Thursday, June 29, 2006

Visionary Poetry 1

(The first in a series of essays I originally wrote a year ago, as a long thread on a poetry critique site. I intend to edit and compile them here, into one long multi-part essay. Many thoughtful comments were made on the original thread, which I don't have full permission to quote here; so, some paraphrasing will no doubt ensue, as I reword some of those insights into my own words, so that I can comment on them directly.)

I've been seeing a lot of religious poems on the forums lately, explicitly labeled as religious. Comments have been made, wondering why more people don't comment on these poems; perhaps the commentators are unaware what firestorms have happened in the past whenever religious poems have shown up, and the crit and response gets personal, purely on the grounds of personal belief and faith, rather than on the merits of the poem at hand, as a poem. It's hard sometimes to comment on a poem's form and elements, without also commenting on the contents and subject matter; it's perhaps too easy to misperceive a comment on one's faith as a comment on one's self.

So, it can be a very touchy subject.

But, from the very origins of poetic verse in shamanic chant, poetry has often been about nothing but belief, faith, the religious experience, the mystical experience, and the way these things work into everyday life experience. The gods appear throughout Homer. I would hardly turn my back on the glorious poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, simply because I don't share his particular Jesuit Catholic beliefs. (Although the comment has been made, with some merit, that Hopkins' religious beliefs were fairly commonplace, and that it was his technical innovations in poetry, that make him stand out.) I read with absorption, in my early twenties, Jerome Rothenberg's seminal anthology Shaking the Pumpkin. I was a composition major in music school at the time, and exploring text/sound poetry, with live performance coupled with voices-on-tape, and this anthology had a profound impact on my music, my poetry, and my visual artwork, at the time.

What I see underlying the impulse to write visionary, spiritual poetry—its origin and root—is not organized religion, not sectarian ideas—which are what folks fight over, in religious arguments—but a personal impulse towards something sacred. Sometimes it's impossible to name or label what that Something is; sometimes one must simply leave it unnamed, as a Mystery.

I think about all this, lately, as I see a number of poems appear on the scene that seem to have a spiritual, even mystical experience at their root, but are not conveniently religious. (I confess that I find these poems far more interesting than the conventionally sectarian ones that also appear.) Maybe I'm reading more into it than is really there; this is, after all, one of my own principal interests and directions for my writing. Pretty much everything I write is a record of such an exalted experience, charmed into words the best I am able.

I find visionary creativity a topic of ultimate fascination. It's always on my mind. Without intending to provoke anything or anybody, and with no intention of igniting yet another tedious flame war, I risk this dangerous territory in the full knowledge of the benefits it offers to each of us, as artists.

So, herewith I offer a few quotes and thoughts designed to elicit thought about the topic of the spiritual, visionary, and transpersonal aspects of experience that feed into our creative work, including poetry. Quotes and links follow:

C.G. Jung: Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.

C.G. Jung: People use concepts to avoid experience.

Helen Keller: The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.

Angeles Arrien: The visionary is the one who brings his or her voice into the world and who refuses to edit, rehearse, perform, or hide. It is the visionary who knows that the power of creativity is aligned with authenticity

Paul Klee: Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible.

Betty LaDuke: A successful artist is able to pursue a vision and let that vision take that person places where they would never expect to go.

Rollo May: Receptivity requires a nimbleness, a fine-honed sensitivity in order to let one's self be the vehicle of whatever vision may emerge.

Catherine Nash: A beginning artist naturally focuses on the work of others, finding a rhythm to match her own. At a certain point however, you have to stop doing that, internalize the search, and find your own visual poetry. What is your inner vision? It's vital to make that shift.

Jonathon Swift: Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.

Leonardo da Vinci: The poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things, and far below the musician in that of invisible things.

Meister Eckhart: When I was in my first cause, I had no God, and I was cause of myself. I lacked nothing and I desired nothing, for I was an empty being and a knower of myself, rejoicing in the truth. I wanted myself and wanted no other thing. What I wanted I was, and what I was I wanted, and thus I was empty of God and of all things. But when I went out, by my own free will, and received my created being, then I had a God; for before there were creatures, God was not 'God': he was simply what he was. But when creatures came to be and received their created being, then God was not 'God' in himself, but he was 'God' in the creatures. Now God, insofar as he is only 'God,' is not the ultimate goal of creatures. For the least of creatures IN God has just as great a position. And if it were possible that a fly had intelligence and could with its mind search the eternal abyss of divine being out of which it came, we would have to say that God, with everything he is as 'God,' would be unable to fulfill or satisfy that fly. Therefore let us pray to God that we may be empty of 'God,' and that we may grasp the truth and eternally rejoice in it, there where the highest angels and the fly and the soul are equal, where I was pure being, and wanted what I was, and was what I wanted. In that very being of God where God is above being and above distinctions, I was myself, I wanted myself and understood myself in order to make this man that I am. That is why I am my own cause according to my being, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. And therefore I am unborn, and according to my unbornness I can never die. When I flowed out of God, all things said: God exists. But this can't make me blessed, for by this I understand that I am a creature. But when I break through and return where I am empty of my own will and of God's will and of all his works and of God himself, then I am above all creatures and am neither 'God' nor creature; but I am what I was and what I will remain now and forever. Then I receive an impulse that will carry me above all the angels. In this impulse I receive such vast wealth that I can't be satisfied with God as he is 'God,' or with all his divine works; for in this return, what I receive is that I and God are one.

A comparative view of creativity theories

A Jungian look at John Keats' poetry

The Metaphysical Perspective in the Work of C.G. Jung

Works by Meister Eckhart

Fire in sacred poetry

Poems by Goethe

There's a poetry anthology I also recommend along these lines: Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment, ed. Daniel Halpern. It's an anthology of nine poets, with discussion by Halpern: Rumi, Lalla, Mirabai, Blake, Rimbaud, Rilke, Yeats, Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted you to know there’s a new site out dedicated to presenting the spiritual implications of Mirabai’s life and teachings at


8:08 AM  

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