I often delight in a phrase or term that takes on a life of its own, apart from a particular content or meaning. The poet Jack Spicer, drawing on his training as a linguist, was a master at this.
Overhearing one conversation recently, my mind’s eye took the Black Joker who met the Red Herrings on a Non-Tour in a much different direction. My choir buddies, Mike and Kate, knew who they were talking about, and where. It was all about Morris dancing. For me, though, it was pure magic on its own.
Words can, after all, exist in their own sound and space. How short can a poem be, anyway? I have a few that weigh in at one word apiece, while two or three words can make for a nice verbal dance.
The title of my newest poetry collection, Noble Blue Liberty, is one of those. Years ago, I warned the mother of three children I’d run with her lofty impression, and I have. Actually, the title could stand as a poem all its own.
I have similar feelings about some of my other recent releases.
Ever wonder where your life would have headed if you’d had the big breakthrough back then? Landed the job at the top? Been accepted at that Ivy League college or tony prep school? Married the seemingly perfectly glamorous spouse? (The one who got away, of course – or the one you only gaped at across the classroom with never more than a sentence at a time ever being exchanged?) Started your own business and thrived? Had the weed-free garden or the problem-free children?
I can look back on a life with a lot of near misses that way, or so I’d hope, but the reality is that is one advance that way would have precluded many, many down-to-earth life lessons.
Once past the early dreams of literary success, I’ve wondered what would have happened had one work or another taken off as a bestseller. More along that vein would have been expected, even demanded. And then? Where would the growth have occurred?
In my experience, the practice has been to keep exploring. Often it felt like looking for a crack in the wall, whatever the resistance was, but I kept probing.
Instead of continuing along that opening, had it happened, I’ve kept investigating a wider range and recording that. I could say it’s been exhausting as well as prolific.
Revisiting the notes and drafts and thoughts that underpin my newest release, Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, resurrects so much of that turmoil and openness.
For me, this volume is a celebration of the creative process, more than any “finished” product.
It’s an honest acknowledgement of so much that got away or might have been. Wish you’d had a chance to meet me back then.
Two early novels that were left unfinished are now resurrected and joined in this fertile volume. One, a venture into “political science fiction,” seems prescient in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign. The other, in a mystery genre, enters its own time warp with an invitation to dine out.
Take a trip Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.
Once upon a time, I was one of those whose body seemed to end at his neck. I lived almost entirely in my head. Intellect was everything.
And then I made contact with a host of previously foreign sensations – things I’d previously merely viewed. The exchange, for the most part, was marvelous. Let’s start with the feel of my lover’s skin to my touch. Or her lips on mine.
In time, she pointed me toward yoga, which really opened my inner vision. Much of the process I describe in my novel Ashram, starting with the response to the direction, “Touch your toes.”
The poems of my newest collection, Foreign Exchange, continue to probe the universe of surfaces – as well as much that lurks underneath.
People typically listen with their heads, attentive to logic and thought, or with their hearts, to feeling and insinuation. But there’s also a frequently untapped ability to listen with one’s hands, as I recognized at a Susan Stark concert in Brunswick, Maine. There, two Quaker pastors from Kenya (themselves excellent, forceful singers) sat with arms flexed out before them, as if each held an invisible beach ball squeezed slowly. They were appraising the vibration of the room, the presence of Holy Spirit moving. This time, the current was plentiful and active. Try it, in public – at a governmental hearing, a poetry reading, a concert or play, a sporting event – and you, too, may observe how the sense of each occasion may differ. Watch a master carpenter or a first-rate baker, as well, to see how hands ponder a task, running ahead of mental comprehension. A musician often seems to hear music through the fingers, as if playing, even when no instrument is present. Perhaps a surgeon does the same with medicine.
The impression shapes the central section of Foreign Exchange, my newest collection of poems. Please feel them for yourself. These poems celebrate movement perceived through a Third Ear, between the hands. The tactile response.
Many of my years as a newspaper editor included handling the business section. The daily markets tables included not just stock prices but other items, some with exotic titles. “Bright Sweet Crude,” for instance, is a grade of petroleum in the futures trading. Well, why not transform it to the renewable energies of the Animal Kingdom, as I have in a collection of poems by that name?
Foreign Exchange is another, based on the floating rates of currency transactions. This time, as my newest collection of poems, “foreign” can be anything we encounter outside of ourselves, and the “exchange” can be the experience of discovery.
Just wait till you see what I do with Composites Update, Rough Rice, or Chicago Eggs a year down the pike.
For now, consider a brief flash. Something that sparkles or shimmers. A half-seen motion, perhaps recollected later. Illumination. A beacon. A guide. A break in the night. Sometimes, this is something even the blind perceive. A word of truth. Prophecy or healing. A vision of eternal mysteries. A star or hint of coming dawn. And then, as James Nayler instructed: “And as thou followest the light out of the world, thou wilt come to see the seed, which to the world’s wisdom and glory is crucified” (Journal, 349). Everything is transformed and made new. Mind the Light.