Monday, December 29, 2014

The Muse of Synchronicity: Part I

There is only one way and that is your way, there is only one salvation and that is your salvation. You must fulfill the way that is in you.
—C.G Jung 

The Light at the Core of Darkness, C.G.Jung

The Sister from Below
is delighted to announce that
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and Lucille Lang Day
are co–winners of the
Blue Light Poetry Chapbook Contest for 2014.

Sisters of the Blue Light
Everything happens at once and forever.
—Lucille Lang Day

Behind this award, dear friends, lies a story of synchronicities. To Jungians, synchronicity is the Muse of Muses, those moments in your ordinary life when you’re touched by forever. You experience a “meaningful coincidence,” something that connects your inner world to the outer world. You’re walking in a meadow, for example, telling your companion about your dream of a coyote, when a coyote appears and engages you in that uncanny gaze across species. Your senses open to the radiant world; you feel touched by the eternal. Whatever has blocked you, whatever you’re stumbling through, opens up and your path is revealed. You can’t explain it rationally, but it is as though you are standing in the center of the kaleidoscope of your life, and suddenly all the fragments rearrange themselves into a new pattern, full of color and light.

That was how I felt when I got a phone call from Diane Frank, Chief Editor of Blue Light Press, informing me that I had won their chapbook contest, along with Lucy Day, who, unbeknownst to Diane, is a dear friend of mine. I had a visionary moment—saw how my path and Lucy’s had been interwoven over many years to culminate in this joint affirmation. I contemplated the chain of synchronicities that had brought us here. Blue Light Press, by the way, publishes visionary poetry. How fitting.

In our causality-oriented culture it is difficult to talk about such experiences without seeming slightly crazy. Jung struggled with this. He was a doctor, loved the sciences, respected causality and the scientific method of “breaking everything down into individual processes.” But, he pointed out, this attitude has the “disadvantage of obscuring the…unity of the world” which Jungians call the “Unus Mundus,” the one world in which everything is interconnected. The Unus Mundus, of course, is an ancient concept. Some call it the Tao, some call it The Tree of Life, some call it Brahman, some call it Grace. Mystics experience it, as do visionary artists. I feel so grateful to have my work published by a press that celebrates such vision.

Only the Blind Can See

Only Blind Willie Johnson
Can sing your way home

—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

For years I’ve been sending chapbooks—small poetry collections—to contests. Chapbooks are a way to gather poems, often following a theme, into a coherent shape. My poems often demand to be put together in these small books. They want to make their way into the world in a larger form that an individual poem in a literary magazine. I can’t remember how many times I’ve submitted how many chapbooks to how many presses. Sometimes I get a nice note saying my chapbook “came close.” Mostly I get form rejections. You get used to this in poetry land. Over the years I’ve come to understand that this is a function of how many wonderful poets there are writing now. All you have to do is look at the recent issue #22, of Spillway, a fine poetry magazine, edited by Susan Terris. This issue’s theme is “Muse & Music.”

Of course my muse insisted I submit poems and was delighted when my poem, “Only the Blind,” was chosen. It is one of over a hundred poems that make uncanny connections and transport the reader into enchanted realms. Many of them reach that deep place, where ordinary life touches the Unus Mundus. Being a poet in America today is, for me, an exercise in humility. Perhaps there are so many amazing visionary poets writing because in our materialistic, fame-worshiping culture there is a great collective hunger for what only the inner eye can see.

Synchronicities are often inner experiences for me, and catalysts for poems. “Only the Blind” began when I heard a piece on the radio about the early gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson, and later that day read about Isaac the Blind, the 12th Century Rabbi who, it is said, first wrote down the oral tradition of Jewish mysticism we call the Kabbala. “Only the Blind can see” was the phrase that beat in me, joined by “You have always belonged to the moon.” Music was my muse in working on this poem as it frequently is. Here’s the poem:


You have always belonged to the moon
Though sometimes it leads you astray

Past willows across the swinging bridge
To somebody’s grave by the river

Stuck in the cave of your skull
You grope for the disappeared moon

Down where it’s blue so blue
Only Blind Willie Johnson

Can sing your way home
Only Isaac the Blind can see

The banshee has got your bones
She’s beating her drum with your bones

And you’re stuck in the cave of your skull
No willows no swinging bridge

Who will plant you deep in the earth?
Who will water your toes?

When the banshee has got your bones
When she’s beating her drum with your bones

You have always belonged to the moon

Only Isaac the Blind can show you
That glow beyond the bridge

Only Blind Willie Johnson
Can sing your way home

Blind Willie Johnson

The Muse of Muses

I dreamed I flourished back in drenching turmoils from the land
into ocean of you and my spirit drifted into skies of you

—John Gardner

In my life the Muse of Muses, synchronicity, often graces me with Her presence when I feel stuck, lost, unsure of my path. The story of how I met Lucy Day is a good example of this. It happened 15 years ago. I had returned to poetry after a long absence. I’d been writing seriously, sending poetry out, learning to tolerate rejections, getting the occasional acceptance. My poems are both imagistic and musical and I knew I needed to be reading them aloud to poetry audiences. I also wanted to put together a book. I longed to be part of a community of poets but it felt scary to walk into some unfamiliar place and read my weird visionary poems to strangers. Maybe they’d think I was nuts.

One evening I screwed up my courage, walked into a coffee shop which hosted a regular reading, and signed up for the open mike. It was a scene. The espresso machine hissed and gurgled. All kinds of people read poems at the open mike, some very accomplished, some who seemed to have scribbled some raw deep feeling in a notebook that day. I was moved by the democracy of it all. Anyone who signed up for the open mike could read. The featured reader was a woman with a blaze of red hair named Judy Wells. She had just published a book of poems called Everything Irish, about growing up Catholic. Many of her poems were laugh out loud funny, about nuns, pagan babies, and her second grade class being the cause of their teacher’s nervous breakdown.

At the end of the reading Judy approached me, saying “Don’t you remember me? You and I were in a consciousness raising group together in the early ‘70s.” She introduced me to her publisher, Lucy Day. Lucy liked the poems I’d read. She said she’d decided to start her own publishing house, Scarlet Tanager Books, because so many good poets were not finding publishers. I asked if she’d consider publishing me. She invited me to send her a group of poems.

Suddenly I was in a community of poets with whom I had a history. Judy and I had become feminists together, and Lucy, it turned out, had found her voice in the Berkeley Poets Cooperative in the 1970s, as had I. I left the Co–op just before Lucy joined, but I knew Ted Fleishman, Lucy’s ex. It seems there are nodes in our lives, vibrant centers of connection and energy that resound into our future without our conscious knowledge. I was blind, groping my way in poetry land, convinced I was all alone, and then one night in a coffee shop poetry reading I realized I had a community, I had connections!

Lucy published my first book of poems, red clay is talking, in 2000 and my second, crimes of the dreamer, in 2005. Lucy amazed me, in fact she still does. She is so well organized, so capable. She taught herself the ropes of publishing. She seems not to be overwhelmed by the sorts of practical details that overwhelm me, and I assume, most poets. She is a scientist, a biologist, who for years was the director of the Hall of Health, a Science Museum for children. I know I’m not the only one who is forever grateful to her— she is so generous in her support of other poets.

Another synchronicity—a book came out last year, called The Berkeley Poets Cooperative: A History of the Times, edited by Charles Entrekin. It is a collection of essays by some of us who were part of the Co–op. As Entrekin says, the book is a testimonial “to a way of life that emphasizes beauty and human enlightenment instead of quarterly profits and unequal distribution of wealth. A cooperative way of life. It still seems possible.”

Lucy and I both have essays in this collection. Lucy writes about how she came to realize she is “more a writer than a scientist” at the Co–op. I wrote a memorial to my friend John Gardner, a Co–op regular who, I wrote, “was the first serious poet who took my poetry seriously.” He was an ecstatic, a mystic, a visionary who gave me the courage I needed to follow my own ecstasies. He died far too young.

Song of My Life

Some say a god made us humans out of red clay.
Some say we humans make our gods out of red clay.
Others say, it doesn’t matter who makes whom.
What matters is the play between the human and
divine realms, and the joy of creation.

—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Synchronicity is the Muse of Muses for visionary poetry. Both happen in the play between the human and divine realms. Elevated moods, intense feeling states are the context for the experience of synchronicity as well as for the writing of poetry. I remember how such a mood came upon me and led to my writing the poem, “before,” which opens my first collection, red clay is talking. During the intermission at a concert I ran into a colleague. She talked ecstatically about the joys of singing in a chorus, performing the great choral works in her own voice among many. I remember those joys. In college I got to add my voice to the glories of the Brahms Requiem and Bach’s Saint Mathew’s passion. But when my colleague insisted that I needed to join a chorus now, I was surprised at the bolt of fury that leapt through me. I saw myself in my childhood basement piano practice room, toiling over a Bach fugue, afraid my father would come thundering down the stairs to tell me that I was playing it all wrong. I heard myself say to my colleague in an intemperate tone of voice: “I was raised to sing other people’s songs. Now it’s my time to sing my own.” Out of that anger came this poem —my declaration of being a visionary poet— published by Lucy Day’s press, Scarlet Tanager Books:


life after life
I stand by the road
and look for a home


she had been raised to sing
other people’s songs
but in the third morning of the new time
with the wisteria blooming outside her
kitchen window
and the shadow of the earth
about to fall upon the moon
she looked at the sky
the comet had inhabited
saw four geese fly east
toward devil mountain

heard the telephone ringing
the man in her house running
up circular stairs
calling her name

and suddenly remembered
the lips of the one who had sworn her
to silence
in dark waters
                                                    wait for me—
                                                    one morning when the children are gone
                                                    I’ll call—

                                                    put on your brown sandals
                                                    wrap yourself up
                                                    in your tree of life shawl
                                                    come walk with me
                                                                                  to devil mountain

                                                                                                      singing the song
                                                                                                      we were singing

                                                                                                           were born

P.S. My chapbook, The Little House on Stilts Remembers, and Lucy’s Chapbook, Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems will be published in the spring of 2015. We’ll let you know when they come out.

To Be Continued . . .

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