The Sister from Below is delighted to announce the publication of
by the Deep River Poets
Esse in anima (Live in the soul)
—C.G. JungThe Muse of Deep River
Our way is the way of the poet, who knows that poems have lives of their own. Poems need us, their poets, to listen to them, see them, feel them, wrestle with them until their hidden natures emerge. In return they reflect us, revise us, refine us, play us like musical instruments; they shape shift our stories and light up dim corners of our souls. The craft of making a poem becomes a craft—a vessel—for knowing ourselves and our world.
from the Introduction
Those of us who are called to write poems often wrestle, especially in terrible times, with the question: What can poetry do? Poetry is a lightweight feather dipped in ink; it cannot put out a wildfire, stop a pandemic, stop police brutality or voter suppression, prevent an authoritarian coup or heal a furious fragmentation of the social contract. But it can, sometimes, shift consciousness, open doors and windows to a wider vision, a deeper wisdom expressed in compelling images which leap out of imagination or come as dream figures to initiate us into the realm of The Mysteries. The question of what poetry can do became a catalyst for change in the Deep River Poetry Circle—a workshop that meets monthly at the Jung Institute of San Francisco—when the 2016 election shocked us out of our comfortable faith in American democracy.
"Red Fishes" by Marianna Ochyra
Deep River has been meeting for over fifteen years. It emerged out of a mountain spring in my soul, when my Muse, better known as The Sister from Below, informed me that writing poetry was my spiritual practice. We write under the influence of great poets and have explored poetries from many cultures all over the world and all over America. But when the Spirit of Our Times took such a frightening turn in 2016 we realized we needed each other and poetry for support and it was essential that we ‘get political.’ We could no longer indulge the luxury of exploring for the sake of broadening cultural horizons. Poetry doesn’t boast a big bully pulpit in America. It speaks from the margins, from the depths of the river, from night terrors, about the state of our world. Making a poem is wrestling with the angel: it is shaping a vessel to hold what we fear. We understood that we need our poetry to address the attacks on our democracy by callous, greedy politicians, out for their own aggrandizement and immune to the suffering of ordinary people in a terrible pandemic. We needed language to tell the dreadful truth revealed by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other Black and brown people at the hands of police, and by the growing consciousness of systemic and structural racism. We needed images to express the suffering caused by extreme weather events and wildfires in our own landscapes, the destruction of habitat and the decimation of species all over our earth.
So we studied the poetry of witness and of engagement, wrote under the influence of poets whose work flows between the political and the spiritual—James Baldwin, Carolyn Forché, Yusuf Komunyakaa, Judy Grahn, W.S. Merwin, Ada Limón. Our circle became a ritual space, in which great poets guided us into our own poetic expression. They showed us the ways of their soul and gave us permission to try new modes of writing. They helped create that space in which the conscious and the unconscious meet—Winnicott calls it “potential space;” Jung calls it “the transcendent function.” Deep River became a sacred river we wash ourselves in, as the Hindus do in Ganga Ma—Mother Ganges—to cleanse our souls and heal our broken hearts.
“Women Bathing” by Lionel Walden
When Covid hit we retreated to our individual homes, like cloistered contemplatives in the Dark Ages. Deep River met on Zoom. Surprisingly, the ritual of our meetings seemed to deepen, despite its virtual nature. We found ourselves writing “pandemic poems.” Someone suggested we make a collection of them. Someone else said, let’s make it broader, more inclusive of our writings. We wanted to speak to our Jungian community about what we were learning—that in bad times, the inner work of poetry is a way to tend the soul, to bring together the realms of spirit and the world. It is healing for the poet, healing for the reader; a practice which reminds us that there is a greater reality in which soul and polis, soul and nature, soul and word, mingle.
And so it was that we began gathering this harvest of our recent years together, Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow
. We give it as a gift to the Jung Institute of San Francisco in celebration of its passage from a beloved old home to a transformative new home, and as an expression of deep gratitude to Extended Education, which has given Deep River support, visibility and a place to gather for so many years. We offer it as a manifestation of the Jungian belief in the creative arts as a way of healing psyche and culture. We offer it as a gift to you, dear reader. May it help you remember ‘what happened.’ May it help you find your way through The Valley of the Shadow and The Realm of the Dead, to The Tree of Life, The Living Symbol and The Way of the Soul.
A dream showed me a deeper meaning for this gift of Soul Making: In the dark, by the sea, there is a “Jungian Grave—” a white, glowing monument commemorating our dead. It is the only bright spot in this moonless, starless scene, providing a bit of light by which we see a gathering of living Jungians, sitting on logs on the beach. There is feeling of excitement and of awe. We are doing a ritual to honor our ancestors.
“Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” by William Blake
follows the mythopoetic path of the soul’s progress from the realms of shadow and death to rebirth into embodied life through the magic of the symbolic process and the awakening of the Self. When I was editing this book I followed an intuitive structure, dividing the anthology into five sections separated by quotes from Jung’s Red Book
. These epigraphs set the themes of the sections. But until the dream, I was in the dark about the collective ritual significance of the book’s arrangement as our community moves from our beautiful old home in the Presidio to a very different beautiful new home in the Mission. We are in the dark about how it will be. For many of us this move signifies an interest in engaging with our new neighborhood, as part of a growing feeling that our psychology needs to be more attuned to the outer world, though we are in the dark about how this might manifest. However, we carry a structure within us that I associate with the work of Joe Henderson—one of our founding analysts—an understanding of the initiatory path in which “to cross a threshold is to unite oneself with a new world” (The Wisdom of the Serpent
What follows is a sketch of Soul Making, illuminated by quotes from some of the poems. Forgive me, dear reader and dear contributing poets, if I offer slight fragments from the work. Truth be told, we’re hoping you’ll buy the book, enjoy the poems, and the collection, whole.
* * * * *
The Valley of the Shadow
And so we had to taste hell…
– C.G. Jung
Anita Cadena Sánchez opens our anthology with a short essay, “Why Poetry?” (p. 5) in which she writes that the 2016 election “revealed this country’s steady descent into the valley of its historically unrecognized shadow” and hopes her poems will “weave a medicine basket” (p. 5). Now there’s something poetry can do. Her first poem, “Will This Ever End,” (pp. 6–7) does it elegantly, naming our trauma, which is the beginning of healing. Here are the opening and ending lines.
Without notice the White House grows whiter still
invisible swastikas slide off the frozen walls…
The president conflates
Black Lives Matter with hate
So I draw in breath to settle and center
Yes, I can breathe but I witness who can’t
Another black man dies
Kent Butzine’s poem, “In the Soup” (p. 8), places us in the messy, befuddled, ‘fine kettle of fish’ we know all too well from our recent past:
I am walking through soup
a thick heavy soup that slows
me down makes it hard to see…
Don’t know if the soup is hot
or my soul is burning…
In a few short lines the poem takes us to the possibility of new life:
Don’t know if I’m ready to die
Or to live at last in aliveness
He brings together the opposites of death and life as they so often appear at the crossroads of our journeys.
* * * * *
The Realm of the Dead
Dante and Virgil in Hell by Crescenzio Onofri
Take pains to waken the dead…
In my short essay, opening this section, I argue that “we owe the dead our poems, and our awe.” This follows Jung’s idea that the dead need our attention so we can help them heal. Raluca Ioanid takes on this task for the living as well as the dead in her “Bucharest 1958 Sestina (p 46).” She gives us a powerful image of intergenerational trauma:
History churns inside the family of ghosts
we cannot forget,
unmoored by our
unravelling backwards from a nightmare–dream
we search eternally for Anita and Paul, our disappeared parents…
In “Funeral Cot” Daniela Kantorová invites us into a surreal and frightening scene:
I’m rocking a funeral cot
The fire is burning…
I’m singing a lullaby
to the rhythm of bones
cracking in the fire
There is a baby in the funeral cot
What a grim image for our times, for the next generation, for the fate of humans, species and the earth. And yet, Kantorová, through the magic of her poem, finds a way out. The poem’s speaker invites the reader, or perhaps it is the Divine, to “Breath me/Breathe my dust” which would seem to breathe life and hope back into her and the poem.
* * * * *
The Tree of Life
"Tree of Zhiva" by Marianna Ochyra
I became a greening tree…
In her opening essay to this section Clare Marcus compares two Saturdays, one at an academic, highly rational workshop, the other, Deep River, where “the psyche was allowed its freedom to soar, explore, pour out its fantasies into the warm receptive ears of fellow poets (p. 59).”
In the drought ridden Sierra foothills Sheila deShields’ poem paints the miracle of an unexpected storm and how it transforms the lives of the “Nine crows in my backyard (pp. 66-67)” who “sway high on the row of towering trees” until the skies clear and they descend to enjoy:
above the soaked sable soil
while the crows
Earth is alive again, wet, full of worms, and the creatures feast on the pleasure of plenty.
* * * * *
The Living Symbol
“World Creation Music” by Marianna Ochyra
The Symbol is the word…that rises out of the depths of the self…
– C.G. Jung
In her essay, “A Way to Love” (p. 77), which opens this section, Connie Hills remarks that it is often an encounter which moves her deeply that sparks a poem’s beginning. She writes: “Poetry is a way back to love.” In her poem, “God of Garbage, (pp. 78-9)” a “tall muscular Jamaican” garbage man fills the poem with life and joy. His magic:
Remover of filth, ferment
Everything that is dying…
His smile, like heliotrope
in warm bloom…
I could have loved him.
Through this beautifully drawn character, we experience again, how death is transfigured by the living symbol of the man’s smile.
In my poem, “Ghazal of the Boy in My Dream,” the encounter is with a dream figure, a black boy, symbolic of the magic of poetry and dream:
After gumbo and jazz after rain on my head you befell me in a dream
Strange boy your spiraling hands your eyes ablaze cast a spell in my dream…
How long have you lived in my heart child alphabet balm for sorrow and ache?
You open the door to The Mysteries compel me to enter by way of the dream
The boy shows up in the context of New Orleans, a decade after Katrina. He turns out to be a psychopomp, who initiates the speaker into the mysteries—the magic of language. There are many dream poems in this collection, appropriate to our Jungian context. In “Healing the Wound” (pp. 89-90), Clare Marcus remembers a dream in which a black bird with white beak comes to heal the wound “brought by the surgeon’s knife”:
It is a coot
exploring the unconscious
to retrieve sustenance for life
diving the waters
of the Nile
algae and mollusks morphing
to messages of resurrection
What a succinct description of how dreams feed and nurture the damaged psyche and body with the riches of the collective unconscious.
* * * * *
The Way of the Soul
"Pilgrimage to Shiva" by Janaka Stagnaro
I am weary my soul, my wandering has lasted too long…
In his essay introducing this section, “How Poems Come and What They Bring” (pp. 97-99), Kent Butzine writes of the Muse, that she is “both a part of oneself and a part of the natural world, a part that is ‘wild’ and cannot be controlled.” He gives us a wonderful quote from Galway Kinnell: “There is no work on the poem that is not work on the poet.”
Virginia Chen’s poem, “Old Song” (p. 102), is a lyrical evocation of the experience of Self. The poem’s first line and refrain—borrowed from a poem by W.S. Merwin—shows the power of poetic influence on our work.When I was me I remembered
The songs of the stars
Before I was born…
When I was me I remembered
I once was me
It is the work of poetry, as well as the work of Jungian analysis, to find our way back to the one we’ve forgotten we are. And as my dream shows—in the dark by the sea in a gathering of Jungians doing a ritual for our ancestors—we are not just individuals, we are a group with a lineage, finding our way back to our ancestral roots. And though the work of writing poetry is mostly solitary, a writing circle in which we read poets who help shape our work and become our common poetic lineage, a circle in which we share our poems and get feedback on them, can become a vessel for collective creativity even, or maybe especially, in dark times. Can an anthology created by such a group, become a crucible which can carry the spirit and soul of Deep River’s years in the Gough Street Institute library, to our new home in the Mission?
"Ancestors" by Marietjie Henning