from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

between heaven and earth

My friend Sharon Blackie edits Earthlines magazine. This third issue, the current one, is as beautiful, committed, erudite, wise and sharp-focused as the other two. Sharon and her husband David operate out of a small working croft on the Hebridean island of Lewis, and the dynamism and dedication of the duo is evident in the books they publish, as well as in the journal.

There is much to praise and comment on in the journal. For my purposes now, though, I was struck by a few lines quoted in an article on Chinese eco-poet Yang Jian from an interview with him in the Jing Daily of 2007.

When asked 'Why do you write poetry?' his response was: 'Because of water... Because of the old ox that drags his plow behind him in the dusk... Because of the red carp in 'Journey to the West' that swam away when I was little... Because of the peach tree in front of an old cottage... it bloomed, beautiful and free...'

This is a poem in itself. What struck me in particular is that he answered that question in images, so inviting us to think in poetry too. Here in the West my experience from asking that question of people many many times is that we tend to answer in the abstract, in concepts. 'Because I have to.' 'Because it's a way of saving my life.' 'Because I have something I want to communicate.' 'To know what I'm thinking, what I'm feeling.' 'Because there is no other way of saying what I want to say.' These are common responses; valid and true responses. But they don't have the vitality of the image, and they don't therefore convey what poetry alone can convey.

So last Saturday with my regular group I asked once again this question, and requested that they respond in images; in poetry, in fact. The difference was enormous, and the poetry that they created in response potent.

For myself, I wrote several pages of image-based notes. I'm aware of a biggish poem taking shape in the liminal spaces as a result of that. My starting point, unbidden, was an image of an owl, and here are the few words I wrote as a 'way in' to writing about other more far-ranging and significant things:

I write poetry
for that owl
perched in its pine tree
eyes lit by the glow
of the Guy Fawkes' bonfire
gazing down
at that little girl
gazing up
who so wanted
like the owl
to live between heaven and earth
and didn't yet know
she already did

and I write poetry
to remember that

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