In college I never understood poetry. Certain distant acquaintances walked around in what appeared to be a kind of haze. People spoke of them, always with a kind of awe, as poets. I didn't grasp the poetry, but I wanted to be one of the people spoken of that way!
Whether most poets begin with such vague, crass aspirations, I don't know. Most things that are worthwhile in my life, though, have begun with some form of longing, some perception of their absence.
My first year at Northwestern University I attended some poetry readings. Invariably I would walk into the appointed room to find an anxious, anemic-looking man (never a woman) in a suit, standing before a few rows of people sitting in desks. He would prodeed to mutter words I found as arcane as medieval spells.
One night in the spring, though, Allen Ginsburg came to campus. Several thousand people jammed into an auditorium to hear him. I soon grasped why. You could actually understand what he was talking about! He chanted about the Vietnam war, the moral and psychic state of America, his own sexuality—-intimate matters that affected everyone there. Ginsburg was an event as much as a poet, but he showed me that it is possible to use words in ways that are intense and close to home.
My first 'real' poem (as opposed to some earlier efforts in which I tried to sound like a poet) came out of me when I was home from college in the summer of 1968. I was driving through an area of St. Louis, Missouri that a few years earlier had been called Gaslight Square--a nationally-known neighborhood of bistros and beatnik coffeehouses that is even mentioned by Kerouac in ON THE ROAD. In the mid-'60s, as I've heard it, a tourist was murdered in the area, and people just stopped going.
As I drove past in '68, Olive Street looked like a neighborhood in a bombed-out city. I was suddenly taken up in feelings of the transience of all earthly things, and a poem, already written by inner muses, poured out of me. All I remember of it is that Gaslight Square became a symbol of a lost Mother, or Great Mother. One line of the poem went: 'since your great hip shook itself to sleep.'
That almost mystical sort of sequence, resulting in a poem, repeated itself several times that summer. I became addicted to the creative process, and remain so,38 years later. I suffer acutely when, as sometimes happens, the process is blocked. It was not until 1976, though, when I was 28, after a very deep depression that culminated in a very dramatic spiritual awakening, that 'the gift' of poetic utterance began to flow out of me in a steady stream — sometimes, even, a mighty torrent! During one period in the '80s, poetry poured out so prolifically that I could scarcely drive. At every red light, a line would come into my head. I'd pick up my pen and notebook. By the time I'd jotted down the line, the driver behind me was likely to be honking. Poets will understand this.
Poetry Tavern page links to several book-length collections of verse,
some containing work that goes back almost thirty years. This verse
has been, in its own modest way, deeply influenced by Sufi poets like
Hafiz and Rumi, as well
as by contemporary poets like Ginsberg and Robert Bly.
I feel I should say something about "spiritual" and "secular" as terms to describe certain poems of mine which might appear to fall into such separate categories. A piece like "Demolition", describes a crane pulling down old buildings in preparation for the erecting of new ones. The description of an observable, "worldly" event I witnessed quickly becomes a poem about the cosmic cycles of creation, preservation, and destruction to which India has given the respective names of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Thus, the particular leads to the universal. Hopefully, such a doorway exists in most of my "secular" poems.
Because these pieces may be more accessible to some readers than those that, say, are written as utterances directly to Meher Baba, I've placed most of them together in TREES WITH ROOTS IN MY HEART. I don't think there's really any difference in the poetics of the two groups..
A few poems, such as "To His Breakfast", have no motive beyond play and silliness, which I regard as Divine! I often trust a laugh to crack any precious veneer that starts to build up!
Enter now, the Poetry Tavern!
* * * * *
DAYS AND PRESCHOOL DAYS, TOO