THIS MATTER OF FLASHES IN A POET
by Jnana Hodson
Chancing upon an old comment in my files, “Our practice also reflects other practices and practitioners we’ve been exposed to,” now has me uncertain which our I was referencing. I’ll assume it was the Society of Friends (Quakers), although other religious circles or fellow poets would be equally valid. Now I’m appreciating how these differing practices, from one field to the next, converge in my own development over the years.
The key word in the remark is expose, and I vaguely recall trying to determine whether I wanted a collection of my poems under the banner of Exposures to be a mirror what happens with a camera and, in those days, film, or perhaps arise in candid, perhaps embarrassing, intimate revelations, or inflict some peril of being caught unprepared in the wilderness. Any or all might fit.
Another kind of exposure, however, involves personal encounters with the Holy Presence, however one wants to define that. Epiphanies may be rare, even once in a lifetime, yet smaller, refreshing opportunities may happen almost daily. Just ask those who believe in miracles or angels.
Meditation – first within yoga and later, among Quakers – has been crucial in my growth as a poet; Japanese and Chinese poetry, even in translation, rings with sustained silence, as do many of the pieces in English I cherish. Sitting motionless lets the restless mind settle into calm, opening a space for intuitive flashes to appear and connect in unexpected relationships. Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred anthology opened an awareness of the directions that firsthand spiritual experience could take in describing the physical world throughout history.
Dreams do something similar, if you pay attention.
Being at Indiana University when Mary Ellen Solt was pressing her field of Concrete Poetry also had an influence in my thinking about the potential voice of typography itself, even though I never studied with her; the Russian filmmaker S.M. Eisenstein’s collision of thesis and antithesis to create an unanticipated synthesis has also played its role. I could even attempt to articulate my aesthetic, with its preference for lines long enough for each to have a snap or twist, as well as a collision between lines or stanzas to erupt as synthesis, a desire for discovery and exploration (moving along The Edge, wherever that is), a demand for solid reporting, and so on.
My drive for strong visual images may be rooted in the discipline imposed by a demanding high school art teacher, a sensibility applied throughout my journalism career as I designed newspaper pages and cropped photographs. I should add I’ve worked with some of the best photojournalists in the newspaper business.
It should be no surprise, then, that I’m especially fond of poems that evoke a play of light – even flickering lighting or stars – in the forest, on a pond, in the high country of mountains, in a child’s eyes. Light, as it turns out, is the foundation of photography, too. Lightness, and a light touch. More profoundly, in Quaker usage, the Light is a metaphor for Christ, as the opening of the gospel of John proclaims.
And, yes, like my exposure to the outdoors, much of my writing arises in flashes of time rather than interrupted long blocks of solitude: a few words, noted when I was driving on my daily commute or after drying off from a morning shower, or a sentence or two that emerged in my journal (itself, an irregular practice of sessions days or weeks apart).
These elements are central to the middle section of my poetry collection, Ripples in a Bejeweled Prayer Flag. The part that remains titled Exposures.
For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.