Seeding Spark

by Heather Blakey

Eternal mind, thy seeding spark
Through this thin vase of clay
Athwart the waves of chaos dark
Emits a timorous ray.
This mind enfolding soul is sown
Incarnate germ of earth
In pity, blessed Lord, then own
What claims in thee its birth?
Far forth from Thee its central fire
To earth's sad bondage cast
Let not the trembling spark expire
Absorb thine own at last.
(An old Greek Hymn)

My great grandfather, George Chale Watson, drew on this Greek Hymn and noted, during his voyage throughout Polynesia during the 1860's, that his contact with the natives of Tanna provided ample evidence of the brain's latent capacity. As he met the islanders, he had cause to wrestle with the notion that the brain contained all the necessary information and only needed direction for the 'incarnate germ' to grow, that there was a 'key of knowledge' that could awaken the dormant mind of the natives. He writes that "Man being what is defined as a living soul: a manifested consciousness imparted from a Supreme Being: a Supreme Life. That which claims regard as Man proper is a complex organisation of Body, Soul, and Spirit, the latter being the 'seeding spark', the 'incarnate germ' which has fallen into matter wherein to acquire consciousness as a soul."

'Far forth' from our maker, cast in earth's 'sad bondage' our 'central fire', the 'trembling spark' is at risk of expiring Each day as I work as a teacher of English in this highly technological age, almost completely devoid of ritual and ceremony, I am shocked at how much at risk we are of extinguishing the fragile 'trembling spark'. However my work with people ranging in age from 11 to 80 has proved conclusively that there is a latent capacity, a key of knowledge that lies latent within us all and that when we use our sensory powers to tap into this powerhouse our literary skills flourish.

When Robert Graves pointed out there was great, official prestige that somehow clings to the name of the poet and that poetry would seem to be based on some sort of magical principal he made the writing of poetry seem difficult. Poets, we are told, can bewitch and they seem to be able to name the latent forces residing in all objects and all nature. Just as William Blake had cause to wonder at 'what immortal hand or eye, could frame' the tigers 'fearful symmetry', so man has looked upon the verse of poets like Blake and asked what power 'could twist the sinews of thy heart?'

These beliefs have made writing inaccessible for the multitude and as people have drawn comparisons between themselves and the Titans of literature they have fed the view that writing remains the realm of a talented few. Yet many great poets, writers and artists have made it clear that they are no more than a conduit for some subterranean force outside their power and that it is really a far simpler process that is involved. It is simply a matter of making oneself open and available.

As the birds come in the spring
We know not from where
As the stars come at evening
From depths of the air; …
So come to the poet his songs,
All hitherward blown
From the misty realm, that belongs
To the vast unknown


Within his poem 'The Poet and His Songs' Henry Wadsworth Longfellow provides a clue as to the whereabouts of words. Contrary to popular belief it would seem that if we can believe Longfellow one does not need to go in search of words or even think unduly in order to write great poetry. According to Longfellow 'when the angel says, 'Write!' it happens as if by magic'. You simply need to have made yourself a receptacle for the words.

Pablo Neruda supports this view in his beautiful poem 'Poetry' when he writes about how "it was at that age…Poetry arrived in search of me." Poetry came and 'summoned' him to write and as he "wrote the first faint line, faint without substance, pure nonsense, pure wisdom" he saw "the heavens unfastened and open."

When I shared this view, a belief that differed from the messages they had been given, grades five and six students looked at me with eyes like saucers. To test the premise of Neruda and Longfellow I asked them to close their eyes and reminded them to trust that the words would come to them and that they did not need to go in search of clever phrases. All that they had to do, I explained, was to write down the words that came to them. Then I led them through the following guided imagery.

Close your eyes and allow yourself to make yourself comfortable. Put your head on your arms on the table in front of you if you like. Concentrate on your toes. Wriggle them. Imagine that you are barefoot and walking down a dirt path towards the stream you can heard trickling over stones. It is very hot and you are eager to cool off. Upon arriving at the stream you dip your toes into the cool water and sit on a mossy stone listening to the distant waterfall pounding. You watch the water as it swirls in eddies over the stones and watch as a school of beautiful fish swim past. The fish brush against your feet as they swim towards the sea. Suddenly you are astonished to see the young fish turn into fresh young word and even more amazed to see the words leap out of the water in front of you. Snatching your pen and paper you begin to write quickly in order to catch them before they disappear.

Fresh young words appear on crisp white pages within moments. It makes no difference what our age. The wonder as the feisty words appear, ready to be deciphered is the same. The following pieces were written within ten minutes of completing the guided imagery.

Stillness! Silence! I can't take it.
By the hour I start to forget recent information
Like boats leaving the dock on their way to sea…
One day the docks of my mind will reach some far away island and rest until the next silence.
Mike. Year 6 Haig Street Primary School.

Looking at the fish I started getting hungry. My stomach was getting loud. The picture of fish sizzling on the pan was in my mind. The fire under the pan was red and orange and nice and warm. I realised I was day dreaming. "AAAAAAAAA". I shouted as I fell into the river. All the word fish started surrounding me. The words on them were getting difficult like confirmation and graduation. Suddenly they started to swim into my mouth. Dictation, information, detention...I couldn't take the horror of it any more. Each word was getting more and more difficult. Then I noticed that I was getting smarter. I could spell words I didn't even know that existed. My body was getting smaller and my head was getting bigger. I swam over to the shore and ran into the bush. I felt like very tired. I couldn't believe my eyes! The fish were jumping out of the water and turning into colour full parrots. I couldn't believe it I was learning! (Kingsbury Primary School)

Trickle your smooth hands along our slippery scales and feel all the beautiful things
Then sing along with the waterfall and listen to the howling stream
Hop in and take a swim with the fish and see our homes and babies faces that beam
Let us tickle your toes and make you feel at home.
Then sit and relax and think of all the things we have sung.
Mirinda McDonald Haig Street Primary School

All that a writer needs then is simple faith that the words will come. All that everyone, including young children needs to do is trust the process and put themselves at the mercy of the subterranean force that is available to us all. All cultures have a way of explaining this transformative force. In African magic it is the word Nommo, that is believed to create the images. Before Nommo there is Kintu, which is a thing, which is no image. Nommo is the procreative force that transforms the thing into an image. An African poet uses the procreative force to transform the thing into symbols and images.

In an attempt to come to terms with the mysterious power of the artist the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca called the force 'duende', a kind of undiabolic demon. The dark sound of 'duende' comes from within the roots thrusting into the fertile loam. It is from this loam that the Spanish poet believed that real art emerges.

In classical times the poets believed that the Muse, daughter of the Titaness, Mnemosyne, was the source of their words. She had the power to bring a vision of truth before their eyes. Zora Cross, an Australian poet described the Muse as 'a minx with a spell for a smile' who 'gallops a wagon of whims through the skies' and teases 'capricious and pranks all the while'. Young children who try to provide an explanation of the source of words imagine their veins filled with ink and words bursting forth from their fingers. A youngster observed that he is surrounded by words. 'They are all around us.' They come from the sky, the earth, a passing shape, and a spider's web.

While scientific analysis can not locate the precise source of words, reason tells us that our brain is like a receptacle for emotions, memories and perceptions, but we do not see how it is filled. So, the mystery of word making lingers, for, just as we cannot see the nutrients seeping through the life giving roots of the tree, we cannot see where words originate. Perhaps there is a huge word house in the brain, but if there is its location defies scientific analysis. It remains pure poetic magic to witness words forming on crisp white paper and to witness the moment when duende breaks in and a deep and authentic force wells up and words flow seemingly of their own account

Whether one names it Muse, 'Duende' or Nommo one is speaking of an invisible force not unlike the force that promotes growth in a tree or drives blood through our veins. It would seem that one has no choice. We must submit to the force that has the power to forge sudden visions. It is a case of the writer self-abandoning and bowing to this inventive picture making power. At this moment doing nothing is a form of action. Doing nothing is opening ones mind to word visions. Doing nothing is opening oneself to being a word magician.

To fan the seeding spark the first step I take is to introduce my students to the magic and ritual of ancient mythology and narrative. Narrative is basic to human beings. People love to tell their story. Narrative has been a part of the common life, honoured and enjoyed by a large number of people since antiquity. It was needed for hymns and supplications to the gods but it was also a repository of stories for people who were deeply interested in the achievements of their ancestors. It provided the means to celebrate glory, victory, and a way for people to announce their achievements.

The truth is that we live chronologically, experiencing our lives as a succession of events, but it is not until we look back that we see the picture forming and begin to write our narrative. In the first instance we rehearse living through reading stories, using these stories to extend our experiences and to experiment. Stories give us categories that help us to evaluate our daily experience and help us to make sense of our lives. When something happens to us it is a normal impulse to tell someone about it. Framing events as a story helps us get things in perspective. If we cannot tell someone else, we tell it to ourselves, sometimes compulsively over and over, trying to make sense of it all. Story heals and palliates our pain. Stories narrate us into being. We can invent a world for ourselves.

It has been my practice, for a number of years to offer students a variety of techniques to receive words as part of their daily writing practice. To find a way to begin our storytelling I have found that it helps to use coloured paper to design a front door for the workbook we will gather the words that come to us. Have you ever stopped to think about the personality of a front door? Front doors come in a variety of materials shapes and sizes. They include the dignified Cathedral door, the pretentious door to a ritzy hotel, the revolving door, the forbidding prison door and the humble tent fly. Front doors acquire a personality of their own, often acquiring the character of their owner. Front doors have a lore all of there own. "What sort of front door are you?" I ask my students to turn their front cover into a door that reflects their personality. Only when they have made an elaborate doorway, a door to their inner being, do I ask them to introduce themselves in writing, using the door as a metaphor. The words flow easily but speed is the essence. Faster, faster, I crack the whip. "Run, run, run as fast as you can", I urge them. "You can't catch me I am the gingerbread man. Don't stop to think just write", I cry if I see someone stopping to think before adding a word. The daily practice, the daily assault on the senses has begun.

The daily patter always involves story telling about the human being and how much potential it has. It involves looking at how we gathered knowledge even as we lay in the womb, how the seed from which we rose in the dark womb must have carried knowledge, contained a pattern that would shape us. We discuss the peculiar habits we must develop if we want to become original writers and let the world hear our unique voices. Enjoying time alone, day dreaming and idly staring out windows at world around us is deemed essential. I explain that it is never a good idea to be in a violent hurry but far better to dawdle and look around in case you miss something important. It is also a good idea to stop and look through the keyhole or up a chimney and smell the charcoal if you want to see the world differently. Another comical thing I like to do is to make it a rule to do certain things on certain days. For example, we make it a practice to walk barefoot on the school oval on Mondays and stop and talk to the colony of crows that reside in our school on Tuesdays. It is healthy to puzzle and think over the strange things that come into our heads instead of driving them out like stray dogs. Far better to actually think about what happens when an autumn leaf dives to its death and when the sun kisses our arm.

After regularly sitting in quiet contemplation, fishing the streams of his psyche, Jonathan Mynard, a Year 12 English student writes a rich piece about his 'Faith'.

I have never seen the wind. But the trees branches wave to one another and the leaves flutter. The clouds meander from horizon to horizon, appearing to block the sun and passing soon after. I feel a force on my face that penetrates my clothes and ruffles my hair. It makes me shiver and wish I could be inside where it is warm.

I have never seen sound. The crash of waves on sand, the bubbling of a creek as water races and dodges over rocks. The voice of someone special, a sweet word uttered in love. The harsh word spoken to pierce, to hurt. The silence that becomes louder than sound, that is depressive, heavy. The music that is infinitely complex but so simple at the same time.

I have never seen love. The inexpressible something in the eyes, communicated at many levels. The actions that speak more than words and proves deep care and trust. The tender touch and few comforting words offered for a troubled soul.

I have never seen time. Yesterday I was young, today here I am, and tomorrow I will be old. Silence, depression, and anticipation: do clocks really never slow or stop? Tomorrow becomes today which neither here is content. For it must slip into yesterday and yesteryear and I am powerless to interfere.

I have never seen me. The thoughts that stream endlessly, the wishes hope and dream. The person trapped inside my body, who writes the words more than the hand, speaks more than the tongue or lips.

I have never seen God. The universe exists, the earth is here; life and purpose permeates them both. The close friend whom I know and communicate with. The knowledge, the assurance, the purpose, the revelation; the relationship, the love experienced, the peace, the hope.... All true and real, invaluable. I have never seen the wind.

Jonathon wrote this only after repeatedly practicing stream of consciousness writing. He had the remarkable capacity of detaching himself in the bustling classroom, distancing himself from the jostling for power, concentrating on the task at hand.

To stimulate the process further I describe how throughout history people have turned to a multitude of spirits to invoke the creative impulse. '(Medea) invoked the gods of the woods and caverns, of mountains and valleys, of lakes and rivers, of winds and vapours.' Apollinaire wrote that 'There are poets to whom a muse dictates their works, there are artists whose hand is guided by an unknown being who uses them like an instrument...they are not men but poetic or artistic instruments'. We agree that a kind of self-abandonment is necessary and children suggest using dreams and daydreams as material. I light candles and explain how to invoke Calliope, the Muse of creative inventiveness to gain her input and access knowing, We wander along the sacred way and place our simple votive offerings, a stone or a flower, before the Muse. I open my dictionary and let my finger fall on a word, such as 'eddy'.

We write about eddies. I write, eager to ensure I meet my daily quota of words. "An eddy is a circular movement of water causing a small whirlpool. It is the movement within the wind, within a fog. To whirl around in eddies. An eddy current is a localised current induced in a conductor by a varying magnetic field. The 'trembling spark' gathers strength a blue haze riding its flame. Calliope and her sisters are the magnetic field - projecting an eddy current that embraces me. It is Calliope who creates the whirlpool of magnetic circles around me and causes books, with just the piece of information I need to fall from shelves into my hand, opened at the right page. It is Calliope whose magnetic force draws my finger to the very word 'eddy current'. It is Calliope, as the goddess of memory, who helps me dip into the well of remembrance and draw out pieces from the past to put the jigsaw together and see the past, present and future forming a complete picture. It is Calliope who sows the seeds, the 'incarnate germ', and carefully waters her seeds, so that they might grow. To experience inspiration is to feel her magnetic force - to be gripped, to walk robot like to the computer and to begin to type, fingers gliding over the keys, forming words that will cling to a page. To experience Calliope is to feel inspiration, to feel a quickening, to feel a stirring within, to note the acceleration, the stimulation, to be aroused and feel signs of life. Calliope make creative fires burn more brightly stirs the soul. To be touched by Calliope is to feel the concentric ripples of the magnetic field, to hear the electric buzz, to see the light beams dance, to be embraced by them".

We each share what we have written, humbly standing reading to the soundtrack of Il Postino, reading luminous words that have been hauled from Neruda and the labyrinthine corridors of the psyche.

Laura-Lee writes

Naked in a world of poetry the river flows deep with unused words
Words which emerge deep from within the soul Which whisper soundlessly into my mind.
With wings the words drift deep from the heavens and when I reach out
Words come onto my blank paper and form sentences
The shade of my moving pen reminds me of a world so big
Fire doesn't burn and water doesn't flow into the river and I stop and come back to my world and turn my eyes towards my paper.
Without thinking my hand starts to form words.
It is as if poetry has arrived in search of me. It came down from the heavens into the palm of my hand, enabling me to move my pen.
It is as if my mind and soul has been taken over by some creature that cannot speak but uses my hand, my pen, my paper to put its feelings, emotions and heart onto my piece of paper
Laura Lee Year 8 La Trobe Secondary College

It is always a moving experience to see the common human thread that links us. During the pregnant silences, as we feel the energy swirling and the sensation that can only be described as a quickening we realise that Ariadne's thread is real. Often applause breaks out spontaneously, as it did when Ben 18 read

Under waves, beneath shining skies, behind playing youth and wading age
While beach balls and body boards skim blue and green ripples
A boy's wrinkled fingers turn blue
And white bubbles cease their trek from the lungs
Unseen angels, with the force of gales upon candles
A flame extinguished
The irreplaceable, replaced
Replaced with emptiness
Eyes widen, gasps are heard. Perhaps creative inventiveness is as automatic as any other reflex.

Teipora Bishop a young Cook Islander at Haig Street Primary School, who has experienced great difficulty expressing him-self on paper has come to believe in this reflex. He has come to love the 'writing sessions' that I run on a fortnightly basis, but is mystified by his newly acquired capacity to write on these occasions. When I gave him a cowry shell he was jubilant. Coming from the Cook Islands he knew the value of this shell. When we put the seashells to our ears and asked the shells to speak to us and tell us the secret words that would guide us, Teipora said that his shell kept repeating just one word. The word was 'soul'. When we did a guided imagery and explored the inner recesses of a seashell to find a safe space to write he used the following words to describe his experience. "I walked down a pinkish corridor but as I walked my footsteps made echoes and the echoes kept on saying soul, soul. When I got to the other end there were four doors. I chose the first one. I could not see anything. It was dark and spooky. I chose the third door. This door was made of shell. I opened it. It was so bright that I couldn't see anything but bright white light. Then a figure showed up. It looked like a king and a god. I felt like I was going to heaven. The figure kept on saying soul, soul, but then the door shut and I got sucked out of the shell and here I am."

Teipora's writing demonstrates that when we abandon and write with the Muse we gain access to an internal theatre of the psyche and self-understanding. Like Teipora we can learn to use language in a way that we had never dreamed to be possible. Youngster's understood the potential of the Muse (sub-conscious), to inspire and capture their imagination, after they had written about their imaginary friends.

Jai, a grade 5 student at Haig Street Primary School, wrote: "My imaginary friend is called Tim. He is a beautiful little black dog. He died a few years ago but I think he is still with me. When I feel upset, I feel a little tongue licking my tears away. When I am cold all I have to do is think about Tim and he will make me warm again. When I am lonely I talk to him in my head. If I ask a question I don't know he talks to me and gives me an answer. When I feel lost, I talk to Tim and he tells me what to do throughout the day. When I have to make up my mind about hard things he tells me what to decide. When he was alive he liked to eat whatever I did. Sometimes when I am eating I hold my food in the air and close my eyes. When they open a bit has been taken out of whatever I held out. I love him very much! He is one of my best friends." Jai is clearly accessing the wise one within, his adviser and comforter. He discovers just how to handles difficult situations.

Be not mistaken, the Muse does not always present in the same way. She is a dazzling shape shifter. Mark, a Year 10 student, writes about his vision of a muse "He comes out of thick black fog the fog swirling around him with fierce momentum. As he gets out of the fog the fog gets sucked up behind him as if it is a creature itself. His hooves kick up dust as they slam on the dark ground. As he walks he has no boundaries, no walls, just freedom. As he breathes in and out the steam makes pictures, not of love, nor comedy, just war, blood and hellish visions. The dust on the ground kicks up and flutters down with the pictures of pain suffering and torture. As he swings his axe he makes a picture of death, sickness and disease. His bows do nothing but pierce the hearts of men and women, destroying all hopes and dreams. But yet, when I look at him I see the gold ring as purity, his half man half beast shape as humanity and nature…As I watch him walk new ideas flood into my mind as if it were magic…I do not have a name for him. He does not need one as you can see him for what he is."

In the end though it iss all so simple. Embrace the subterranean force and words come from deep within. In the movie The Postman we see the opening of a young man's soul to the power of poetry. As he discovers the passion of life, he comes to believe anything is possible and finds the courage to live his destiny. As I observe the power of words, as I bear witness as young children come to believe that anything is possible I have found the courage to live our my destiny and become an advocate of the creative impact of the written word. When we submit ourselves to the force we can invent ourselves. When we invent ourselves our self-esteem grows and the words 'know thyself' gain new meaning.

My Destiny
I saw a bright light of peace and freedom
I was heartbroken and did not know quite what to do I walked down a rocky path of sorrow
Until I reached my destiny It was full of friendship and happiness I was treated like a king
Until I became too greedy My destiny was gone forever and so was I I no longer existed I was just a myth
Kaine Naggs Haig Street Primary School

Copyright 2001© Heather Blakey. All Rights Reserved.

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Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work