“I must tell you that W.H. Auden said that Rilke is the Santa Claus of loneliness.”
—Q&A with Bernadette Mayer, Columbia University, April 27, 2016
“I feel very close to H.D. . . . is definitely a gut connection, almost like a mother figure for me. There’s a way in which Gertrude Stein is a teacher. . . . But I belong to a tradition that maybe is more a hermetic order within the writing thing or something . . . amongst the alchemists . . . the tradition of the possibility of transmutation. A hermetic tradition where magic and art come together, in some vision of what the possibility is for the human creature. . . . I see that part of my tradition is Pound and Keats, part H.D. . . . . Paracelsus, moves from there to Dante, Cavalcanti, that I feel certain visionary concepts of the Sufi tradition. . . . Maybe it’s a visionary tradition. I see it as hermetic in the sense that it’s never really emerged as a single school. . . . And that one of the main moving things for it is love, Eros is a changer, not only connecter, but changer of the human possibility, perhaps. It’s hard to explain. But it jumps the lines from one discipline to another a lot.”
—Diane di Prima, from “Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions”
John Augustus Knapp, Key to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Last week, we talked about di Prima’s intersectional spiritual practice that fed into her poetics and research; H.D.’s “jellyfish consciousness” from “Notes on Thought and Vision,” and the myth of Orpheus – the poet wielding powers of passage into the other world, shown by Cocteau as a voyage through the mirror, and of making the sun rise – bringing the light in “through the page.”
We spoke about invocation and the muses – the nine sisters in charge of poetry, music, history & astronomy, holding the threads that make the connections between cosmic & bodily rhythms as apparent as rain. I invited you to consider how we as poets access the spirit: through what ritual, pattern, repetition, invocation, trance, song do we reach the “overmind” flow state, the space of vision?
Who was the Cup-bearer, and whence the wine?
That minstrel singing with full voice divine
What lay was his? for ‘mid the woven rope
Of song, he brought word from my Friend to me
Set to his melody.
The wind itself bore joy to Solomon…
Page of Calligraphy from an Anthology of Poetry by Sa`di and Hafiz
But as love
the moving wind
in sound &
There would be days in which feelings were so externalized that you just behaved like a painter a kid with deep pockets, bringing the lavender home. The poem was a grid that swayed and moving through it you just picked up things and hung them on the grid all the while singing your broken heart out.
In “Light / and Keats,” di Prima describes “the way sound moves in you, moving your spirit in a certain way to produce a certain effect which is like an effect of light.” She brings together light in paintings, music, and the written word into the same continuum with the body, movement, spirit, and breath. In the ecosystem of the poem, they seem not so much different functions but different stations in the passage and sharing of its energy. And in terms of poetics—taking the body as a starting point for talking about the poem is fruitful in so many different ways. Poem and song, the dreamed and the performed are kin from the ancient musical and performative roots of the lyric poem, when the poet held the lyre and performance & utterance were taken as a continuation of the poetic process. In oral poetic traditions a poem is modified with each performance—a kind of work in progress, “un text en train de se faire” (a text making itself) whose development continues as it is performed.
Poets & musicians listen to each other, vibe off one another, sometimes on the same label (see Third Man Books). Poets are musicians like Julian Talamantez Brolaski and musicians are poets like Nashville’s Adia Victoria. Check out this amazing conversation between poets Harmony Holiday & Hanif Abdurraquib exploring sampling in poetry and literature: https://vimeo.com/519332587
Harmony Holiday engages a lot with the work of Sun Ra (here in Tiny Desk Concerts) – check out his Full Lecture & Reading List from his 1971 UC Berkeley Course, “The Black Man in the Cosmos”. In the NYC tradition I studied, the performance of poetic speech, musical phrase, and movement continue together from when the poem-body sang out in Whitman’s body electric, Langston Hughes’s Jazz as Communication, Anne Waldman‘s chants and Allen Ginsberg (who inspired Nico to use a harmonium) and Ed Sanders & the Fugs and Lorenzo Thomas, who “saw himself working in ‘Aural Design’.”
My world of dreams is different
To your worlds of dreams
Strange worlds whirl in my mind
With a glow like sunset and the thrill of dawn.
From “Sun Ra: Art on Saturn”
What of this kinship in vision between disciplines as apparently distinct as music, painting, and poetry? The unity of vision heard and seen is palpable in the music and drawings of Hildegard Von Bingen, in William Blake’s visionary painting and relationship to song in “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience,” and in the visual music of the poetry of Frank Herbert which reminds of the notations of 14th century ars subtilior. Worship and devotional hymns phase into the realm of the love poem and love divine, nowhere more apparent than in the writings of Hafiz, Rumi, and the Sufi poets.
Easter Wings, Frank Herbert, 1635
Sun Ra’s lecture (linked above) draws on the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Theosophist Madame Blavatsky and Oahspe: A New Bible, received via automatic writing by an American dentist in the 19th century. Surrealist writing technique and spiritual trance lucid-sleepwalk hand in hand, and there’s a rich tradition of recording (or provoking) dreams & visions in poems, as well as the visual arts and moving pictures that grew up alongside them. Poet & director Pier Paolo Pasolini writes in The Cinema of Poetry that both poetry and cinema mimic oneiric movement.
In your writing in the coming week, take into account this continuous contact between spirit and what is seen and heard, visions as revelations transmitted through the ear, eye, and the eye of the mind. A few writing prompts to take as your springboard:
1. create a visual poem that illustrates a dream or vision you’ve had.
2. write a poem as a soundtrack to a recurring dream.
3. write a poem for two voices.