Friday, March 15, 2013

Stephanie Dowrick is sure you can indeed be "Saved by a poem"

Writer and poet, Kim Rosen
When the inner and the outer are wedded
revelation occurs.
Hildegard von Bingen

Kim Rosen's Saved by a Poem is a glorious book and one that you can re-read and revel in over many years. You will also "receive" poetry differently thanks to it, and with vastly increased pleasure, thanks to the CD that accompanies it. But as I write this I realize that I am not trying to convince those of you who have already discovered the sublime gifts of poetry - the greatest of the literary arts - but, rather, those of you who may still be standing on the edge, not quite ready to jump naked into poetry's depths.

I had those readers also in my mind when I wrote my own spiritual study of visionary poet, Rainer Maria Rilke,  In the Company of Rilke (and the doctoral work that preceded it). I felt like a missionary sometimes, wanting to spread the "Good News" that at least one version of salvation was as close at hand as the perfection of words on a page! For beyond the pleasure and resonating delight that true poetry offers, it frees us also to gain unparalleled insights about thinking and consciousness itself; to catch more than glimpses of where the "mind" can take us; to liberate ourselves from the mundane, the banal, the stale, the dulling that is everywhere around us. And all that through a trail of words lying, not quite innocently, on a page!

Rosen, too, is absolutely convinced of the power of poetic language and insights to change lives for the better. And perhaps her conviction is all the stronger because, in her own words, she "didn't always like poetry"! Poetry had to win her over; it has done so.
Rilke's words are written across the "ocean" of this cover....
In one of many, many anecdotes Rosen describes an optometrist's assistant who "told me that poetry brought her back from a nervous breakdown, when she was 'hanging by a thread' after the untimely death of her brother." The woman told Rosen: "I memorized all of Shakespeare's sonnets. They literally saved my life."

This does not surprise me. Peta Kelly and others have written on this blog about the power that reading has to shift our attention in a more hopeful direction, to take us "out of ourselves" - and return us to ourselves if not whole at least somewhat mended. In another of my own books, this time Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, I wrote passionately that what we pay attention to grows stronger in our lives. It is true. Oh, it is true!

In another brief, moving anecdote Rosen describes Sonja, a political idealist and factory worker, who said of her factory experience: "Everyone had their own way of surviving. Some people did it by drinking, drugs, music, fantasy and many things I never found out about. I survived by doing political work and my poetry."  Rosen explains this: "Before she left for work every morning, Sonja would choose a poem she wanted to learn by heart…She'd write in letters as small as she could manage on a tiny piece of paper.It had to be tiny because she couldn't risk being caught…"

That reminds me of a vivid memory of my own, of teaching writing many years ago in rural Tasmania and feeling moved almost to tears by one woman quietly describing how her monotonous, lonely work sorting eggs on her family's chicken farm was made tolerable by having a pen and notebook constantly by her side where she would, from time to time, note a poem she was learning, or add words to a poem she was creating.

Rilke: a painting by expressionist Paula Modersohn-Becker
Rosen refers to or shares parts of many poems (and some complete poems when copyright issues allow that) as well as poets with the visionary power in their writing to "save us" - even when we had no idea we needed saving! But she also emphasizes, explicitly and implicitly, that a poetic sensibility or way of seeing the world is not confined to what we can recognize as poetry. It becomes a way of interpreting the world, of seeing not only the superficialities or the socially conditioned, but what Rilke was unafraid to call "the deepest things". And this does not mean solemn only. Nor pious. Heaven forbid! It means tuning our minds also to a far greater appreciation of beauty, subtlety, nuanced thinking, and a far more truthful appreciation of the transitory nature of experience as well as lives and "things".  One of Rosen's own poems captures something of this even in its first heart-stopping few words:

Do you know how
the caterpillar
turns?

Do you remember
what happens
inside a cocoon?….

Our need for the pause, for space and spaciousness, for reflection are what poetry teaches us. And that's what this rich, lovely book also makes clear: that, if we allow and welcome it, the poetry itself teaches us. It may even, as Rosen so touchingly desires, save us.


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We have work by or about poets Jane Hirshfield, Mark S. Burrows, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Basho and others on this blog. Just put their names into "search this blog" for more glorious treats.
To purchase Saved by a Poem (book and CD included) or any other book you are seeking through our bookstore links (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. We would also love to hear from you...we treasure your comments and responses. Post your comments below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!


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