Poetry of the Spirit, Day 1

Orphism, Muses & Invocation.

We must be ‘in love’ before we can understand the mysteries of vision.

My poetic traffic with the spirit began a long time ago in an orchard behind a Croatian farmhouse, where I talked and recited to old apple trees whose attention was as palpable to my animist child self as a group of elder women sitting on the village green. Decades later, I encountered a guide on this path: Diane di Prima, whose study of “Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions” went hand in hand with her own pact with the Muse (see “The Poetry Deal”) and scholarship on the visionary lyricism of H.D. (see “Mysteries of Vision”), the Romantic poets, and her peers. Di Prima’s study of Western mysticism and the alchemical texts of Paracelsus, John Dee, Agrippa, as well as Tarot, Kabbalah, Tibetan Buddhism, and the I Ching complemented her Italian anarchist heritage (see April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa) that emphasized collectivity and action. In the 80s Di Prima taught a two-semester course at New College in San Francisco titled  “Hidden Religions in the Literature of Europe,” and today we’ll take a look at that syllabus for inspiration for the coming weeks. 

We will also travel back to antiquity, when poets invoked the Muses as a condition of creation and imbibed the mysteries of Orphism. “Orphic religion, a Hellenistic mystery religion, is thought to have been based on the teachings and songs of the legendary Greek musician Orpheus. No coherent description of such a religion can be constructed from historical evidence. Most scholars agree that by the 5th century BC there was at least an Orphic movement, with traveling priests who offered teaching and initiation, based on a body of legend and doctrine said to have been founded by Orpheus.” (Britannica). We’ll take a look at the Orphic Hymns, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, Cocktails with Orpheus by Terrance Hayes, Pieces of Orpheus by Muriel Rukeyser, Eurydice by H.D., a scene from Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950) and Samba de Orfeu from Orfeu Negro (1959). 

Orpheus is said to have been the son of a Muse; and how do we, as poets of the now, plug into that lineage in search of in/spiration? What sort of communication do poets casually establish that they personify so loftily as Muses, gods and goddesses, the lyrical You? Today we will begin to talk about your way in poetry of the spirit, read the poems you’ve shared, and write together. 

Anna Akhmatova

A few prompts to choose from and write into for next Saturday:

  1. Write an invocation. Invoke your Muse. Your invocation could involve developing your own poetry ritual with three objects of poetic (immaterial) significance. 
  2. Make a poem. Dismember it. Put it together again.
  3. Write a poem that lets light through the page. Create a page of light.
  4. Write a manifesto of spirit poetics.