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I believe writing poetry is an act of listening. It can mean listening to the voice of the creek, to the grass, to the hawk overhead, the bustle of the crowd as you pass trough, to the poem itself, unfurling in your mind. There are so many kinds of listening. All of them involve attention. All require space and time. We must attend to this listening if we mean to write poems. We must attend to what is often unattended. Sometimes we must listen to the voice of grief or the voice of despair, to the voices of those who are too often ignored. To the voices of our ancestors. To the small, insistent voice of joy. There are delicate and quiet voices that wish to make themselves heard, who else will hear them?
Sometimes I am walking through the field outside our house, or pulling up the old garden, getting ready for winter, and I hear the first lines of a poem, like the first few bars of a song. And like a song, it has a familiar quality, a “don’t I know that tune?” that distinguishes it from the rest of the current that swims through my mind every day.
This listening is the birth place of a poem. It is how it makes itself known. What do we do with this listening? I try to follow it, to see where it leads. It might take me down an old alleyway, through a bramble, up into the clouds. I never know. I believe it is trying to piece something back together, something lost. All over the world there are shamans, healers, who help people become whole again. The healing doesn’t always look like recovering from their illness—though sometimes it does. It’s about gathering parts of the self that got lost—parts that were cut off through grief, shock, loneliness, years of distraction. These the shaman seeks to recover and bring back into fullness.
I believe that when we listen to a poem, when we follow it where it’s going, it is also trying to bring us back into wholeness. And by that, I don’t just mean the individual, the writer, but the culture as a whole, the planet as a whole. The sense of liveliness and wellness that is conducive to life, to compassion and connection. I believe the planet wants to knit itself into wholeness and that our voices can be some of the threads that allow this to happen.
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