Showing posts with label deep river. Show all posts
Showing posts with label deep river. Show all posts

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Muse of the Psalms

Mainz Book of Hours 
Save me O God; 
For the waters are come in even unto the soul. 
I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing; 
I am come into deep waters, and the flood overwhelmeth me. 
(The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, 1917)
In the Valley of the Shadow
 
you are the last living generation 
of the six that went before you 

passing that invisible medicine basket 
from one generation to the next… 
Anita Cadena Sánchez 
from her poem “Medicine Basket” 
in Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow p. 6 
Medicine Basket

On June 12th of last year, the Sister from Below celebrated the publication of Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow with a blog called: The Muse of Deep River. We of Deep River—the poetry circle I lead at the Jung Institute—had begun to feel the shadow of the pandemic lifting and the political scene brightening as the Biden administration vaccinated the willing and passed the American Rescue Plan which stimulated the economy, sent money to families with children and helped out state and local governments. That upbeat mood did not last long. New variants of Covid 19 attacked us, and the political will continue to support families with children, to protect voting rights, to protect our Mother Earth, seems to have ebbed away.


We’ve recently passed the one-year anniversary of the day Lady Liberty was roughed up so badly at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The question, now hanging in the air is: “Are we losing our democracy?” On the first anniversary of that infamous day, President Biden accused the former president of “holding a dagger to the throat of democracy.” The New York Times Editorial Board warned us that we face “an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends.” Republican lawmakers are passing bills that “would make it easier for lawmakers to reject the votes of their citizens if they don’t like the outcome.” (The New York Times Sunday Review Jan. 2nd, 2022) At this writing, the news is unbelievable: the Republican National Committee has decided that what happened on January 6th 2021 is “legitimate political discourse!” Excuse me? Have you watched the horrifying videos of that coup attempt on YouTube? Where are we? In Germany, 1933? In Mandelstam’s Soviet Union? In Milosz’ Poland? It’s not just the virus that hangs heavy in the air, but a terror that our elections are about to be undermined, and that the hopes for real change kindled by the victory of Biden and Harris, by the Black Lives Matter Movement, by the Green New Deal, by the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill, by the Build Back Better bill, are in deep trouble. “What is poetry which does not save/Nations or people?” asks Czeslaw Milosz in his famous poem “Dedication.” He answers this impossible question in another poem, “In Warsaw:” 
My pen is lighter 
Than a hummingbird’s feather. This burden 
Is too much for it to bear. 
And yet, poems have been written about this unbearable burden since the psalmist took up his lyre and sang: 
Why, O God, has Thou cast us off forever?
Why doth Thine anger smoke against the flock of Thy pasture?
(Psalm 74:1 The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, 1917.) 

In troubled times many of us turn to the Psalms, as we did in Deep River when, after the 2016 election and the assaults of climate change and the pandemic, we found ourselves writing poems about a world turned upside down and inside out. Like the psalmist, Deep River poet Daniela Kantorová pleads for help from the divine in her poem “The Ship:” 

Dear God, please turn the ship
that floats in the rain above Foothill Blvd.
It lands in an apple orchard
The back merges with the land
(p. 65)
Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow became the name we gave our process of reading and writing. Eventually, it became the name of the book of poems we gathered as a bulwark against the looming catastrophes of our times. The origin of the name is in these famous lines from Psalm 23: 
He restoreth my soul; 
He guideth me in straight paths for his name’s sake. 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death 
I will fear no evil, 
For thou art with me 
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 
(Psalm 23: 3-6 The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, 1917) 
In his book, Keeping Faith with the Psalms, Daniel F. Polish refers to the profound idea that the “I” in this psalm is the soul on its life journey (p.171). In this way, making a poem is “making soul.” As I wrote in the Introduction to Soul Making: “The Muse is the voice of the soul, speaking in language that blends reason and mystery, She makes meaning of the incomprehensible.” (p. vii) 

Many of the poems in our collection are about this process. Kent Ward Butzine opens his poem “Pandémie Hypnagogique” with a description of soul loss: 
Everything is receding    darkening 
there is sadness    as the trees go 
the river    birds and birdsong    the sky 
all beloved 
Psalms are both poems and prayers. Many poems meander into prayer. They mix the stuff of everyday life with invocations to the divine. In Sheila de Shields’ poem “Flight of the Mind,” she prays for herself in old age: 
in my last days 
may I sit by the black basalt fountain  wild blue 
      irises 
and hooded orioles among my redwood trees 

let me recall the names of my children… 
In my poem “Birth Day Poem 2017” I pray: 
Carry me back   through the laboring dark 
into first light   first cry   first touch 
of mother’s hands 
Later in the poem I refer to political events as “those evil spirits” and as “the furies” who “rave/ and mutter,” who “spooked// my cradle” as my parents began to learn of “the trains the chimneys” in the Europe they had recently fled. What spooked me all over again was the anti-Semitic chants we heard from the right wing in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017, when a "Unite the Right" rally turned deadly and the hate was palpable. 


There are those who argue that it’s not kosher to mix poetry with the political—they are different spheres—just as the Jews separate the everyday from the Sabbath, just as Jung made a distinction between the Spirit of the Depths and the Spirit of the Times. But in Deep River we found we needed to mix the political with the profound themes that are poetry’s usual domain for the sake of our very souls. Poetry was our way of walking through the Valley of the Shadow. Despite the title of our book, it hadn’t fully come to me how much our path is influenced by the Psalms. As Robert Alter points out in The Art of Biblical Poetry
The God of biblical faith…is not a God of the cosmos alone, but also a God of history. A good many psalms…are responses to the most urgent pressures of the historical moment.
(p. 121)
It is moving to realize that this poetic tradition—which speaks to the Divine from the overwhelm and panic we feel when in the grip of history’s violent fist—is as ancient as the Hebrew Bible. There is a lovely Jewish myth about King David, the Psalmist, which tells us that he wrote the psalms with “The Holy Breath” (Tree of Souls p. 279). In Judaism, Ruah, meaning breath or spirit, is one of the levels of the soul. Similarly, the word inspiration, which comes from the Latin word inspirare — meaning to breathe—came to mean divine guidance in Middle English. Thus our very language speaks to the spiritual nature of making poetry. 

David and his Lyre

The Sister from Below is Delighted to Announce the Publication of “Songs from the Deep River: Selected Poems from Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow” in the Jung Journal 
The sibyl breathes deeply 
The vapors from the fire below 
She is no longer herself 
She from a respectable family 
She who is reliably self–possessed 
Is unhinged by the smell of death 
      Virginia Lee Chen from “Sibyl” p. 27 

Deep River is honored that a selection of poems from Soul Making has been published in the latest issue of The Jung Journal (Volume 15, Number 4). Jeffrey Moulton Benevedes, the editor of The Jung Journal, doesn’t seem to worry about mixing the Spirit of the Times with the Spirit of the Depths. He writes eloquently of our crazed times in his introductory essay to this issue: “To the Reader:” 
These days the dizzying pace and sheer ferocity of changes in our world leave us little to no time to recover from one catastrophe before the next hits. A pernicious pandemic and intensifying climate change events surge like tsunamis over the globe, leaving us roiling in existential crisis and economic, political and social instability… 
How much can we take? 
What do we do? Where do we go to find refuge, solace, healing, a way forward? 
Doesn’t this sound like the psalmist’s cry? “My soul is sore afflicted;/And Thou, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:4) Or like Dossie Easton’s lament in her poem “With my Pink Pussy Hat On”? 
How will we open our hearts 
                                      to each other 
in a country where half the voters are in love 
with their hating  
of people like me: like for instance: 
            women they can’t own, or men who can  
love other men, 
                       or those who belong to other cultures 
                               part of Humanity’s far flung treasure… (p. 17) 
Benevedes continues: 
Depth psychologists, spiritual leaders and healers of all kinds strive to help heal the World Soul, one psyche at a time. 

And artists make art. Out of the spirit of the depths, they engage with the spirit of the times in a way that anchors us, expressing our suffering and our light. (p. 1) 
I agree with Benevedes that it is the very mingling of the Spirit of the Depths with the Spirit of the Times which helps us locate ourselves and cast light on our emotions. It describes a number of poems in the Soul Making collection, among them Raluca Ioanid’s “Bucharest Sestina” about her “vanished grandparents”: 
In our pact never to forget 
the momentum of loss 
is greater. Have our night–vanishing grandparents 
opened the door for dreams 
and days and meals and adventures sweetened by our 
kinship to this family of ghosts? (p. 47) 
or Clare Cooper Marcus’ poem “Ann Frank’s Tree” 
In spring, chestnut flowers 
like ghostly candelabra 
lit her days, as they did mine 
not much distance west, across 
the channel… 

For her, the tree beyond her grasp 
stood achingly alive, dear daily reminder 
of leaf–birth,  
                   leaf fall… (p. 52) 
Flowering Chestnut tree

or Connie Hills’ poem “Time to Come” 
If you visit Van Gogh’s grave 
go after the gust of summer… 

The quaintness of the place 
so placid you can imagine 
standing at Vincent’s burial 
that July midi 
surrounded by lemon sunflowers 
battered dahlias 
Hallelujahs oozing 
from their thousands of 
amber throats… 
                   (pp. 41-2) 
Benevedes goes on to write of Deep River and quotes the beautiful telling of our story by Poetry Editor Frances Hatfield: 
For the past fifteen years, here at the San Francisco C.G. Jung Institute, something extraordinary has been quietly unfolding. Poetry editor Frances Hatfield provides the origin story of the poems you will read: “At the instigation of Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s “Sister from Below,” poets, nascent poets, and poetry lovers have gathered in the library of the Gough Street building…each month, immersed in the ghosts and spirits and deep soul of that holy place, and cooking together in the power of mythopoesis to express grief, beauty and love. Out of that profound communitas, a group of poets emerged who call themselves, aptly, the ‘Deep River Poets.’ This issue’s poetry section features a selection from a new book they have published as an offering to the institute and to the Extended Education program under which they have met. One can sense how these nine poets nourished each other as their voices of witness, grief, praise, awe and exuberance emerged in the presence of great poets, considered in the light of our extraordinary times. (p.3) 
We are deeply grateful to Jeffrey Moulton Benevedes and Frances Hatfield for their generous response to Soul Making and to Managing Editor LeeAnn Pickrell for the beautiful layout of the poems. 

 Slave Ship: Wood Engraving by Smyth

“A Light So Terrible” 

In the Psalms, as in many of the poems we turn to in terrible times, we seek access to a higher power, a deeper wisdom, a more expansive way of understanding, when the world as we know it cracks open, spilling out our firm beliefs and our grasp of what we think of as truth. When things we never thought could happen in America, or things we ignore or deny, are flung at us in a light as terrible as nightmare, what is our responsibility as poets? When we learn that the former president had draft executive orders drawn up involving the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense—in a plot to seize voting machines after the 2020 election—what can we do or say? (My father, a refugee from the Nazis and a passionate believer in American democracy, is turning in his grave.) What scares me more than anything is how little outrage and furor I hear in the collective. Psalm 94: 3-6 comes to mind: 
Lord, how long shall the wicked, 
How long shall the wicked exult? 
They gush out, they speak arrogancy; 
All the workers of iniquity bear themselves loftily. 
They crush Thy people, O Lord, 
And afflict Thy heritage. 
They slay the widow and the stranger, 
And murder the fatherless… 
We who have put our faith in the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, feel fatherless. We who have fought for Women’s Liberation, Racial Justice, Equality and the well-being of our Mother Earth find ourselves still in the thrall of the Patriarchy—bereft of Mother Power. Orphaned. Terribly afraid. 

Amanda Gorman at Inauguration

But there is help and wisdom among the young and among poets. Amanda Gorman, who gave us her beautiful Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” continues to inspire us. In an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, (January 20, 2022)—“If You’re Alive, You’re Afraid”—she reframes the meaning of fear. She had almost decided against being the Inaugural poet because of her fear—amplified by friends and family— that she might lose her life on that very visible platform. She suffered with insomnia and nightmares as she wrestled with her decision. “Was this poem worth it?” She writes: 
And then it struck me: Maybe being brave enough doesn’t mean lessening my fear but listening to it. I closed my eyes in bed and let myself utter all the leviathans that scared me, both monstrous and miniscule. What stood out most of all was the worry that I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what this poem might have achieved. There was only one way to find out. 
If Gorman was praying to a higher power in her dark night of the soul, it strikes me she includes the power to strike fear as an aspect of the deity. This resonates with the Jewish view of the Divine who is not only about goodness and kindness, but about wrath and trouble. Her breakthrough came when she could listen to what her fear taught her. 


In the year since the Inauguration, Gorman has written a new book of poems, Call Us What We Carry. I want to quote from sections of the opening poem in that collection—“Ship’s Manifest”—in which she speaks to the role of the poet in our awful times. Like the Psalmist who urges his people to “Depart from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15), Gorman clearly sees the poet’s function as ethical as well as spiritual. It is worth noting that a ship’s manifest lists the cargo, passengers and crew of a ship. It is an accounting of what the ship carries. Ship’s manifests for slave ships are one of the few places historians of slavery can find the names and some details about the people who were stolen from Africa and brought to the New World against their will. The poem never mentions the Middle Passage, but its dark waters, its ghosts and demons flow deep below the surface. Notice she holds poets accountable, as though our work requires the tools of an accountant making lists. In fact, much of her poem is a list. Her passion is contagious. Her word play is brilliant—for example, “An ark articulated?” or “Our greatest test will be/Our testimony.” Her use of the word “testimony”—which in Black Churches means telling how the Divine has interceded in our lives—brings us deep into the realm of the psalms, as does the line “A light so terrible” which makes clear how difficult, soul wrenching and essential is the work of the poet. 

Here is a section of Gorman’s poem: 
The poet’s diagnosis is that what we have lived 
Has already warped itself into a fever dream, 
The contours of its shape stripped from the murky mind. 

To be accountable we must render an account: 
Not what was said, but what was meant. 
Not the fact, but what was felt. 
What was known, even while unnamed. 
Our greatest test will be 
Our testimony. 
This book is a message in a bottle. 
This book is a letter. 
This book does not let up. 
This book is awake. 
This book is a wake. 
For what is a record but a reckoning? 
The capsule captured? 
A repository. 
An ark articulated? 
& the poet, the preserver 
Of ghosts & gains, 
Our demons & dreams, 
Our haunts & hopes. 
Here’s to the preservation 
Of a light so terrible. 
                 from Call Us What We Carry, “Ship’s Manifest.”
Miniature from Hafiz-i Abru’s Majma al-tawarikh

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Muse of Deep River

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. Jung

Cover Art by Kent Butzine


The 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


Soul Making 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 p. 48)

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.

* * * * *

Godville Game


The Valley of the Shadow

Section I
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
again                   and again                   and again


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.

* * * * *

Dante and Virgil in Hell by Crescenzio Onofri


The Realm of the Dead

Section II
Take pains to waken the dead… 
–C.G. Jung
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
ancestral loss
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.

* * * * *

"Tree of Zhiva" by Marianna Ochyra


The Tree of Life

Section III
I became a greening tree… 
–C.G. Jung
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:


The bounty
worms rise
above the soaked sable soil
while the crows
eat
and eat.


Earth is alive again, wet, full of worms, and the creatures feast on the pleasure of plenty.

* * * * *

“World Creation Music” by Marianna Ochyra


The Living Symbol

Section IV
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.

* * * * *

"Pilgrimage to Shiva" by Janaka Stagnaro


The Way of the Soul

Section 5
I am weary my soul, my wandering has lasted too long… 
 –C.G. Jung
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



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

San Francisco Jung Institute Monthly Writing Group

Once a month writing group at the SF Jung Institute.

Deep River: Writing as a Spiritual Practice - Naomi Lowinsky
Saturday October 17, 2009 and 7 Subsequent Second Saturdays
1 – 5 pm

I listened to the earth-talk
- Mary Oliver

Poetry of the natural world is a deep river in American literature. From Walt Whitman to Mary Oliver, American poets have heard the spirit of the earth and its creatures, have spoken for forest and mountain lake, gray whale and marsh hawk. threatened habitat and lost wetlands. Theirs is the prophetic function of giving voice to our fear and our grief. Theirs is the shamanic function of re-imagining our place in nature.

This coming year in the Deep River Writing Circle we will track our own relationship to the natural world. We will read Whitman, Oliver, Gary Snyder, W.S. Merwin, Patiann Rogers and others, and write under their influence.

The Deep River writing circle is a place to find your own voice, to develop your writing practice, to participate in a small community of writers, to study great poems, to make your own connection to the deep river of nature writing. New members welcome, space allowing. Our first meeting will be on Saturday, October 17th from 1-5 in the Institute Library. After that we will meet on second Saturdays, November 2009 through May 2010. Limited to 12 participants.