"Say I am you," the Sufis say, by which they don’t mean "suppose" I am you. The idea behind the invitation is that, if you say something enough times it will become so: you will have dissolved the dualism between self and other. Such concerns, of course, are at the heart of spiritual practice, as well as at the center of a medium like poetry, which often tends toward more ecstatic, enlightened ways of thinking and being. Shamans who live at the edge of the village, at the very intersection of the human and the nonhuman, know that all sentient life is suffused with spirit: we think of their capacity to serve as intermediaries between medicinal, healing plants and people, or between humans and their kindred spirits among creatures as mystical, but maybe we just mean, mundane, since so much about the ordinary, sentient world seems to live at the very edge of human consciousness. The stories that trees tell; what whales might be trying to communicate in their elaborate, sustained compositions over long, slow time and great distances, the true nature of complex root systems and rich, loamy soil— though such narratives seem elusive, they are also evident every day and all around us; our work in a medium like poetry, perhaps, at least partly involves becoming better at discerning and deciphering such mysteries.
As human beings, living “in the winters of this climate,” as Adrienne Rich says, we are most certainly called to stretch our capacity to think together and in concert (these are not the same), to establish unprecedented relationships with each other and with the sentient world around us. This might be where the creative and the political meet, at some transformative, life- and love-affirming juncture where the road toward our mutual thriving dictates all of our action and activity (or non-action). Gary Snyder’s edict, go light, is a first, intentional soft step in that direction: what if our human footprint became less bold? This remote classroom testifies to the fact that a virus has already forced us in this direction. Though my small house backs up to a nature preserve, to trails that lead to bluffs and, from there, down to the ocean, and though I am lucky to see raptors and dolphins and whales during many of my days, I have noticed lately that everything non-human feels closer: great blue herons land nearly at our feet, egrets, brown pelicans not only skim the ocean’s surface but also the top of our house as they fly over; everything green seems to be growing faster: this is what it looks like when we simply leave the world alone.
Our work together this quarter concerns probing, through poetry, the possibilities for connecting with the life of the spirit, both human and non-human. Those of us who have, for one reason or another, either chosen or been forced to leave our bodies a time or two or consistently, in order to protect the spirit, already know something about this: the human consciousness holds endless possibilities; it is also fragile and needs protecting, just like the rest of the sentient world. Though we think of ourselves as embodied, we think less about our bodies as vessels and vehicles, as conveyances upon which the life of the spirit depends. The poem, too, has a body, reaches out in its myriad forms and structures to find just the right way of expressing its wisdom. May we go some distance together this quarter toward teasing out what that looks like moving forward: in political terms, of course, restricted movement, containments of all kinds, increased surveillance, decreased freedom to work, gather, circulate, looks like totalitarianism; in a spiritual and poetical context, it is also the way toward more life and love-affirming practices on this earth, on the path toward more enlightened thinking (even wisdom!), and toward recognizing both interconnectedness and interdependency (mutual indebtedness). We must actively resist, it seems to me, defaulting to the former, hyper-controlled, rigorously organized and conditioned culture we have already become, one whose very economics (as opposed to more time-honored traditions like gift exchange) so many of us find oppressive, while at the same time embracing all manner of heart- and petal-opening practices and performances that are both sustainable and life-giving, what Martín Prechtel calls rematriating or rematrixing.
Course readings are embedded on a Wordpress created specifically for this course.