by Heather Blakey
Eternal mind, thy seeding spark
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
As the birds come in the spring
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Naked in a world of
poetry the river flows deep with unused words
Under waves, beneath shining skies, behind playing
youth and wading age
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
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.
Copyright 2001© Heather Blakey. All Rights Reserved.
Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work