Poetry of the Spirit, Day 3

Collectives & Revolutions. Nature and Poetry as World Soul.

A Note About “Clumps”
“One might say that each clump is the center of a node from which excursions radiate in various asymmetrical directions.”
—Diane di Prima, in the “Hidden Religions” syllabus
“Various are the roads of man. He who follows and compares them will see strange figures emerge, figures which seem to belong to that great cipher which we discern written everywhere, in wings, eggshells, clouds and snow, in crystals and in stone formations, on ice-covered waters, on the inside and outside of mountains, of plants, beasts and men, in the lights of heaven, on scored disks of pitch or glass or in iron filings round a magnet, and in strange conjunctures of chance. In them we suspect a key to the magic writing, even a grammar, but our surmise takes on no definite forms and seems unwilling to become a higher key. It is as though an alkahest had been poured over the senses of man. …”
—Novalis, from “Novices of Sais”

While Rilke may have been “the Santa Claus of loneliness,” his poems are full of longing for the other, sounding out in the Orphic realm where the poet’s song can be heard by plants, stones, animals, and the dead – and he can hear them back. His work is in conversation with artists that influenced him profoundly, like the group at the Worpswede colony – especially the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker – as well as the sculptor Auguste Rodin. The magic of Rilke’s most accessible work, Letters to a Young Poet, is in the mystery of connection – the reaching out and transmission of the way in poetry.

Networking New American Poetry project at Emory

In the writing world just as in the realm of spiritual belief, friend groups, generations, lyrical constellations cluster together in movements and schools, with intent announced through manifestos and holy writs, or grouped posthumously by literary historians. The band of nine Muses, ancient Orphic cults, Taoism and Sufism, the Metaphysical poets, the Romantics, Surrealists, Imagists and Modernists, and New American Poets: Beats, Black Mountain Poets, Umbra and Black Arts Poetry, the New York School and their descendants.

Rather than generating an “anxiety of influence,” wisdom and access to a shared imaginary is transmitted as though on a rolling wave of spirit. Poetry schools and musical & spiritual movements cohere and pass on their heritage drawing on joint resources, using the same technologies. Novalis’ The Novices of Sais stands in conversation with Pre-Socratic thinkers like Heraclitus. In California, Robert Duncan writes in The H.D. Book  (the full upload is in our classroom!) about her visionary experiences and readings in esoterica, and the feminine lineage of Modernism…while Duncan’s family were part of a Theosophical group not far removed from the tradition of Hafiz, and H.D. herself was of Moravian descent: “H.D.’s grandmother Elizabeth Wolle—or Mamalie, as H.D. called her—shared with her granddaughter a heterodox strand of Moravianism that celebrated a female holy ghost, the sanctus spiritus.” 

The Survival of Magical Tradition, Andrew David

Meanwhile, in New York in the ​​1960s, poets like Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka creatively engaged with musicians, dancers and artists—the Fugs, Freddie Herko, Yvonne Rainer—and founded The New York Poets Theatre. It staged only one-act plays by poets. (More reading: Chapter 4 in Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-off-Broadway Movement). At the same time, happenings of Judith Malina’s The Living Theatre took to the streets, and Judson Poets’ Theater presented short plays written by poets, including Gertrude Stein’s What Happened. Poets’ theater companies gave poets voice by producing their unconventional plays full of do it yourself spirit, experimentation, humor and social awareness. 

Amiri Baraka & Diane di Prima in 1960, Fred W. McDarrah


Judith Malina performing “Six Public Acts” in Amiens, France in 1978.

As one moves around the map, the view shifts, and the horizon of each poet’s vision reaches only so far; but considered together, the constellations and resonances multiply until they’re nearly impossible to chart systematically. This transmission reaches you from a small green hill: it’s only what I see and hear from where I’m standing. Our exchanges here are part of this living weave of poetic influence in the contemporary moment. Where do you place yourself in this constellation of the now? A must-read: 

Ken Chen’s 21st Century American Poetry: 4 Essays 

which incisively charts contemporary poetry’s history and looks to its future. For an encyclopedic view of American small press publishing, take a look at Matvei Yankelevich’s four-part history. And for more on the economy of poetry publishing and prizes, check out Who Gets to Be a Writer


And beyond human communication, poets reach out to and commune with the non-human, listening for the beats in rainfall, weighing their egos against the presence of nature.

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

– Li Po (Li Bai)

Apollinaire, The Rain (1916)

I told you about the shapes traced by the hoar and the lichen on the rocks I saw as a child, which resembled nothing so much as letters, those mysterious signs that I had been seeing around and beginning to recognize. (I wrote a bit more about how my poetic relationship to measure has evolved here.) When you cast back to your early thinking about letters, words, patterns, counting, measure, shape: what stands out? How does your thinking touch on nature and what it shows you? Do you observe nature? Do you write about it? Do you write in it? Do its things, leaves and trees and stars, appear in your poems as they appear in the street and sky? What delights you in nature? What shapes / colors / phenomena? What about the recursion of patterns? Or pleasing formlessness, clouds? I often think about Brenda Hillman’s Pieces of Air in the Epic, how unused parts of the poem drop to the footnote like ashes. 

Francesca Capone

For many poets of the spirit, Nature is the seat of divine mystery:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.



I was still standing
on a northern corner.

Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.

of Your existence? There is nothing

– Franz Wright

Nature transports and awes. Transports where? Inside or out? And what about the fear of nature — our susceptibility to hurricanes & plagues?  Or its monotony and boredom? 

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

– Issa


Clouds appear and bring
to men a chance to rest from
looking at the moon                

– Basho

What of the fact that our species is decimating nature? Do we as poets have duties to nature? Is this part of your po/ethics? How does your practice connect to the natural world now and how do we move toward a regenerative practice in the fight for nature that is ahead of us? I leave you with these questions as the reverberations of our conversation continue on. 

I won’t even stop
at the valley’s brook
for fear that
my shadow
may flow into the world.

– Dogen


Pain and suffering. Give me the strength
to bear it, to enter those places where the
great animals are caged. And we can live
at peace by their side. A bride to the burden

that no god imposes but knows we have the means
to sustain its force unto the end of our days.
For that is what we are made for; for that
we are created. Until the dark hours are done.

And we rise again in the dawn.
Infinite particles of the divine sun, now
worshipped in the pitches of the night.

– John Wieners


Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist blurred grass.

The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

– Han Shan


hear them cry
the long dead
the long gone
speak to us
from beyond the grave
guide us
that we may learn
all the ways
to hold tender this land
hard clay direct
rock upon rock
charred earth
in time
strong green growth
will rise here
trees back to life
native flowers
pushing the fragrance of hope
the promise of resurrection

– bell hooks


My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes,
and will carry your sight into the heart of things.

– Rabindranath Tagore


Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

– Audre Lorde