Where Poet and Mystic are One

Where Poet and Mystic are One
August 30, 2012

“The language came from the land,” Letitia intoned in her lush Welsh accent. “Remember before Christ and before and before and before when we had 13 eyes on our body, and 13 ears? We still have them but we don’t use them. We heard sounds that we don’t hear anymore. And we began to repeat them and form them into language.”

I met Letitia at the first workshop I gave on the “far” side of the Atlantic: Wales, 2006. It was my first taste of a culture – and here I include both Welsh and Irish – where poetic language seems inscribed in the marrow, where lines of Yeats or Dylan Thomas rock babies to sleep, where poets have been seen throughout the eras as the wisdom keepers and mystics.

Of course, many Irish and Welsh people have hastened to caution me against waxing rhapsodic and romanticizing a culture where just as many kids have been scared off poetry in grammar school as on my side of the Atlantic, and the adults are still in recovery. Yes, I can relate to that, and so can many who come to my workshops and concerts regardless of nationality. I give thanks that we are “in recovery,” that through some mystery each of us heard a call or felt a longing that was more compelling than the bruises left on some of our psyches by educational mishaps.

Can you relate to this story of the prodigal poem-lover? Do you remember the moment when you changed course, when whatever it was that scared you away from poetry, or bored you, or shamed you into flight was dwarfed by the call to return? What was it that called you back? A voice heard on the radio? A poem spoken at a funeral? A book gifted to you by a new friend? I’d love to hear what it was for you. Leave a comment below if you can relate to this archetypal journey. Tell me about yours.

But I digress.

Back in 2006, when I offered my first “Poetry Dive” workshop in Wales, I don’t think I had any idea that I had stepped into world that would pick me up and carry me to unimagined depths of my own work with the transformational power of poetry.

I’ve just returned from 6 weeks in Ireland and Wales where my adventures included 6 workshops, 3 concerts and several rather wet and edgy adventures, among them an attempt to swim with Fungi, the dolphin who lives in Dingle Bay and instead of meeting a cetacean, I and my comrade Emer met an ocean current that almost sent us into the Mystery! We did survive the initiation, and were able to wave to Fungi from a boat the next day.  (That dolphin is truly a miracle story: a lone bottlenose who, 30 years ago, chose to come and make contact with humans, and has been gracing the little town of Dingle ever since, bringing tourists, revitalizing the town, showing up daily to swim alongside tourist boats eye to eye with the humans on board. One little girl, maybe 7 years old, said to her mom as she waved to him, “I’m so happy right now, I can’t even find my sad place!”)

But yet again I digress.

There are a dozens of other miracle stories I could tell you, and these about humans unlocking their souls through powerful poetry dives and writing, speaking, dancing, shouting, being immersed in silence. Of all of these, the miracle I want to share right now is, drum roll please. . .

THE FIRST EVER CLASS OF THE POETRY DEPTHS MYSTERY SCHOOL GRADUATED FROM YEAR ONE!CONGRATULATIONS AND ALL BLESSINGS TO COLM, GEORG, BETTINA, GER, JOHN, IANA, SIOBHAN, RHIANNON, EMER, JULES, MARY AND MIKE (NOT IN PHOTO)!

I have not yet found words to express the profound gift that this group of pioneers has given me in their willingness to explore beyond the edges of their own “known” and mine too; in their willingness to take poems into their lives, voices, communities, workplaces, dinner parties, hospitals, therapy sessions, groups, seminars, parenting, partnerships… and on and on. As one person said,

It has been more awesome than any religious experience – being taken out of myself, into myself.  Many encounters – the angels Jacob wrestled with I have encountered in the poems – radically disturbing yet affirming also. I am now seeing myself as holding citizenship of a bigger world – and perhaps not just citizenship, but leadership.

I have discovered that a poem-as-sacred-medicine is a visceral indwelling entity and as such it transforms. It has to be voiced because the voice is a present-moment experiece – and only in the present-moment can healing happen.

And another,

Every time time I speak a poem now, my body straightens, and I am in a “sudden grace.” I feel reborn into another body, another wisdom beyond me, into something and someone I must know and yet have never before embodied.

This group is calling forth a Year Two of the Poetry Depths Mystery School. They are teaching me what I have to teach – and learn – at the deepest level. I am so grateful.

In January the first North American Poetry Depths Mystery School will begin. Even though some of the participants have suspiciously Irish sounding names, I am thrilled to feel the energies constellating for an equally transformational journey here on this side, “my” side, of the Atlantic.

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4 Responses to Where Poet and Mystic are One

  1. Eve Siegel says:

    I believe I’ve always resonated to poetry– to its rhythm, its messages from the deeps within each person, and its vast exploration of language. At some level, I’ve known that everyone, sometime in his or her life, has had to write or speak aloud in the language of poetry, because no other way of speaking could capture some essential quality of feeling lying beneath the surface. For this reason, I’ve written poems since I was at least seven.

    However, in college I met my first barrier to loving poetry in a class on 20th-century American poetry. The presentation of the poems of almost all male poets was done in a dry, academic (well, we were in academia, of course) fashion designed to make you bored out of your mind. Fortunately, the English Dept. had a program that invited a talented young poet each year to the campus to give readings and join in discussions. And that was how I met Rod Taylor, a storyteller from Florida and author of the book of poetry, Florida East-Coast Champion, who re-introduced me to the ways in which poetry could sing and pulse forward with rhythm and feeling.

    From that time forward, I found a new groove for my own writing and for sharing poetry with others– a path that helped me open my authentic voice and come into my own aliveness. For which I am profoundly grateful!

    • kim says:

      I can so relate to your story, Eve — as you might know from my book where I talk about exactly that experience. How fortunate we are to meet up with bards who redirect us to our true path within the many that people call ‘poetry.’ Thank you for this story and the return it portrays!

  2. Philo Sutton says:

    My experience of poetry in school were of having to learn about ten lines every night for homework, and those were generally lines that I didn’t understand, so I found it offputting and frustrating! However, something stayed with me and left an impression-it was the rhythem! I remember loving the Lady of Shalott- it rolled off my tongue and I loved the sounds of it and the mystery.
    Then almost two years ago I did a writing course which used poetry as a stimulus for getting the juices flowing-and I was hooked! and eventhough I didn’t understand every line, I was intrigued with it-it touched a chord deep inside me and I’ve been reading and reciting and learning by heart ever since. Yesterday I was asked to recite some poems in my craft group, and they went down really well! I was quite surprised and delighted at the thrill all of us got from listening and choosing our favoutite one. Kim, I feel so blessed to have been on two of your workshops this summer-they were magical and mysterious, and brought me to new places inside!

  3. kim says:

    So happy to hear from you Philo!! And to hear that you are still following the mystery we plumbed this summer. My heart to you~~