..the deep element
‘I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element’ Adrienne Rich
Two things happened in the last few days that have been occupying my mind and making me think a lot. I have signed up for a Poetry School on-line course which involves writing, posting and eventually (tomorrow!) interacting with other people about what has been written. It’s called ‘Deep diving poetry – and the language of coastlines and the sea’. Well I’m rather nervous about this – whether I am up to the technical aspect of interacting on line, what will other people think about what I am writing and so on.
First, I picked up a link on Facebook magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-51 that took me to an article by Maitreyabandhu called ‘Thirteen Ways of Making Poetry a Spiritual Practice’ based on the poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens. It’s a beautiful, erudite article that is simple but that says things that are important and that certainly resonate with me.
As a result of reading the article I spent a morning reading Wallace Stevens whom I hadn’t read for quite a long time. Not just 13 Ways but ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ and other poems found on the way. I’d forgotten how much he means to me as a poet and how excited I was when I first found his work after a reading evening at Penny Shuttle’s house. Then this morning I re-read ‘Crumb Road’ – Maitreyabandhu’s collection from Bloodaxe Books. It was a different kind of read because of having read his article about poetry and spirituality. I began to enter different layers of his poems, read them in a different way. One of the things that he says in the article is that we have to work hard. ‘Spiritual life is a pursuit of excellence’ …. ‘drafting and re-drafting is therefore a spiritual practice, a pursuit of excellence’.
Well second, of course, is the writing of the poem that is required for tomorrow’s ‘interaction’. Claire Trevien set the scene by asking us to write about either a city lost underwater like Atlantis, a plane crash that ended in the sea or a shipwreck. She gave some readings as stimulus including Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. That was one of my most significant early poetry collections and I have had it for many years. Reading it again I knew that I had landed in one of those strange, serendipitous places where things come dynamically together and create a new understanding.
Except that the problem is that I now am finding it so hard to write the end of the poem. I have tried several versions and none of them really work. What I am trying to say in the poem is how hard it is to ‘get in’ – what courage is needed in order to get down into that deep place, to examine the wreck. I had hoped for a gentler beginning, perhaps a meander around a beach or a quiet sail across smooth waters and I am struggling to get in so deep, so soon.
Part of the difficulty for me is, I think, about trying to mend that broken conversation with the sea that followed on after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. I have never been able to swim in the sea since and it holds for me a kind of terrible fear composed of death, disruption of the known, my own failure to hold on to normal life since my ‘at home-ness’ in Sri Lanka was also broken, though not by the actual tsunami, but maybe by changes and distortions that took place as a result.
So here I am, wanting to enter deep, to experience turning my body without force, looking through the wreck, exploring its shadowy parts; and also wanting to use this time as a means of getting a more mindful and attuned sense of life through my writing. I shall post my inadequately ended poem on the site and hope that other poets’ responses may help me to look more clearly at what happens when we enter the element of the deep.
No, I re-write, not we but I!
One of my earliest favourite poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins was The Wreck of the Deutschland although they’re not nuns this painting captures the essence of the poem.