On Writing Poetry

On Writing Poetry – The Journey

I did not start out to be a poet.  Can’t remember a poet or a line of poetry that might have set me on, what has become my lifetime avocation.  Nothing in my early education, that stuttered and stalled in High School well before the finish line, gave any indication that words would be my way of expression, would be my connection to the universal essence that all creativity stems from.  Poetry is my perception of the moment.  It is the feeling beyond the thought that allowed me to come out from under the covers and express myself.

Words have, since that humble beginning, been my companion, my vibrational sounding board, a not so silent witness to the evolution of body and mind and spirit.  And although today, words allow me to center, go deep within this illusionary mind-body of mine to touch upon a glimmer of reality, now and then, it hasn’t always been so simple and direct.

I’m not sure whether poetry followed me or I followed it over the last four decades. Poetry was a way of staying in touch with me.  It was that internal vibrational tuning fork that kept me in balance.  In retrospect there were many fallow times when I became lost in myself.  There were times when the silent observer was nowhere to be found.  When the body and mind usurped pen and paper, when the poet was lost in mindlessness.

Poetry however, once it has a hold of you can never let go, for it is, in your conscious awareness, the essence of who you are and how you view yourself in harmony with all there is.  Yes it is form, it is the outcome of a wordsmiths’ romance with the written word, yet its’ existence in print or in voice carries us soulfully down Alice’s rabbit hole into a dimension of understanding and awareness of who we really are.

I had adopted the personae of poet, and nothing escaped the poets’ pen.  Every mountain I climbed, every dark alley I stumbled onto, every emotion I could experience tumbled from the heart and head onto scraps of paper that I carried with me when all else was left behind in a scrapyard of broken dreams and promises.  After having waded through the Oxford Book of English Verse and The Chief American Poets, I tampered with sonnets, villanelle, rondeaus, odes, etc., never getting past the exercise of writing poems.  I intrinsically understood that “poetic quality is not marshaled in rhyme or uniformity,” as Walt Whitman wrote, but until I found my own voice in free form, I was stuck in a never ending cycle of visiting one confessional after another and searching for the right word, the right line.

It was not a time without heroes; the minimalistic beauty of Pablo Neruda and E.E. Cummings, the inner wilderness of the unconscious mind of a Gary Snyder; the streaming consciousness of Pound, and Ginsberg; and inspiring to me, W. S. Merwin, Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, to name a few, all signposts pointing the way towards reaching inside and speaking with my own unique voice.  This was a time when poetry broke the bonds of closed poetic forms and tradition; poets spun their poems in an open field of perception upon perception setting loose in bars and coffee houses the Projective verse of “young poets breathing hard and pausing significantly at the end of each line.”

Poetry is cathartic, therapeutic, liberating, healing and very personal.  It exposed oneself to the elements laying bare ones’ innermost feelings and emotions before an imaginary audience.  It is letting go and not being afraid of expressing ones’ feelings.  To bring it all down from the attic, to open the shoeboxes and empty the drawers has taken a bit of a nudge from the universe.

Body, mind and spirit represent a seasoning, hopefully an amelioration of what I have tried to convey through the poetry collected in the books I have published.  The early poems touched on the physical world around me and how I reacted to what and who I encountered along the way.  Then came the long and labyrinthine path toward mindfulness, followed by the search for the meaning of that Spirit within me, intertwined in everything I feel, think and do.  Or as Deepak Chopra put it, “What is spirit?” is another way of asking “Who am I?”…“Looking for spirit, the Vedic sages observed, is like a thirsty fish looking for water.

What I have to share with you is a collection of thoughts and feelings penned over some 40 years now. They speak of joy, sadness, fear, anger, compassion, disappointment, acceptance, anticipation, optimism, awe and love.  For the most part, they reflect the romance I have with this journey I am on.

The Tao says, when all words are exhausted, the truth appears. I am doing my small part in writing these poems, to spread the word and seek the truth. When you listen to the words, they exist because of meaning, once you have gotten the meaning, you can forget the words and just feel.

To start off with, just three persons out of the countless number who have influenced my thinking:  St. Francis, Pablo Neruda, and Suzuki Roshi represented by the poems Body, Mind, and Spirit’  from  “A Still Silent Space”

Body

I adore you Pablo,
poet of the seashells crawling from the sea.

poet of the bleak landscape,
jeweled realm of Beetlebacks,
small touchable everyday us.

poet of the foam of sea chaffing on a stark shore,
the grain of us, the red & blue of us.

I eat your words and they consume me.

after your death.
after your broken sea polished glass was swept into dustbin

myth, story, poem, wearing mourning black
children of words
waiting for the sky to unfold
the precious stones
buried in your forever mind

Mind

For fifty years, Zen Master,
your lover has been cultivating
an occidental mind.

a lifetime that hangs
like a willow
over years of unlearning

wisdom grew inside of you
like the greening of desert grass
for your lover to interpret

for a dreamer
who wanders
through your fields of light
harvesting words

Spirit

you are the flower, Francis,
of the perfect sin
a man who covets the infinite

there is a dark side of the moon about you
a pale silence born of habit
you have stripped the garden
of your body clean to the bone.

there is nothing in the rainbow but colors
prayers wander aimlessly
in the indigo universe of your eyes

kneel down
god glistens from dancing in your tears
you have your robe, wash his feet

Spirit needs a lover to walk with him in heaven.
kneel down Francis,
dry his feet

126 comments on “On Writing Poetry

  1. Just delighted that you have decided to follow my scribblings over at Learning from Dogs. Thank you. Would love you to write a guest post or poem for LfD if it ever ‘rocks your boat’.

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    • Definitely a cat person, but living in in a community that loves dogs. Check out Lake Chapala, Mexico. Dogs roam freely here and the expats are always looking out for them. They are welcome everywhere including restaurants.

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  2. Well John, Glad to have found my way here and very much enjoyed and indeed resonated with your thoughts about poetry… I also enjoyed the crispness, depth and precision of your own work in the samples included here. Be sure to let me know when you release any new poems on the web or in print… Regards Scott

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    • Poetry has temporarily gone for a stroll through my village of Ajijic. I can’t seem to ignore the third book of fiction waiting on my desk, plastered on my wall in post-its. However, with ten books of poetry published and two three inch binders full I know the next poem waits silently in my garden ready to blossom. As a poet, you know that little seed in the brain makes your fingers inch for just the right moment, the right word, and it will be coming your way. John

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