is the riversong, who lopes
through the milky way, baying…
—Diane di Prima, “ The Poet Prays to the Loba”
In She Rises Like the Sun, that blue arrow returns us to Denise Levertov’s prophesy of “The Goddess,” and once again we are “flung across the room.” The Goddess, of course, insists we live in “two–fold consciousness.” Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of this eloquently in her Foreword:
In poem after poem there are moments of revelation, in which Goddess and woman partake of the same essence, when a woman finds the Goddess in herself… 
Poetry with its rhythmic cadence and imagery has a power, similar to drumming and music, to move us from ordinary reality and measureable time into that deeper place where we…have no sense of time passing.
Thus “two–fold consciousness” becomes an experience of the Unus Mundus—the one world—the divine child of all those archetypal couples—in which all things are intertwined. Janine Canan speaks to this realm of consciousness in a long, engaging Introduction:
We seem to find the poets turning Her around in their collective minds, viewing her from all angles; viewing Her from a great distance only to discover they are contained within Her. She is the earth, the grandmother, the mother, the daughter, the wife and the beloved. She is the snake, the scorpion, the dragonfly, the cat and the wolf. She is the wise one, evolution, mystery and the absence of mystery…She is all the arts…She is life and She is death. She is goodness and evil; the void and creation. She is us. She is all.

“Brigitte"

Canan sees her anthology as a gathering of “a new body of Western religious poetry,” contributing “to the creation of a new religious myth that revives a vast network of old ones.” I think she is right. In poem after poem we come into “animal presence,” we have direct experience of the divine in women’s ordinary lies. Di Prima addresses the Goddess as Loba:
Is it not in yr service that I wear myself out
running ragged among these hills, driving children
to forgotten movies?
                              “The Loba Addresses the Goddess or
                                The Poet as Priestess Addresses the Loba–Goddess.”
In Judy Grahn’s marvelous poem “The Queen of Wands,” we meet a spider:
On hot days
she pays out her line and
twirls on down
to the surface of the lake or pond
to get a little drink of water
and to wash her face. She’s such an
ordinary person…
And I am the Queen of Wands
who never went away
where would I go?
These poems are magical, incantatory, musical, mystical. They carry on the myths of the American landscape, of First People; they pray for us all, and make offerings:
In the first light
I offer cornmeal
and tobacco.
I say hello to those who came before me, and to birds
under the eaves,
and budding plants.
—Linda Hogan, “First Light”

“Isis”

River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty–First Century
The devil’s knitting needles,
these dragonflies, stitch the pond to sky. 
All magic transpires in this elemental mix.
When water or earth touches air or fire…
—Mailaika King Albrecht, “How to Kiss Fire”
"II of Wands"

We are gathered by the river, touching earth and sky, kissed by the fire of Diane Frank’s vision. She does not find it necessary to write a long Introduction to her selection of poems. Three short pithy paragraphs light our way, beginning with the condensed power of this opening sentence: “A poem is a parallel universe that creates an experience line by line.” That was certainly my experience of the poems she chose in this substantial volume, full of treasures. For me, it was as though the gifts of the three earlier anthologies descended from sky to earth in this new collection, bringing magic, music and vision into every day life. The poems “walk the medicine path” and “spin the invisible” in the words of Carre Connet’s poem “Blackberries All Dried Up Now;” they enter “The Inner Life of a Tree Becoming an Apple,” to borrow Kevin Farey’s title; they stitch two worlds together, as in Mailaika King Albrecht’s poem quoted in the epigraph above. They are musical, and often sing of music. Frank is a cellist, and many of these poems are soaked in music and dance:
Aching tones caress cheeks
curl like smoke around thick ankles.
Soaked in jazz, bodies drip
with something forgotten.
—Stefanie Renard, “Kind of Blue”
They speak for the natural world, especially for trees:
The cedar folds so many shadows
into its heart at night, yet wakes
green each morning
in a light that drops
through its stopped limbs
like a new soul.
—Alixa Doom, “Heart of Cedar”
“Tree Nymph”

The poems also speak to the agonies of history, as in Stewart Florsheim’s powerful poem. “Edith, Typing on the Balcony,” which describes a woman writing a letter to her family in America from Frankfurt, Germany, on a lovely June day in 1939, saying “today she just knows that things will get better.” Unspoken horror haunts the reader, who is also charmed by the details of Edith’s Sunday afternoon: “the piece of chocolate Herr Schmidt gave her,/who cares if he did it out of pity…” This is another way to stitch two worlds together, with “the devil’s knitting needles.”

I could go on and on, citing blazing passages from little known poets and well–known ones—Kim Addonizio, Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Centolella, among others. I want to focus on the less known voices, for one of the gifts of this collection is this offering of wondrous poems by so many amazing poets you’ve never heard of. Maybe that religious awakening Janine Canan wrote of is happening right here among us in Poetry Land.

Frank’s dedication is evocative: “For the poets of the future to discover what we saw, felt and knew during these times.” It got me wondering what a future poet might gather about our inner and outer lives, about what kind of people and poets we were. I started a list. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples and their poetic illustrations.

We love to make love:
I dreamed that the only way to heaven
was to kiss.
Kiss wide and soft lipped.
Kiss with your nose inhaling
the delicate scent of warm rice.
Don’t expect to be able
to distinguish God from your lover.
—Robin Lim, “Applying Joint Compound”
“The Kiss”

We live in the Anima Mundi, the animated world where we honor the life in all things:
Tomorrow I will be ordinary again,
but tonight my hair is made of moonlight.
—Judy Liese, “Moonlight Hair”
We love to laugh:
                                                                   my breasts
are at the breaking point, I must get them home soon,
they are starting to rebel, don’t look at them please,
alright, go ahead, but I’m warning you they’re hungry,
tired and pretty cranky…
—May Garsson, “My Unruly Breasts”
We live in a world of hurt:
White buildings mirrored in the Tigris—
damp air stagnant with derision…
This was said to have been the cradle
of civilization, where some believe
the garden of Eden flourished…
The fable interrupted now…
by the flash of Howitzers…
Palm trees toss shaggy heads and teeter.
Goats shiver in suburban yards…
The full moon rises red as a pomegranate,
aloof and indifferent to the bombing.
—Christopher Seid, “Full Moon Over Baghdad; March 19, 2003”
We suffer the degradation of the earth:
I know this grass, fashioned when the forest
was a Paleozoic maid.
Now she is crone,
taken, cut so that men can raise corn
and do a thousand hard–edged things.
—Diane Porter, “To Aranyani”
We contemplate death:
I rest my head on my own skull at night
and sleep not an inch from my death…
—Nynke Passi, “Bones”
We find divinity in the ordinary:
You like being married to a priestess?
A woman who worships all objects
that breathe light.
Starfish, plankton, holy temples.
Cracks in the sidewalk. Cracks in the heart.
—Nancy Lee Melmon, “I Want You to Know”
Mystery stings us:
The bees say the erotic is in the shadows, and nobody can love without the wound. They tell me we all need to be pierced by the mystery.
—Diane Frank, “Parachute”
The unknown, the uncanny, speaks through us:
something is watching you
from inside or out, you don’t know.
All the hairs of your body stand
at attention… You would bound away 
but there’s a feline in you
who’s caught a scent…
—June Rachuy Brindel, “Writing’s a Scary Business”
We believe in angels:
This is a poem for the angel
Who was given the privilege
Of naming the color of grass
And who jumped up and down
Waving his hand and shouting,
Green! Green! Green!
Oh! Green! Green.
—Daniel J. Langton, “My My”

“Buxom Angel”

We believe in the magic of writing, for a good poem is like:
A sturdy chest–like magic box
where a witch must have kept
mouse bones, owl feathers, vials of red
or a single shriveled left hand…
the hallowed relicts of my walk upon this earth…
We are vessels,
vaults of the vanishing underworld.
—Kim Niyogi, “Yard Sale, Venice Beach, California”
So come all you poetry lovers, readers, writers, turn off the news of our frightening times and gather by the River of Earth and Sky. It will sing to your senses, water your soul, fire up your feelings for our Mother, the earth. Tell your friends about this epoch making anthology; get the word out. The poets of tomorrow will urgently need wise words from their ancestors. Take, for example, “Artemis,” by the late June Rachuy Brindel:
You must learn to hear
           rock growing
           and the flow of sap.
Mount granite
           clutching tight with your thighs
           tremors will jet through your life channel. 
Wrap your arms around the trunk of the rowan tree
           the bark will speak to your cheek
           the forest will hold you in its breath. 
Even the ice
           of the year’s death
           can’t stop these songs. 
There is no healing
           so whole
           as this earth murmur. 
You are this moment’s daughter
           the voices of this hour
           are for you.

“Butterfly Woman”

River of Earth and Sky: Poetry Reading
A Great Good Place for Books
6120 La Salle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611 
Montclair, Oakland CA 

June 22nd, 7:30 pm

Marianne Betterly, Stewart Florsheim, Diane Frank and Alison Luterman will read.