Showing posts with label feminine. sister from below. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminine. sister from below. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2022

The Sister from Below is Delighted to Invite You

 Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and the Deep River Poets

invite you to a reading of

Soul-Making in the Valley of the Shadow


Kent Butzine, Virginia Chen, Sheila deShields, Dossie Easton, Connie Hills, Raluca Ioanid, Daniela Kantorová, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Clare Marcus, and Anita Sánchez

Sat. Oct. 22, 2022 


On Zoom

Cover Image: Kent Butzine

General Admission: $25

Esse in anima (Live in the soul)–C. G. Jung

How does one live in the soul during dangerous times? The ancient mode of mythopoesis is an imaginal practice which can confront shadow and give voice to soul. Since 2006 the Deep River Poetry Circle has provided a temenos for this process. After the trauma of the 2016 election, followed by the pandemic and the climate catastrophes that have followed, we in Deep River have engaged the Spirit of the Times as well as the Spirit of the Depths. It has become 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. We gather at the river to follow the flow of our poems; they take us to surprising places, show us the unexpected—the Tree of Life around a bend in the river, its roots deep in the earth.

We gathered to create our anthology, Soul Making in the Valley of the Shadow, as a gift to the community.  We offer this reading to the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, in celebration of its passage from a beloved old home to a transformative new home, in memory of our Jungian ancestors, and as an expression of deep gratitude to the Extended Education Committee, who have given us support, visibility, and a way to gather for so many years, through so many changes.  

Please join us. The $25.00 admission fee will get you a copy of Soul Making. All proceeds will go to the Extended Education Program.

- No Continuing Education Credits are available for this event.

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 
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

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Muse of Breath

The Sister from Below is pleased to announce the publication of

Dreaming Night Terrors

Political Poems
on the eve of the 2020 Election

Who will speak truth    to the Master    of Mendacity?
“The Spirit of Elijah Cummings Speaks”

Stuck in the cloistered terror of a pandemic, it’s hard to remember the brawling days before and after the 2016 election, the furies released by the Kavanaugh hearings, our stunned grief at the death of Elijah Cummings in October 2019. That seems lifetimes ago. Yet the 2020 election, perhaps the most consequential of our lives, is looming.

Dreaming Night Terrors, is a chapbook of political poems from the time before Covid 19, before the murder of George Floyd and the protests about police brutality and American racism. Written in outrage and sorrow, these poems are Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s offering to the spirit of Elijah Cummings. He advised us to “speak truth to abuse.” He reminded us that our resilience comes from our constitution, which is based on the separation of powers. Were he alive today he would urge us to organize, raise money, write rants, vote, do everything it’s in us to do to remove the current administration, its chaos and corruption, its mendacity, cruelty and cult of personality. This is our moment, even as we shelter in place and gather on Zoom, to defend our democracy, honor Elijah, and reclaim our responsibilities to each other and to the earth.


The Muse of Breath

Like Emmet Till in the casket, the Floyd
image made clear no black person could be safe.
Carol Anderson
author of White Rage
NY Times Review, June 28th 2020

Emmet Till painting by Lisa Whittington

(Dreaming Night Terrors is dedicated to the spirit of my father, Edward Elias Lowinsky, whose politics were the hard-won truths of a refugee from the European slaughter of his people.)

Breath is Spirit
Father, your spirit takes over my reverie with ravenous cravings for news—of the pandemic, of the protests, of the tsunami of change that is sweeping away the world as we know it. You insist that I track the terrible stories, make something of them—poems, blogs, a chapbook. You keep disturbing my introverted sheltering in place, stirring my outrage. It’s been a half life since we talked. Come to think of it, have we ever really talked, ever really had a dialogue? You lectured. I listened. My responses were always carefully crafted not to incite your rage. My spirit hid out in your presence. Your spirit wandered off into the Beyond. I always think of Jung’s mother telling him that his father died in time for him to become himself. You did that for me, and I’m grateful. You haven’t been around me much in all those years. Why are you making such a ruckus now?

Why do you assume it’s my call? You’re the one who pulls me out of the Beyond by breathing my spirit, obsessing about words and their roots, working for musicality in your language, seeking the humanism and creativity to which I gave my last breath—finding it even in the realm of politics. You speak of spirit, yours and mine. The word spirit comes from the latin “spirere,” to breath. You have come to a place in your life where you can breathe, fully, in the presence of my spirit. Perhaps my spirit has evolved to allow you the space to breathe.

I come to remind you it’s not enough to hide out from the virus. You need to speak out about the truths the virus reveals. How is it possible that America is still such a racist nation, that unarmed black people get killed for no good reason, that black and brown people die of Covid 19 so much more frequently than do white people? Didn’t we fight for racial justice in my lifetime? What happened to Martin Luther King’s long arc of the moral universe bending toward justice? Has it been twisted backwards?

Portrait of George Floyd by Eme Freethinker

Breath is Life
Father, your great grandchildren are out in the streets protesting. They’re wearing masks and chanting George’s Floyd’s last words: “I can’t breathe” as his life was crushed out of him by a policeman’s knee. Why? Because a cashier in a store thought he was passing a forged twenty dollar bill. His image is all over the world, including in Germany. He joins the list of names, tragic names that fill me with grief and shame: Eric Garner who died in a police chokehold, saying “I can’t breathe.” Why did the police stop him? On suspicion of selling individual cigarettes illegally. Breonna Taylor, a young Emergency Medical Technician, was shot eight times in her bed in the middle of the night. The police had bad information and no warrant. Ahmoud Arbery, a young man who liked to jog to clear his mind, was gunned down by two white men. His crime? Running while black. Walter Scott, stopped on some traffic technicality, was shot in the back running away. He was unarmed. Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy, was playing with a toy gun. Shot by police. I could go on and on. All of these people would be alive today if they were not black. A sign seen at a recent protest: “Legalize Being Black!” How can this still be happening, in the America that saved you and our family?

Have you noticed all this commotion is about breath? Covid 19 is a respiratory disease. It attacks a person’s lungs. If you’re sick with Covid you can’t breathe. Racism is a disease of the collective breath. Air is something we all share. But racism stops the oppressed from breathing freely, from living their lives with joy and purpose. If you’re black or brown you’re constantly feeling under assault. George Floyd can’t breathe. Eric Garner can’t breathe. Black and brown people can’t breathe because they are always at risk. Their spirits are crushed by the burden of such hatred, such constant danger. What did I always tell you? Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty. What happened to your vigilance?

When I saw you last, father, you were curled up like a fetus in that hospital bed. Reagan was on TV, well into his dog whistle assault on the multicultural America you fought for. You were too sick to rant against him. It’s been 35 years since the cancer devoured you, since the cancer of white supremacy devoured the civil rights and liberties we had so recently achieved. I kept thinking the backlash would be over soon, the Age of Aquarius would finally begin. Our liberal America would triumph. I wasn’t vigilant enough to get it—things kept getting worse. In the ‘90s, during the democratic presidency of Bill Clinton, welfare was undermined, and mass incarceration stole black men out of their families, destroying young lives and ripping up communities. So many young fathers were in jail for meaningless, made up offenses. You can imagine what this did to their women, their children, their breath, their spirit. I didn’t understand that racism in America is systemic, and that I, even with the best of intentions, am complicit with a system which privileges me over black and brown people. I didn’t comprehend the Phantom Narratives, to borrow my friend Sam Kimbles’ phrase, that had America and me, in their grip—the ghosts of the American civil war and the ghosts of the Shoah telling competing stories. I didn’t begin to see that we were witnessing a resurrection of the chain gang, of the plantation system with slaves, until recently. I’m ashamed that it took me so long.

It takes spirit to confront unwelcome truths.

A graphic account of America's love affair with prisons

Breath is a Song
Father, you were in my dream the other night. You were so young and tender, the age you were, 33, when you got your first job in America, teaching Musicology at Black Mountain College; the age you were when I was born. We are on a fast moving train, sitting at a table in the dining car. You are headed forwards, me backwards. I’m the age I was when I visited your deathbed. There is sweetness and ease between us. We are headed South, to North Carolina. I wake to remember my favorite story of you.

Photo of Father, Mother, my baby brother, Si, and me (1946)

I was a toddler. You were recently off the boat, finding sanctuary at a small liberal arts school in the South. Like most of your colleagues, you were a refugee Jew, escaped from the Shoah. I have fleeting memories of all those European musicians, painters, weavers, Bauhaus builders in world changing times speaking many languages in the cafeteria. We were a community spat out of the mouth of Europe’s monstrous hatred of the Jews, lucky to land here on the shores of Lake Eden. But this was the South. Jim Crow reigned, which outraged you. Looked to you like how Hitler treated the Jews. You invited Roland Hayes, an African American tenor, to sing at a desegregated concert. Hayes sang the European repertoire as well as spirituals. He had been received by the crowned heads of Europe, but given little attention in America. Mother told me that you and she were afraid the Ku Klux Klan would burn Black Mountain College down. That didn’t happen. Hayes gave his breath, his great spirit, to Schubert’s “Du Bist die Rüh” and to “Go Down Moses.” That was 1945. The war was still on. Your parents had died in the year of my birth. That must have been such an assault on your breath. How did you have the chutzpah to take on segregation?

I knew I just had to keep on breathing, keep on living my life. My mother died in a concentration camp in Holland. I didn’t know what had happened to my father, though later it appeared he was in a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz when the allies bombed the train. What a terrible irony, to think my father was killed by America. My spirit rose up in fury and told me to do something! So I desegregated Black Mountain College—the first school in the South to open its doors to black people of color. I did it with the Roland Hayes concert, and with a campaign to invite black students. It was my intention to help America honor its promise. I had so much faith in America. What happened? 

Black Mountain College faculty

Breath is Inspiration

We elected a black president in 2008, with a musical name—Barack Obama. He is brilliant, eloquent, elegant—a man with a strong moral compass. He has a beautiful, high spirited wife and two lovely daughters. It was inspiring to have such a loving, admirable black family in the White House for eight years. But racism was alive and well in America and Obama had a terrible time trying to govern. The Republicans blocked him at every turn. Obama is still deeply beloved. But the backlash was the election of the anti-Obama— a blatant racist, a master of mendacity, of chaos and corruption, a demagogue, a narcissist, the crazed center of a cult of personality. He follows the playbook for dictators. His self-serving and incompetent administration has made us the laughing stock of the world, and revealed the underbelly of American racism and inequality. He has not even attempted to lead the country out of the dreadful pandemic we’re stuck in. The body counts keep growing. The numbers of the sick keep growing. Other countries refuse to let Americans in. Not that we want to travel these days.

And what are you doing, my daughter, to confront all this horror?

I am putting my poems to work for the election of a good man, a man who has a moral compass, a man who understands suffering and grief, Joe Biden. I hope the poems will inspire people to do whatever is in them to do—especially to vote to oust the worst president we’ve ever had.

Worse than Nixon? Worse than Reagan?

Much worse. I wrote a poem during the spring of 2016 which expresses how dangerous I understood him to be even before he was elected. At the time mother was far gone into her dementia. She had no idea what was happening in the world. But the child in me yearned for her protection.

What I Want To Tell My Mama

Only she’s gone     a slight rustle of reeds
at the edge of the pond    a paw print in the mud

Sometimes she takes my hand    like a curious
two year old    tracing my veins     touching my rings

Mutti     you’ve dived down below    your German
gutterals     found your own    Ur tongue
Crim crutz
Olam Bolam
If you were who you used to be    Mama
I’d tell you about that Scary Man

that Chaos Man    with Caterwauling Hair    who beats
his chest and threatens

to drive us back
into the Tohu Bohu

He’d build a Golden Wall    high as the Great Wall
of China    Impenetrable as Negative Space

A Magnificent Wall to keep the likes of us
Refugees and our Rabble children    out

of America      Mama    he’s a Huckster
a Big Hunk of Catastrophe

Flasher Man    Slash Her Man
Hair sprayed into Caesar’s Brass Helmet
Olam Bolam
Crimini Crutz
All the ghosts we keep in the closet
rush in shrieking
“It’s the Nazis
It’s the Fascists
It’s the Cossacks
It’s the Huns
It’s Joseph McCarthy as Hair Spray Man
come to eat our young     Run!”
He is the King of the Hoax     the Prince of Evasion
Makes sausage

of our worst fears
We eat it

What he eats
is cotton candy
Rim Ram
Crimini hachts
There’s a gargantuan Wall of Broken
Glass    between his lovers    and his haters

yet we are spell bound     Mama
How can I explain

He has hula dancer fingers
He curls them

unfurls them
We watch     mesmerized
“On Day One    Hour One
You’ll all be gone    Every last one of you
                                             Enemy Aliens!”
Crimini crumini
Olam Bolam
Mama    make him
be gone…

That’s quite a language your mother developed in her dotage. Makes me think of another word that comes from the Latin, “spirare”— inspiration. Sounds like your mother was casting powerful spells.

Yes, I’ve had the same intuition about it. Speaking of inspiration, your passion for the political in its deepest, widest, most humanistic form, has inspired me to publish this little book. I want you to know, father, that I’ve dedicated my chapbook to your spirit. 

Have you ever dedicated anything to me before?

No. But this train is moving swiftly. I’m nearing the age you were when you died. I want you to know that I am your daughter, that I feel your spirit moving in me. Your passion for life, for justice, and for song inspire me in these terrible times. I’m grateful.

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.