Any soul that drank the nectar of your passion was lifted. From that water of life he is in a state of elation. Death came, smelled me, and sensed your fragrance instead. From then on, death lost all hope of me. -Rumi
Throughout April, I’ve been offering prompts that touch upon the early origins of and uses for poetry. This week, we will go in a bit of a spiritual direction.
I titled this prompt “liturgy” to encompass a broad range of spiritual purposes for which poetry is written. Where I work, the term liturgy is used to refer to a collection of texts used for public, communal worship. What sorts of poetry might this call to mind? In Jewish and Christian traditions, one might think of the Book of Psalms, where parallelism, both synonymous and antithetic, is a common poetic device. Consider this excerpt from Psalm 27, usually attributed to King David (King James Version):
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One might also think of our modern Christian hymns, and there is certainly crossover between hymns and poetry in that regard. One of the most prolific hymn writers of the 19th century, Fanny Crosby, began first as a poet. She wrote her hymns and poems mostly in four-line stanzas with an a-b-c-b rhyme scheme, as evidenced by the first verse of “Near the Cross” which I quote below:
Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, Flows from Calvary's mountain.
Throughout human history in other religious traditions and faiths, poetry has been used for praise, thanksgiving, supplication, prayer, and expressions of sorrow to the deity or deities in question. The Rigveda, a Sanskrit collection of hymns written in verse form composed between 1700 and 1100 BC, is a great example of this. The hymns in the collection address several Hindu deities, including Ratri, or “night”. I’ll quote a portion of a hymn praising her from book 10 of the Rigveda:
1. WITH all her eyes the Goddess Night looks forth approaching many a spot: She hath put all her glories on. 2 Immortal. she hath filled the waste, the Goddess hath filled height and depth: She conquers darkness with her light. 3 The Goddess as she comes hath set the Dawn her Sister in her place: And then the darkness vanishes. 4 So favour us this night, O thou whose pathways we have visited As birds their nest upon the tree."
Spiritual poetry can also speak of more elevated themes, such as unity with the deity, the transcendence of one’s physical existence, and prophecy. The lines of Rumi’s poetry which began this post are a perfect example. Rumi, a Persian poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic, believed very much in the use of poetry, music, and dance to reach God. He spoke freely and frequently of seeking union with the Divine, as evidenced by this example:
I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was Man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar With angels bless'd; but even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God doth perish. When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, I shall become what no mind e'er conceived. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence Proclaims in organ tones, To Him we shall return.
Many of us are in the middle of religious observances right now. Some of you are observing Passover and the Easter season this week. You might use this prompt to ground yourself mentality, emotionally, and spiritually to prepare yourselves. Might you consider the stories of your faith as a starting point for this prompt? Perhaps you seek greater union with the Divine. Perhaps you are full of praise and thanksgiving, or like King David to whom authorship of Psalm 23 is attributed, you have walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” and you need to cry out in sorrow.
For the agnostics, atheists, and questioning folks among us: this prompt might be a great opportunity to think about belief (or lack of) and consider it further. Perhaps you might explore the moment you began to question what you were told about God. For the scientific or humanistic minded among us, what does creation say to you? How do you feel about faith as a general concept and other’s expressions of it? There are many directions in which you can go.
Meditate upon this, and write where your muse takes you. I’m looking forward to the results.
I think you know the drill: Use a few, use just some, or use all the words. Be inspired and relax about it all. Write. Just write. Post your poem or prose to your blog, and then return here, and post your link in the comments box so we can all enjoy your creation. Have fun!
Viv: glory rights song
Misky: pay pallid scurry
Jules: children vision drudge
Nicole: towers, sight, liquid
Barbara: crow black kinks
Lorna: dancing green spiral
Hannah: belly grows powers
Christopher: broke spell simple
Abby: nose bed ripple
Irene: brother myth say
Are you poeming every day in April? Are you poeming copiously in some form in April? Are you poeming at all? If so, Red Wolf Journal would love to see your poems on the theme:
“The River: Within Us and
This theme, of course, is about rivers, in any way, shape, or form. What do rivers mean to you? What do they symbolize? What about the rivers -- both literal and metaphorical -- in your lives? Do you, as Michael Stipe said, need to "find the river"? As your soul is “as deep as the rivers”, as Langston Hughes put it, we want to read about it in a way that we’ve never seen before. Show us how the river which draws your soul travels. For more information, please see the full explanation of our theme as well as Red Wolf's general submission guidelines.
Raven was in a deep sleep, dreaming the world. He saw things and they happened, He dreamed things and they came to life. - Red Hawk, "Raven's Last Dream"
In last week’s prompt we explored “history”. This week, we turn our gaze to “mythology”.
Poetry began as an oral tradition to transmit the history, stories, and culture of a people from one generation to the next. Included in this was the culture’s mythology. Of course, mythology can overlap both history and religion in earlier cultures — in many cases, what we now label mythology were considered true accounts of the actions of the gods and other superhuman characters in those cultures, and legends were considered true stories about the actions of humans. Mythology and legends were often transmitted through epic poetry — consider one of the most famous examples of this, The Odyssey by Homer.
The term “myth” has become somewhat pejorative, denoting something that is fictional and not true. I’ll bear out this idea a little further with a question: if Zeus’ defeat of his father Kronos is considered a myth, what about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by Yaweh? In different times and places, both have been considered literal retellings of real events.
I present the previous question to broaden the idea of “mythology” a bit. For this week’s prompt, I’m going to ask you to take the word “mythology” and run with it — in any direction you choose. You can go epic with this. Or, if you’d like a modern example of mythology in poetry, you can check out “Raven’s Last Dream” from which I quoted at the beginning of this prompt. Do you look to mythology from your own culture? Might you look to the stories of heroes/heroines or warriors — what about Cú Chulainn, Hua Mulan (and not the Disney version!), or Samson? Do creation stories fascinate you — whether it be Yaweh speaking the world into existence, or the Maori story of Rangi and Papa?
Consider other possibilities. Would you do some mythologizing of your own — might you take a modern event and explain it as a result of a supernatural event? What might happen if an ancient mythological or legendary figure appears in modern times — would Saraswati perform on India’s Got Talent, or how would King David fare at a poetry slam? Or do you think in terms of metapoetry about mythology itself?
As Jim Morrison put it, “Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages/Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests”. I’m looking forward to what you create. :)
This wordle comprises a selection of words from poems submitted to Prompt 206 “Which Childhood?” So the following are the poets who’ve submitted poems and the list of words which I’ve picked:
Ms Pie: embryonic, borrowed, turtle
Nicole: toothpicks, earlobes, fatness
emangsteroo: fighter, hatching, jagged
Jules: aura, ripples, unwrapping
purpleinportland: stockings, shame, songs
Marian: color, emerald, snapshots
Misky: marshmallows, pine, sap
Stimmyabby: dissecting, microscope, almonds
Annell: snakes, coastal, leaf
Barbara: record, books, homing
Debi: unseen, lemon, foot
Irene: lame, birds, roots
Kind of a delightful potpourri, so hopefully they serve as your inspiration for meanings and associations so you create your own particular scent of a poem. That’s the whole idea. Be free to change forms and tenses of the words. And you may choose to use a sprinkling of the words or (gulp) the entire lot. Just follow your muse and play. Don’t you forget, this is the month for poetry and love. Or love for poetry. Or… (gulp gulp) never mind.
I am large, I contain multitudes. -Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
Welcome to the first We Write Poems weekly prompt of April! This month, I intend to take you all on a journey through themes — themes which inform the very craft of poetry in which we engage.
We have just begin National Poetry Month. Also, the first half of the year tends to celebrate history — February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. This month, interestingly enough, is also Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Understanding Month in the United States. During these times, the histories of these groups (more recently autistic folks) is shared and celebrated.
I thought about these these ideas and these energies…and about history in general. History is more than just names, places, and dates: it is a part of who we are as individuals and it informs our writing. Sometimes, it is our cultural histories which leak into our work — and by culture I mean anything as broad as nationality, ethnicity, and religion or something as narrow as the culture of one’s family or social group. We may draw on historical events and people from other dates, times, places, and cultures and use these in our writing. Also, consider that poetry and history are natural partners, as the genesis of poetry as a form was a result of the need to transmit culture, stories, and history to future generations before the existence of the written word.
For an example of how this might play out in poetry, consider these lines from “O Black and Unknown Bards” by James Weldon Johnson:
Heart of what slave poured out such melody As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains His spirit must have nightly floated free, Though still about his hands he felt his chains. Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh, "Nobody knows de trouble I see"?
Johnson considers the unknown singers before his time — unknown names and unknown faces, but their songs known and remaining.
Another example of how an event in the history in a smaller group — a family, a town, a village — might play out in a poem is in “Daredevil” by Sherman Alexie. In the poem, he speaks of an aunt who went blind after drinking antifreeze as a teenager. (Quoted from publication in Superstition Review at http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/issue3/poetry/shermanalexie)
She recognizes me with some other sense No matter how long I've been absent. I can silently appear on her front porch But she'll say my name as she opens the door.
And of course, there is always the option of fictionalizing history in poetry. Consider these lines from my poem, “Debutante Emily Looks for Buried Treasure“:
They lived on Seventeenth. The Negro steel mill workers, these new men recruited by ashen-coated promises of gold moved into these little one-story brick boxes with their families: and Helen’s was no different.
The poem uses real-life places and events: Seventeenth Avenue is in an area of the town in which I grew up. It was one of the streets on which the then-president of the local steel mill contracted builders to construct houses for his African-American employees in the early twentieth century; he did this because many of them were living in slum-like conditions. The town (albeit renamed) is real, the street is real, the steel mill is real, and the house is real, but Helen and her family are not.
So I ask you this week: what’s in your genes? What have you been inspired by, historically? What do you think, in a broader sense, about the idea of history? Would you like to fictionalize history? Meditate on this and write. I’m excited to see what you all come up with.
Welcome back for more We Wordle fun. This is wordle #12 (how wordles fly when you’re having fun!), and this week’s words are plucked from poems written to Irene’s prompt #205 “Your Neck of the Woods.” Here are each poets’ three word contributions to the Wordle.
Yousei: me you mockingbird
Viv: tea cake says
Ron: window road morning
Hannah: rain melting wind
Abby: churches bread sky
Irene: woods stars read
Marian: rabbit blue water
Roslyn: smile tease life
Debi: swearing thin again
Jules: Palm canal south
Barbara: madness neck out.
Looking forward to reading your poems.