Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Category: What’s New

WITH AND WITHOUT OUR MASKS

Behind the masks of public life – our occupations, religious affiliations, social status, economic positions, family connections, educational accomplishments, and so on – each of us engages in another struggle, an attempt to find inner balance and direction for our own life. As we do so, we soon face a plethora of interior and exterior forces that must be reconciled. We get glimmers into this struggle – both within ourselves and within others – in statements that begin “I am” and “I am not,” as well as “I have been,” which recognizes the history and habits we accumulate and carry with us. There are also the voices – “he remembers” or “she insists” – that also recur in our lives, defining and redefining ourselves both within, as conscience or the angel or devil on our shoulders, and without, as any of a host of authority figures and friends or family members.

~*~

Village of Gargoyles

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

ALONG WITH A BREAKTHROUGH, FREE TO PLAY AND TINKER

Somewhere in writing poetry I turned to the concept of “working in series.” Quite simply, this meant investigating a subject repeatedly, often in a similar form. The process allowed multiple takes from different angles and in different lighting, as it were. In music, it could be seen as a theme and variations.

As I recall, the practice for me originated with Braided Double-Cross, itself inspired by The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan, and quickly led to Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each with its unique structure and inspiration. (Anne Waldman, for the former; Diane Wakoski, the latter.)

Village of Gargoyles is the latest, often with a specific structure for each of the 10 sections. Some forms run longer than others, which introduces variety. And within each, I’m free to play and tinker.

Admittedly, the 200 poems of my Village fall short of John Berryman’s colossal Dream Songs, but it’s still a prolific output.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

 

LOOKING FOR AN IDENTITY

How truly does anyone know himself or herself, much less others, in the end? The poems in Village of Gargoyles spring from experiments in self-identification that spread into human interactions.

While many of the individuals within this collection are identified by occupation, their confessions typically reflect the more intimate concerns of their lives – relationships, activities, even the weather. These are, then, overheard snippets more than public proclamations.

What began as an exercise in self-definition breaks out nonetheless into an entire spectrum of personalities. Do we know any of these people? Or are they somehow eluding us, masked by the bits that are revealed? Those we recognize, moreover, happen by accident – none of these are portraits of actual people, as the disclaimer would go, but rather the inventions of the poet’s imagination and craft.

Chaucer had his pilgrims. I have my village.

Like an actor, you’re invited to slip into each of these 200-plus characters.

Tell me. What makes a community?

~*~

Village of Gargoyles

To see the full collection, simply click here.

JUST LIKE MEETING BUDDHA ON THE ROAD

When it comes to the image generated by my newest book’s title, Religion Turned Upside Down, I’d like to think that a lot of the arguments against that religion are also tossed over.

Considering many of my earlier postings on spiritual practice, you might be surprised how many of those objections I agree with. I do, however, think there are more viable alternatives for deep religious grounding, ones more attuned to intellectual advances of our times, ones that leap ahead to the future.

Gives everyone a chance to start afresh, considering what might matter most in life, doesn’t it?

Or, as others have noted, every atheist has a god he doesn’t believe in. And then there are matters of action.

Sometimes it helps to get all that out of the way to get clear, as in Light.

~*~

For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

FROM QUAINT TO THE FRAY

When the Quaker movement emerged amid the turmoil of the English Civil Wars, its followers relied on three powerful, interlocking concepts – the Light, the Truth, and the Seed. While the blasphemy laws of the time precluded an open examination of the full implications of their experience, the early Quakers left enough evidence to allow contemporary spiritual seekers to recover the revolutionary scope of their vision, in thought and daily life. There’s nothing quaint in this view of Quaker life and action. What unfolds is likely to startle not only their spiritual heirs but also Christians and non-Christians of many different belief systems alike. Along the way come confrontations and stimulation to deepen individual and community faith and practice.

To draw from Zen teaching – Right Thought (or teaching) leads to Right Practice (or action) leads to Right Wisdom – I see the insights of my book Religion Turned Upside Down as vital to addressing the vast challenges facing humanity. Period.

~*~

Religion Turned Upside Down

Religion Turned Upside Down

For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

RENEWED FAITH IN THE FUTURE

Unlike my usual Quaker Practice postings here on the Red Barn, my newest book probes into the underlying theology that made the Society of Friends an alternative Christianity – one without priests or clergy, creeds and dogma, ritual or liturgy but shaped lives based in faithful simplicity, equality, peace, and pursuit of justice.

In Religion Turned Upside Down, metaphor, not law, is the foundation of spiritual expression and religious practice. As metaphors, when the central images of the Light, Seed, and Truth – in both the New Testament and early Quaker writings – are embraced as verbs rather than static nouns, a radical realignment occurs.

While conventional religion finds itself more and more relegated to the sidelines of Western society, what appears within the reconstructed Quaker paradigm – one that could not be voiced fully under the prohibitions of the blasphemy acts – now aligns with new insights from the frontier of intellectual discovery. Crucially, it provides support for alternatives to the great threats to human existence as well – environmental, nuclear, military, economic, political, social, racial.

It’s a basis for hope and action rather than despair.

~*~

For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

SHAKEN AND STIRRED

Read closely, the Bible itself critiques conventional religion, including Christianity. The arguments in my new release, Religion Turned Upside Down, build on these, especially as they shape the early Quaker movement as it arises in a period in English history known as “the world turned upside down.” What emerges is a continuing outline for a revolutionary alternative Christianity that springs from the interlocking spiritual metaphors of Light, Seed, and Truth, which frequently appear in both the New Testament and early Quaker writings.

~*~

Religion Turned Upside Down

Religion Turned Upside Down

For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

OUT OF A WHIRLWIND IN A GUST OF PASSION

Composing my Braided Double-Cross collection marked a turning point, one that came as I was getting my feet back on the ground as a poet after getting sidetracked into the demands at a shirt-sleeves management level and later focusing on novel-length fiction. Up to this point, my poems and, for that matter, much of my fiction focused on place – the outdoors, especially.

Personally, recovering from the collapse of a marriage and what I thought was better tomorrow on the horizon, I hunkered down back in the ranks of my career rather than trying to climb the proverbial ladder. I needed to catch my breath and nurse my wounds. This included a deep review of my life, the nature of relationships, the meanings of being male, connecting in contemporary society – and somehow, that all came into play when I came across an announcement for a book-length poetry competition by a university press. In some flash of intuition, I decided to do a 60-page collection based on notes I’d been gathering. Two weeks later, I was exhausted – but the draft was done.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done a poetry manuscript based on a focused theme. My American Olympus, conceived as a longpoem, had earlier tackled the Olympic Peninsula. But this was the first time I chose to work with individual poems of a general length and style, and it was a leap into love, not in the traditional vein but of a more brutal, realistic take on today’s interactions.

While I had already drafted a novel that would break out into Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, its focus was more on marriage and trying to work as a couple or with other couples.

Now I was venturing into fresh territory. With Braided Double-Cross – and the subsequent Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each of which tackles the same subject in its own unique structure – you could say I was taking the “inner child” concept a step further. These look at love and loving from the perspective of an “inner teen” – one full of adolescent passion, defiance, anger, hunger, raging hormones, overwhelming loneliness. I wanted to record it in its fullness.

At the time, readers and editors under the age of 45 seemed to rave about the work. Those older were largely appalled. Somehow, I still find that telling.

Over the years, the material has also worked itself into many of my other poems; I do have a fondness for Baroque and a respect for the way Bach and Handel recycled so much of their composition. I think, too, that much of the graffiti mosaic or jazz infused energy found in my poetry takes off from this point.

Well, about three decades have transpired since all that. I’m glad I wrote the poems when I did, the way I did. Today would be a different story.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

TRACING THE BRAIDS

In the early 1990s, when my writing focus returned with a vengeance to poetry, I found myself drafting in a fevered few weeks the 60 pieces that span the Braided Double-Cross collection.

Soon, I was drawing on many of the images and phrases for two alternative series, one of them being Blue Rock, with its own structure and style, and the other being Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, released last year.

Many of the poems, presented as “Crossings,” have appeared widely in small literary journals around the world. Now, for the first time, they’re presented complete, as originally intended.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

Enjoy this collection and more at Thistle/Flinch editions.

 

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.