Showing posts with label Lowinsky. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lowinsky. Show all posts

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

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

"Tower of Babel" by Lucas van Valckenborch


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.


Friday, January 30, 2015

The Muse of Synchronicity: Part II

“My prayer is to be open to how I’m being led.”
—Charles Asher 

Part I tells the story of a thread of synchronicities that led to finding companions and publishers in poetry land.  In these synchronistic moments I’d see myself standing in the center of the kaleidoscope of my life, and suddenly it was as if all the fragments rearranged themselves into a new pattern, full of color and light.

Part II insisted on being written because more synchronicities kept revealing themselves, making new patterns, new meanings.

Wind Chimes in the Jung Journal
Any progress I have made, in becoming a vessel in which a greater
communion with all of life…is possible, is because of the great
network of immense old souls, reaching far into the heavens and
deep into the earth, sustaining me in my darkest times…for the sake
of a mystery to which we are bound and out of which we are made.
                                                                                      —Frances Hatfield
                                                                                      in The Jung Journal Fall, 2014

Frances Hatfield’s gorgeous image of immense old souls, who like trees, communicate over long distances through their roots, in her lovely meditation on her labyrinth, gives me another image of how I experience synchronicity. Waves of energy, happening below consciousness, deep in the roots of our being, connect us to earth, sky, ancestors and those souls who transform our lives. Synchronistic events are a wind chime in the breeze, noting the grace of connection.

How that wind chime chimed when I picked up the latest issue of the Jung Journal and saw the names, heard the voices, of so many souls who touched my life and opened my path. Here’s Charles Asher, writing on the “Good Enough Prayer,” in his wry self–effacing way. His one sentence prayer—which I take as epigraph for this offering—says it all: “My prayer is to be open to how I am being led.” Luckily I was open to how I was being led back in the early nineties, when Charles invited me to teach at Pacifica. I was in the throes of becoming an analyst, struggling to sort out what kind of Jungian I was going to be, when I was thrown into an unfamiliar culture of depth psychology. They spoke a different dialect at Pacifica. Under the influence of James Hillman and Joseph Campbell they used words like poetics, polytheism, imagination, soul. They talked like poets. Actually there was a creative ferment between the enthusiasts of mythopoeisis and iconoclastic critical thinkers like David Miller, now a retired Professor of Religion, who shows up in this issue asking penetrating and disturbing questions about the unconscious biases of mythological studies.

The poets are well represented by Dennis Slattery, who is core faculty in Mythological Studies at Pacifica and writes poetry. He has a beautiful essay on Revisioning Psychology, which he calls “Hillman’s Moby Dick.” He writes, “like the White Whale, soul itself in Hillman’s lexicon is the anima mundi, the world soul, which only the deepest philosophic and poetic meditations are capable of grasping through the intuitive grappling hooks of the imagination.” Wow. This kind of talk opened new windows and doors for me, and inspired me to teach my class on basic Jungian psychology using Goethe’s Faust. I remember the day Hillman came to visit my class. He looked surprised when I explained my approach and then said, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I took that as a blessing.

Pacifica freed me to take seriously my own calling as a poet. Luckily I was open to where I was being led. I left Pacifica to pursue poetry. How synchronistic then, that this issue should include a review of my fourth book of poems, The Faust Woman Poems.

Dark Healing
Face the pain as an enemy
that you respect, that it may become a vessel
For what you love.

—Richard Messer

Those wind chimes began chiming again when I realized that Diane Deutsch’s profound review of my book, and Richard Sugg’s masterful review of my friend Richard Messer’s selected poems, Dark Healing, were published next to each other due to the intuitive sensitivity of the Review Editor, Helen Marlo. This is a synchronicity on a number of levels. Richard and I are poetry buddies. He is one of a few people I show new poems to for feedback. This happens by e-mail since Richard lives in Ohio. He gets my work and can mirror it back to me so I can get it at another level. He has an uncanny ability to sniff out just what doesn’t work in early drafts of my poems, and to explain it to me without getting my back up. He has had an extraordinarily difficult life path and his poems track his “dark healing.” Both our books are on that theme in different ways. Here is Richard Sugg’s eloquent summary:
Richard Messer’s extraordinary book of poetry and active imagination focuses on three decades-long parts of the poet’s life: the catastrophe for him and his two young children of his wife’s murder, followed by his conscious efforts to rebuild the family’s life on the new realities they are trying to assimilate, and finally the poet’s efforts to integrate the material following his wife’s murder into his entire birth–to–seventy–five–year–old life.
Using lines from the poems to make his points Sugg does an elegant job of demonstrating the power, breadth and depth of Messer’s poetic and psychological achievement. I believe Dark Healing should be required reading for depth psychologists interested in trauma.

Here is what Messer himself wrote when he was the Featured Poet in Psychological Perspectives:
Those who survive trauma and heal and go on to thrive reach out to those who are in the midst of their suffering.
Tragedy teaches what intuition always whispers—there is a realm in which we are all present to each other, we are one in the deep heart’s core. We mourn for those who die and we move on through the knowledge that what has happened to them, no matter how brutal or tragic, does not define them, or us. Our spirits and souls tell us who we are and give our lives their meaning.
Messer’s realm in which “we are all one in the deep heart’s core” resonates with that other fabulous poet’s realm, Frances Hatfield, of a “great network of immense old souls,” with which we began.

Faust in the Light of the Moon
The moon glows,…and calls out of the poet by the poet’s
attunement to the moon, an attunement to herself.

—Diane Deutsch
Diane Deutsch, who reviews The Faust Woman Poems, is another one of those souls who has touched my life in unexpected ways. I met her in a poetry workshop led by Diane di Prima, a brilliant and wild poet in the Beat tradition. Having returned to poetry I struggled to make peace between my analyst self and my poet self. They quarreled all the time. I suffered from a split in me, in my family of origin, and in the culture, between the values of those passionate souls, like Diane di Prima, like my father, who follow their muse, and those devoted souls, Jungian analysts, my mother, who support other people’s creativity. Could I get them both into one body, one life? Their quarrel became my book, The Sister from Below, but that’s another story. The story about Diane Deutsch is that one day she announced she was becoming a candidate at the San Francisco Jung Institute, and blew up my categories. To me she became a bridge figure between the wild realms of poetry and the contained realm of the consulting room. How appropriate that she would be the one to review my book of poems in the pages of our Institute Journal.

The catastrophe in Messer’s book and life came from outside him—a terrible visitation from pure evil. The catastrophe, in my case, came from the devil in me, who, as Deutsch notes, is female, “comes from the realm of the goddess…breaks things;…is a home wrecker.” Deutsch understands that it is the devil who ignites the individuation process, in Goethe’s Faust, and in my poetry. Healing requires destruction, especially of the “cultural accretion of constrained and repressed female sexuality.”

Deutsch and the editors of the Jung Journal went to the trouble of publishing a full color image of the cover of my book, a painting by Remedios Varo, Papilla Estelar, “depicting a wan moon being fed a concoction by spoon, ground by a pale artist.” I love what Deutsch does with this image:
Taking imagination and spirit, working it into poetry,
feeds the moon spirit, feeds the feminine moon energy,
feeds the poet. In the painting the moon looks weak,
anemic, and is held in a cage. She is being strengthened
by being fed the poetry that comes out of the hard work
of taking imagination, spirit and experience and turning it
until poetry comes.
My gratitude to the Jung Journal for this gathering of souls—like trees in the forest we are connected to each other through our roots, and for the spirit that moves the wind chimes of synchronicity.

To Be Continued.

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.

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

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

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

For information contact Jacqueline Zeller Levine 1-505-989-1545

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. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Muse of Tomb Envy

“It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome

Three Dead Poets

The Day of the Dead is approaching, and I find myself musing about the gravestones of poets. I had an experience with three of them recently, in the lovely cemetery for non-Catholic Foreigners in Rome. Keats is buried here. Most of Shelley is buried here—though it is said that his heart was snatched off the funeral pyre by his friend, Edward Trelawny and given to his widow, Mary. To my surprise I found the grave of Gregory Corso, the beat poet, who is of Catholic extraction, buried here as well.

Gravestones used to be a high art form. Dan and I wandered among impressive busts and marble ladies lying in eternal repose, past a stone Psyche divesting herself of her mortal coil—high on a pedestal—to mourn a woman whose husband wrote: “Her loss is as that of the Keystone of an Arch.”


Dan took photos, I mused and took notes. As someone whose plan is to have my ashes scattered on my favorite mountain, I surprised myself with a fit of tomb envy. Imagine having a large angel slumped over your tomb, devastated by your death. 

Slumped Angel

Or imagine being immortalized by an angel with magnificent buttocks standing on a pedestal in some sort of triumphant commentary on the loss of you. I don’t care what your sexual orientation—this angel is an erotic fantasy.

Back of Standing Angel

You have to wander around to the front to be sure of his gender.

Front of Standing Angel

Eros and Thanatos seem to have been on close terms in the nineteenth century. Here a naked couple, looking as though they depict a Greek myth, stand in bas-relief on a tomb. Their little boy grasps the halter of a horse. What story are they telling about the dead Austrian gentleman here memorialized?

Tomb with Naked Couple

Goethe’s only son is buried here. So are professors from America, ladies from Australia, the Fischer brothers (I assume)—one with a cross over his name, the other with a Star of David. Therein lies a story, I’m sure.

Fischer Brothers Tomb
One with Nature

Death, like love, is a great theme for poets. What I’d not considered before is the power of a poet’s gravestone. Keats, who died at the tender age of 25, of tuberculosis, wanted the most modest of gravestones, with no name or date, but only the words: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” However his friends Joseph Severn and Charles Armitage Brown, angry at the critical reception Keats work had received, added the words: “This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English Poet who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb stone.” They also added the date.

Keats' Gravestone

That wasn’t enough for Severn. He had to add his own commentary, writ in stone:

Response to Keats' Gravestone

Later in life Severn and Brown regretted having disrespected Keats’ last wish.

Shelley, who knew and valued Keats, was one of those who believed that the critical attack on Keats had hastened the death of the young poet. In this lineage of sorrow, Shelley memorialized Keats with his long and passionate elegy, Adonaïs. Here are some of my favorite passages:

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life… (stanza 39)
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again… (stanza 40)

He is made one with Nature, there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird…(stanza 42)

That sweet bird of course, is a reference to Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”
in which the poet, addressing that “immortal Bird,” longs for death:

Now more than ever it seems rich to die,
   To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
      While thou art pouring forth thy soul aboard
          In such an ecstasy! (stanza vi)

In a strange variation on this lineage of death, Shelley became “one with nature” just a year later. He drowned in a sudden storm while sailing along the coast of Italy. A volume of Keats’ verse was found in his pocket. His gravestone bears the Latin Inscription: Cor Cordium (“Heart of Hearts”). His gravestone, referring to his death at sea, bears an inscription from Ariel’s song in The Tempest: Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea–change/Into something rich and strange.

Shelley's Gravestone

Corso, who described himself in a poem (“I Am 25”), “With a love a madness for Shelley,” made complicated arrangements and pulled powerful strings to get himself into this cemetery, just footsteps away from Shelley. Corso had had a harsh early life, been abandoned by his teenage parents, gotten into trouble with the law, done time. While in prison he read and began writing poetry. He found his tribe, his kin, when he met Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He became an important voice among the beat poets. He, like Ginsberg, was a master of the long line list-rant. In a famous poem called “Bomb” he rants about death.

Some die by Swamp some by sea and some by the bushy haired man in the night
O there are deaths like witches of Arc Scary deaths like Boris Karloff
No-feeling deaths like birth-death Sadless deaths like old pain Bowery
Abandoned deaths like Capital Punishment stately deaths like Senators
And unthinkable deaths like Harpo Marx girls on Vogue covers my own

How I love that last line with its sly glide from “girls on Vogue covers” to “my own.”

In an amazing turn of events Corso was reunited with his mother late in his life. They formed a strong bond that also tied him to Italy, her country of birth. I imagine that being buried near Shelley put him in the company of his soul kin, in the earth of his mother country. 

Corso's Gravestone

I am dazzled by the poem on his gravestone—one of the most perfect poems I know—9 short lines that say it all, about life and death and being “one with nature.” 

is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea

I sat on a bench in the cemetery, amidst cypress tress and palms, pansies, begonias and violets, in the shadow of the Cestius Pyramid—an ancient Roman tomb. In the presence of a mysterious woman’s bust in stone—she seems to be listening to music—or is it poetry— from another realm, I wept for a poet I hadn’t read since I was young.

Listening Woman

I won’t ever have a prostrate angel mourning on my tomb. But I’ve got poems in the tradition of this lineage of poets who understand “the death of me/like a river/ unafraid of becoming/the sea." Following is the final poem in The Faust Woman Poems:

When I Die

I want the window’s yellow rose
To kiss my eyes goodbye—before
Green sisters do their rattle dance—before
I’m drunk by sun and swallowed
By the moon before the earth
Starts chewing on my bones— and you

To whom I leave my words—listen
For me in the grass— If I can lick
Your lips and steal into your ears
When I am long past breath I’ll borrow yours
And swing into your beating heart
Where I will sing a beat or two before
You breathe me out again—
                   Into the hungry sky
(First published in Reed Magazine)

Prostrate Angel

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Celebrating the Harvest: Reading for the Earth

An Invitation:

Harvest is an ancient and sacred ritual, marking the year’s cycle, expressing our gratitude for the fruits of the Earth. In these dangerous and fragmented times how do we give thanks to our Mother Earth and to the farmers who feed us?

We are three poets and a novelist, who engage passionately with ecological issues in our work. Please join us for a harvest of earth-centered writing at First Light Farm Stand.

When: 2:00 pm, Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Where: First Light Farm Stand, 4588 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma

Who Will Read: Novelist Patricia Damery and poets Frances Hatfield, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and Leah Shelleda

If you’re worried about Monsanto and the loss of species, or want to know more about the poets who will be reading, check out Sharon Heath’s blog posting On Butterflies and Men

A Publication

My poem “Lust and the Holy” is featured in the on-line literary magazine Wild Violets, accompanied by a delightful image. I hope you’ll check it out.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cleveland Lecture & Workshop

"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

Self Portrait With Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption

Lecture and Workshop presented by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and hosted by Jung Cleveland and Braden & Associates

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Ph.D
Download Registration Form

Date: 5/17/13Time: 7 to 9 p.m.
First Unitarian Church of Cleveland
21600 Shaker Blvd.,
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122

Lecture Description:

"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 C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, 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 and bear the unbearable.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Muse of Remedios Varo

On the cover of my about to be published book, The Faust Woman Poems, a woman is feeding stardust to the moon. She sits in a sort of gazebo, suspended in dark moody skies. She operates an old–fashioned food mill—I remember it from my mother’s kitchen. Only her machine has a chimney that seems to draw down the stars. She grinds them up to make baby food, which she feeds to the moon in its cage with a long handled spoon. Where are we?

We’re in the imaginal world of Remedios Varo, a surrealist painter of the mid 20th century. We’re also in the poet’s study—I live in that world—feeding the moon—though my moon—I’m happy to say— is not in a cage. Perhaps that’s because I am a member of a generation that experienced the rebirth of the deep feminine, just a few years after Varo’s untimely death in 1963. That rebirth is the subject of the poems in this collection for which Varo is an inspiration and a muse.

Look at her painting, titled “Reborn.” A naked woman breaks through a wall. The moon breaks through the ceiling and is reflected in a bowl. Twigs and branches push through cracks, windows, the ceiling. The human made world is red as blood, vibrant as passion. The woman’s eyes are full of uncanny light. That’s one of the ways Faust Woman looks in my imagination.

Remedios Varo was born in Spain in 1908. She married the Surrealist poet Benjamin Peret. The couple went to Paris in the late 30s and was active in Surrealist circles. Peret was a left-wing activist and she a Loyalist so they were not safe in Franco’s Spain. They emigrated to Mexico. She was never to return to her homeland. But Mexico was magical for her art. Look at her “Unexpected Journeys” which is the cover art for a book about her work. 

My own family was forced to make an unexpected journey too, out of Hitlerian Europe to America. I identify with Varo’s story. In Mexico she befriended another fabulous Surrealist painter, British born Leonara Carrington.

The two women studied mysticism, Kabbalah and Alchemy. They were interested in psychoanalysis and told each other their dreams. My kind of friends. Here is Varo’s painting of a woman leaving her analysts’ office.

The woman is holding a ghost like a dead rat, her headdress is wild with what’s been released in her soul, her shawl covers her mouth for she’s been telling secrets, another pair of eyes are draped at her heart for she’s been seen and reflected; above her the sky is wild and moody. I know that feeling; I know her world well. My poems explore the weird and the uncanny, the mystical and the taboo. I too have an intimate connection with the moon. I want to thank the spirit of Remedios Varo and her estate for the privilege of using her image on the cover of The Faust Woman Poems. And I want to dedicate the following moon stuck poem from that collection to Varo, my sister in the imaginal realm.

Witch’s Sabbath

Long ago when night was your familiar
you knew the moon and the moon knew you
I mean carnally
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this

You knew the moon and the moon knew you
Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this
moon penetration     stars awakening

Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Lion arose     horse flew
moon penetration     stars awakening
Something from forever loved you for a night

Lion rising    horse flying
Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Something from forever loves you for a night
and the moon sings

Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Branches touch down into earth
the moon sings
Naked you are     and flying

Branches touch down into earth
I mean carnally
Naked you are     and flying
rooted in the night     your familiar


I’ll be one of a group of local poets reading for National Poetry Week at the Montclair branch of the Oakland Public Library on April 16th at 6:00 pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, please come. I’ll be reading from The Faust Woman Poems.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

News From the Muse: The Serpent Muse

Patricia Damery and I are friends and colleagues who have known each other for over twenty years, and have read and supported one another‘s writings. I read her book Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation in manuscript, and connected Patricia with my publisher, Mel Mathews at my own book launching party for The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way. I knew they’d love each other, both being wild shamanic types, grounded in the life of farming. Patricia had read The Sister in manuscript and kept urging me on for years while I was looking for the right publisher.

Patricia Damery
When Patricia and I were in Los Angeles in April, celebrating the launching of Marked by Fire, which Patricia and I co-edited, Nancy Mozur, who runs the Los Angeles C.G. Jung Institute’s wonderful bookstore, handed me a copy of the latest Psychological Perspectives. Synchronistically, as these things seem to happen, the review I  had written of Farming Soul was in that issue: Volume 55, Issue 1.

So let's be clear hereI am no dispassionate critic with an objective eye. I am a friend, a fan, a believer in Patricia’s courageous process, an admirer of her life and writing, and most recently, her co-editor. We both write in the genre we think of as Jungian memoir, personal stories that illuminate the inner life.

Here are some sections from the just published review:

Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation by Patricia Damery
(Fisher King Press,) 2010.

Individuation is not for sissies. If the Great Serpent of your unfolding demands you develop aspects of yourself that are frowned upon by the spirit of the times, disapproved of by your analyst, and considered weird by most everyone you know, you’ll need to cultivate your own truth. If, on the way to becoming a Jungian analyst, the Golden Snake of your flowering requires you to study shamanism, work with a psychic, commune with invisible Presences, wander off the beaten Jungian path to explore the path of Rudolf Steiner—a cousin of Jung’s in the lineage of Goethe—you may find yourself in various kinds of trouble. If you’re a farmer’s daughter who left the farm as a young woman but the Jeweled Snake of your essential nature transports you back to farming, and you find yourself growing lavender and grapes on a ranch with your second husband, following the magical practices of bio-dynamic farming—an alchemical process developed by Steiner—you’ll need strong muscles of body and of spirit…. If, on top of all of this, your Snake insists you are a writer, and that you must tell your story, you’ll likely learn how lonely it can be to follow your own path.

Farming Soul is the stirring story of a remarkable woman. Patricia Damery has developed all the aspects of herself required by her Snake. Clearly conceived, yet intricately layered, this memoir is a weaving of narrative strands that tell stories in time. They are weft to the timeless warp of the farming cycle, described in short chapters, mostly named for the months of the year. Those sections are more teachings than stories. We learn the mysterious practices of shamanic farming, the stirring of sun soaked waters with a tincture, for example, of valerian, to bring warmth to the grapes when it’s cold in early March. This requires stirring first clockwise then in reverse direction, which “throws the water into chaos, that state that Rudolf Steiner says is most receptive to the divine."

The biodynamic farmer listens to the land, sings to the vines. She does not impose her will upon it, as do industrial farmers. Like a Jungian analyst, she waits for what’s underground to reveal itself. Damery returns us to the roots of Jungian psychology, to Jung’s rhizome—the unseen “true life.” She takes us back to the alchemists, who stirred tinctures of flower essences, and invited the divine. She takes us back to Goethe, who was an alchemist. His great drama, Faust, influenced Jung’s psychology and his scientific studies of plant life influenced Steiner’s ideas about farming.…

A compelling strand of Damery’s story is about the group that followed the late Don Sandner into the Southwest to study shamanism. Sandner was a revered elder of our tribe. He had studied the Navajo and worked in the shamanic tradition. He did drumming rituals for candidates in the early years of my candidacy.…Those trips to the Southwest stirred Damery’s psyche, opened her up to the divine. The Great Serpent showed up during the drumming, in visions, in dreams and in active imagination. It shape-shifted into a Golden Snake, a Jeweled Snake, the Kundalini Snake uncoiling its sacred energies, which, in Damery’s case, erupted with such intensity that she set off car alarms.

Learning to contain and channel this energy required yet another initiatory path for Damery. She did not find her temenos for this work in her Jungian tribe. She had to go off and study with a wise psychic, Norma T, who helped validate Damery’s experience of the “spirit world."

Farming Soul is, as the subtitle indicates, a “tale of initiation,” actually several initiations. As I reflect on the long walkabout Damery had to make, the hermetic practices her Golden Snake required before she could return to her Jungian path and be certified as an analyst, I remember what Joe Henderson told me about initiation. Joe was a founder of the San Francisco Jung Institute and my control analyst. He explained that the initiate needs to leave the tribe, go off and have her personal vision, meet her totem, learn what her myth is before she can return to the tribe, bringing the gifts of her own nature.

Some years ago I was in charge of providing food for a Sunday afternoon event at the San Francisco Institute. Patricia Damery, now an analyst, was going to speak about the Horned Goat. Our community is housed in a gracious old home in an elegant part of town. Suddenly, entering the French doors from the garden, I saw three goats sauntering in. Goats in the Institute? My first thought was, “Oh my God, the food!” But I could see that each goat was firmly attached to a lead and a handler. My second thought was, “How perfect! This hallowed place is in sore need of goatsmell, goatsong, goat energy. And here is our own Patricia Damery, bringing in the vitality of the natural world, the ‘lumen naturae.’ What a blessing to us all.”

Farming Soul is a blessing for Jungians, a reminder of our roots in the Reality of the Psyche, and a challenge to expand our consciousness. Damery helps us remember Psyche as one aspect of the long story Mother Nature has been weaving, of plants and animals, humans and gods—like the Great Serpent who appeared to Damery during a drumming and informed her she needed to develop a practice. She has, and she is showing us the way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

News from the Muse: The Muse of Los Angeles

There are moments, if one is lucky, when the whole circuitous, confusing, maze of a life’s meander reveals its essential shape—Indra’s net is illuminated—everything is connected.  I had such a moment on a recent Sunday in April, at the beautiful book launching for Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, sponsored by the Los Angeles Jung Institute.  My co-editor Patricia Damery and I were overwhelmed and deeply moved by the party Chie Lee, the President of the L.A Institute, had thrown for our group the night before, by the presence of almost all the books’ contributors (two by Skype) at the reading, by the generosity of the L.A, Institute which had gotten us a large hall and put out the word and ordered books and provided food. Patricia has written a beautiful blog about all this.  Check it out.

I stood at the podium, introducing each contributor, and felt the strands of kinship libido—the memories and associations that connect me to all those who had written essays out of the vital stuff of their lives—their soul stories, their inner landscapes—the fiery process of becoming themselves. Listening to the voices of these friends and colleagues, my heart resonated with their eloquent expression of so many themes that move me: the power of dreams and synchronicities, the dark confused and painful times out of which new life emerges, the twists and turns of fate, luck, grace and individuation that brought us all here together on this bright Sunday afternoon in the Social Hall of Temple Isaiah across the street from the Jung Institute.
[from the left: Chie Lee, Sharon Heath, Jackie Gerson, Naomi Lowinsky,
Karlyn Ward, Patricia Damery, Dennis Slattery, Jean Kirsch,
Robert Romanyshyn, Claire Douglas, Gilda Franz]

The City of Angels
In the midst of all this I found myself musing about my relationship to L.A. There is something about L.A. I had been trying to find words to explain it to my friends from the North. Is it the light? The colors? Is it the beach runners, walkers, skaters, cyclists, the casual but trendy dress—sensual and a touch wild?

Suddenly it hit me. Los Angeles is the City of Angels. A procession of angels have visited me in this town. Almost twenty years ago, back in the day when Northern and Southern California analysts worked together in the initiatory process to become an analyst, I was certified at the L.A. Institute. It is such a vulnerable thing to bring one’s inner life and one’s sacred work with an analysand to the eyes of the members of a committee. To be seen and understood is a blessing—a visitation by an angel. 

 Around that time Charlene Sieg, the managing editor of Psychological Perspectives—a fine journal published by the Los Angeles Institute, which describes itself as a “journal of global consciousness integrating psyche, soul and nature”— called me up and wondered if I wanted to be poetry editor. I thought: this woman whom I don’t know has just handed me my place in the community! I have lived there gratefully ever since, at the intersection of Poetry and Jungian Analysis. Charlene is one of my angels.

Dan and I have traveled to Los Angeles twice a year for the board meetings of Psychological Perspectives. We had family in the area for much of that time, and enjoyed our time with them. We made deep friendships and began the threads of connection which eventually led to Marked by Fire and to this event. Psychological Perspectives has itself has been an angel to me, nurturing and supporting my writing over many years, connecting me with a community of writers interested in expressing the direct experience of the unconscious. Robin Robertson, the General Editor, a wonderful writer on science, psyche and the arts, whose most recent book on alchemy and chaos theory is called Indra’s Net, mentored me through many years of wandering in the wilderness, seeking a publisher. He always said it would happen. He, too, is an angel. So is Gilda Frantz, co-editor of the journal and contributor of a marvelous essay in Marked by Fire, who has always given me the courage of my own idiosyncratic vision.

On the Nature of Angels
Speaking of idiosyncratic vision, you may wonder about all this talk of angels when I’m blogging on the muse. Are angels muses? Angels, according to someone named Walter Rigg, writing in Harper’s Bazaar in 1962, “are powers which transcend the logic of our existence.” I found this quote in Gustav Davidson’s Dictionary of Angels, an essential reference for anyone into angelology. Yes, indeed, you are walking along the known path of your life and suddenly an angel enters the scene and shifts everything. You’re invited to be Poetry Editor and it changes your life, transcending the old logic of your existence.

My take on angels draws from the Jewish tradition, which, like Islam and Christianity is chock full of angels—perhaps compensatory for all that monotheistic singularity. Just look up angels in the index of Tree of Souls, a marvelous reference on the mythology of Judaism, and you’ll see what I mean. For me, personal angels are powers connected with our souls from before we were born.  They remember who we really are when we have forgotten. They tell us, as Robin Robertson often told me, that it’s not my way to write the conventional Jungian teaching book—I needed to write as a poet.  The Sister from Below is the result of that wise counsel.

In my life angels often take human form. They are ordinary people who connect with something of your eternal nature, which seen, fills you with the light of your own essence. Sometimes they are beings of the imaginal world who show up in vision, dream or active imagination. They have our backs, stand behind us, pointing the way. Sometimes they show up with flaming torches and burn down the world as we know it. Sometimes they see where we’re going years before we do. And yes, sometimes an angel can be a muse.  

The Angel/Muse of Watts Towers 
Such an angel came to me in L.A. years before I’d even thought of being a Jungian—this was the angel and muse of Watts Towers. That angel/muse flew me to L.A. for the first time in my life, and into a larger vision of who I could be. I was a young mother, hemmed in by family demands, shaped by babies and kitchen and laundry. This angel whispered in my ear: “You’ve got to get out of here. Leave the kids with your husband and get away for a weekend. Remember who you are.”  “And go where?” I wondered. “Visit your friends in L.A.” the angel advised. And so it was I found myself in the home of dear friends whom I’d known when we were all in India together, associated with Peace Corps.

I had never been away from husband and kids for an entire weekend. It felt wicked. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. My hip felt empty without my baby girl. I don’t remember how that angel/muse spirited me to Watts Towers but there I was—a memory imprinted in my soul for life—contemplating the sacred space Simon Rodia, a poor immigrant from Italy, had created out of steel rods, cement and junk. I imagined him, wandering around in his life, picking up small pieces of broken glass and crockery, using them to create a mosaic in cement—his Sanctuario. Had he known about the Taj Mahal? I had been to the Taj; those small bits of glowing color creating intricate and glorious designs seemed to me to be part of the same artistic lineage.
I remember reflecting that if I could just be like Simon Rodia, picking up small pieces of glittering, broken fragments from my every day wanderings and gathering them into sacred shapes, I would be happy. It would be years before I could dedicate myself to that practice as a poet, years before I would write a poem about that visitation, but the angel/muse of Watts Towers had shown me my path.

how Simon Rodia showed me my craft

before I’d launched a single soul
or heard the cat call in my voice
some sanity insisted that I see
the joy leaps of your towers
                Simon Rodia

in flat exhausted Watts
where no tree grew
                afraid of my life
                looked up at your craft

                a maze of spires
                cathedral of steel rods
                a  window washer’s labyrinth of tile

what wind had ripped you loose
of the gray grind?
motorcycles growled revenge
Spanish mothers prayed
their baby Jesus would survive

cement  and broken dishes
your creation:  the ark
still pushes at the backyard fence
baptismal font awaits
the new born
and here a bench for sitting

in your Italian Sanctuario
inlaid with jewels from the garbage
are all the treasures of a boy:  blue of broken tile                  
green fire of soda pop
seashells from the bottom of your pocket                             
                of broken wine decanter  

and in my northern neighborhood
when no wind blew
and nothing happened in the house
I would imagine I had a craft
like yours              
                Simon Rodia

and every broken bit of color
that life washed up
would have a place in my design

the city fathers
tried to pull
your towers from their roots
                Simon Rodia
not even swinging cement balls
could shake your work
                I saw you
                riding your joy leaps over their upturned faces
                your laughter
                ripped me loose!

(This poem is published in Adagio & Lamentation)