,,,the deep element


wreck 1

..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.

wreck 2

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.

wreck 3




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5 responses to “,,,the deep element

  1. Hi Brigid, It takes courage to throw yourself into a different pool. I do it every new course that I take at the University. New people, strange (strange to me) backgrounds and experiences. Many cultures, ages and expectations. Each time I add my pearl of wisdom to the discussion, it could be a gem or a plonker. When you think of all that you and I have been through, writing a poem or an essay should be easy, but it is too much like laying the soul bare for the eagle to pick at again and again.
    Will this course allow you some freedom to ask for help? Can you give them your poem as far as it goes and then let other course members suggest endings? And for you to do the same for them? if the course is simply an exchange of poems, a place for strutting your stuff, with no space for mutual critique, it will be a bit un satisfying. I guess I am asking the questions that you can’t answer until you have tried it for a while. Do let me know how it goes. My Welsh course is the only online learning I have tried so far. It is not only well written but has a “community” of learners from all over the world, that bat back and forth with the teachers who always respond quickly and positively. Other language courses don’t let the learner in. One simply becomes a sponge.
    Not a recipe for success.
    Go for it! Perhaps it will be the key to becoming “at home” in your skin again. Emigration is a massive learning curve!
    Love June

    • HI June – lovely to hear from you – we are all flu-ed up and miserable a bit here. I got the date wrong for the course – tomorrow is the first day for the chat – silly me – not attending to the detail as usual! We have two poems to comment on with another person so everyone gets about 15 minutes of attention and there is no hogging of the feedback voice. It all sounds pretty good. I will send you my poem when it has been through the micer – I am interested in what the tutor thinks of it – still this itch about whether things are meaningful to others. I am not really doing much writing at the moment – we are doing the utility room slowly – we shall be able to gather in there are peel beans and bottle things when you come! At least things might not get so sticky! I am not putting effort into the French at the moment and I do need to – just winter stasis I think. Hope for Spring to arrive in me quickly but fear that winter is here to stay in my achy body! Lots of love to you – you are lucky to be able to easily access courses – I do miss that. Take care Brigid XXX

  2. Bon courage for the course. I’ve written lots of diving poems,but nothing that could be called spiritual.

  3. ‘the thing I came for:
    the wreck and not the story of the wreck
    the thing itself’

    This reminds me of your previous blog – the quest for the thing itself again, and not the description of the thing – but oh the enormity of the descent and what might be discovered there.
    Serendipity – I compiled your emails to me sent in 2002 from SL, long before the tsunami but perhaps not unrelated…making the compilation – that did not include any replies from me, somehow lost – I found to be a day of reflecting on that time, about what reached me from you over that year when briefly the war stopped and warring groups came together to make stories for children, while war then broke out in a family.

  4. Yes – I had a wonderful letter from Woody about the blog – it made me feel as if it was worth doing. I need to keep going at it – it’s an important communication. I am sending you an email – sorry to to be so slow at communicating XX

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