In recent years I’ve had a complicated relationship with poetry, which tells me that it really is true love. If things don’t feel complicated you’re probably not growing, and if you’re not growing, how can there be love? Love is, by definition, growth. Infinite expansion. Yet at the same time the relationship hasn’t actually been complicated, I’ve just thought that it was complicated, because I was projecting my own frustrations with life onto poetry. Really the connection between us is nothing but pure love, pure recognition of the essence of myself.
I have to pause now and note how fascinated I am with the fact that the paragraph I’ve just written could be read as a metaphor for my relationship with the love of my life. I didn’t mean to write a metaphor. I really did mean to write about my relationship with poetry! But it just sort of happened, this slipping into you. Maybe that’s because poetry is everywhere. Because love is everywhere. Because you are everywhere.
Am I digressing or just going deeper into this moment? I think we should digress more. I think poetry should be an absolute digression into the depths of the moment, an abandonment of everything you thought you were going to write and a surrender to everything you feel right now. And it’s suddenly clear to me, that this is how I’ve always written poetry: without writing anything at all, really. Writing feels like an active verb to me but really when I write I disappear, I become entirely submissive to the energy of the moment, to my intuition, the depths of my subconscious. It is not much different than experiencing and recording a dream with my eyes open. When I make poetry I allow the source of which I am to channel through me. As a poet I am not a writer but a transcriber, a medium, a channel. As a poet I am, most of all, a listener more than I am a speaker. And yet, aren’t the most powerful speakers those who are devoted listeners? One cannot exist without the other, which is my favorite quality of the universe, this co-creation of our existence, the necessity of yin and yang. I only breathe out because you breathe in.
Again, I digress. Again, I go deeper.
When a poem isn’t working for me it’s because I’m not listening to the truth inside me, which is essentially a form of lying to myself. No wonder it’s so painful.
And when a poem is working for me, it is a therapeutic experience unlike any other, and it’s this experience I want to go deeper into, to honor and celebrate. When I echo Anne Sexton in saying “It’s the poetry that seems to be saving me,” I mean that as literally as CPR saves someone whose heart has stopped. And maybe I mean it even more literally, in that it saves not only my body but the soul my body is a vehicle for and expression of. Poetry saves not just my life but the essence that breathed my life into form. Poetry not only revives me but also my desire to thrive. And surviving without thriving is just a painful way of being dead.
It’s not true, however, that I’ve always written poetry this way. The poetry I submitted with my grad school application is wildly different from what I write now, and not just in a natural-evolution-of-an-artist sort of way but fundamentally, essentially different. It wasn’t until I came across the poetry of certain other poets that I was able to crack myself open and truly experience myself while writing. These poets spoke to me across distances and timelines, their words an echo of the fever of my own soul. They sparked a longing in me I didn’t even know was there. I quite literally fell in love with them. And why should that be surprising? The poets who most inspired and influenced my own poetry are poets whose words are saturated with the perfume of the source from which they came. I recognized my own scent within them. My hunger for myself has been insatiable ever since.
The above phrase in italics is from spiritual teacher Adyashanti’s foreword to The Impact of Awakening, describing the meaning of satsang (emphasis mine):
When I was a Zen monk, I learned the difference between “live words” and “dead words.” Most of the words we read and hear are lifeless, in the sense that they’re rooted in concepts and intended to appeal to the mind. Of course, such “dead words” have an important role to play on a relative level, helping us to negotiate the world of apparent objects and people.
To point us beyond the body-mind to the source from which this relative reality arises and in which it abides, however, we need “live words,” like those we find in the teachings of the great nondual masters and sages. The sayings of Ramana Maharshi, for example, or the Tibetan master Tilopa . . . have the power to short-circuit the mind, light up the heart, and quicken the revelation of who we really are. In Vajrayana Buddhism, such words are called pith instructions or heart wisdom. As Jean Kelin puts it, they are saturated with the perfume of the essence from which they came.
The space in which live words are spoken is called satsang—literally, “being together in Truth.” When we speak Truth with one another, we’re creating satsang.
When I read these passages it is so clear to me that the power of poetry is the power of life itself. Poetry moves me as deeply as it does because it is made up of “live words,” words that short-circuit my mind, light up my heart, and quicken the revelation of who I really am. And goodness that sounds a lot like falling in love, doesn’t it?
It’s clear now that for me poetry has always been about falling in love. I used to joke about having this problem in which I always seem to fall in love with my favorite poets, when really that isn’t a problem at all but the process of my inner being recognizing its own light within others. Love is light. To fall in love with someone is to intuitively recognize your own light within another, to experience your shared Oneness. Yet this is also why experiences of love can be as painful as they are blissful, and this is when we say that things get “complicated.” In love we are shown our light as much our shadow. In love our fears are triggered not out of malice or cruel cosmic accident (there is no such thing as a cosmic accident!), but so that we can transmute those fears into love, so that we can remember ourselves as we truly are: whole, worthy, eternal.
What is the difference now, between poetry, satsang, and experiencing love? I’ve digressed so much that I’ve lost myself completely. And this is what happens when you go deeply into the moment: you lose everything you think you are, everything you thought you wanted to say, yet in this losing you clear space for the experience of the essence of who you really are. In losing yourself you do, of course, find yourself. Or rather, you find that you’ve never actually been lost, you just thought you were, and so you experienced yourself as being so.
I want to live my life saturated with the perfume of the source from which I came. I love saying that. I love thinking of myself as saturated with the perfume of what makes me. It turns me on very much.
It occurs to me now, that although I intended to write an essay honoring poetry as satsang, as spaces in which we can be together in Truth, what I really mean is I want every moment to be satsang. I want to be in Truth with you, which is to say, I want to be with you, which is to say, I want to be.
I want to be.
It feels so good to say that and mean it.
Meet me here, dear poets. I am writing this for you, the ones who write because they have to, the ones who have complicated relationships with poetry yet love it so feverishly anyway. I am writing this for you, dear ones who don’t know what the point is and go on anyway. You intuitively know the point is the experience of being. You are already creating satsang. Your being is satsang. Your being is Truth, and your poetry is the expression of that. Your poetry is the space in which we meet each other in Truth, even if only briefly, even if only through a Facebook post or journal publication, we come together nonetheless, and in doing so we come to life.