Poetry as Spiritual Practice, part 1

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barrels L.L. here with Random Acts of Poetry— remembering a secretary I met, who told me about her new kitten, while I was in the middle of reading Ted Kooser... and considering Kooser's tentative definition of poetry being that which "freshens the world." Let me be forthright. In the past, if I was deeply engrossed in a book like Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, I would not have sacrificed the moment to listen to stories about kittens. I like kittens all right, but I like Kooser and his book better (forgive me, my feline-loving friends... I'm just being transparent). Anyhow, I'd just finished reading Kooser's assertion, "poems that change our perceptions are everywhere you look." He'd given an example of a poem that could alter the way we see homeless men sitting around a burning barrel warming their hands, particularly because of its first line, "Next time you'll notice them." I stopped reading for a moment to consider how noticing is the center of most kinds of spiritual practice. Then the secretary smiled at me. And I felt compelled to engage in a little small talk. When she started telling me about her kitten and how he's been driving her crazy with his curiosity, I began asking questions. What does he look like? Can you hold him in your two hands? What does he like to watch you do? I found out that he's black with green eyes, and that she puts him in her apron pocket so he can watch her do everything from chopping celery to vacuuming the living room. She was very happy to tell me her stories. I was thinking how I could honor her stories by someday folding them into a poem, and how I couldn't have done this if I hadn't taken time to notice. In the end, I realized that poetry is becoming, for me, a form of spiritual practice. Today it reminded me to notice the world, to "freshen the world" not just with my words but by listening to the words of another (who will probably never even read my poem, but who might go home happy to have shared her stories). This week's prompt, to try a "mask" poem, really requires a 'noticing' stance. If we're going to speak as a teacup, the moon, a secretary with her new kitten (or maybe even the kitten himself), why first we need to hear what they might be saying. In our featured poem, Monica speaks as paper... Monica's Paper Wood-shreds, cotton, flax, grass— Plant fibers beaten to expose Inner life, so old life will pass Into something new. Water-softened, washed, mixed Into slurry, ready to be transformed, Made and molded, pressed and pressed. Sheet bared to sun. Blessed In the drying, made useful In the drying, in the soul-exposure To the Sun. I have a memory; every crease remains In me, intricate folds of experience Shaping origami me. He unfolds, Some parts tucked in so tightly I tear in the unfolding. I tear in every unfolding But His hand smoothes over And I am whole. Surrendered in the unfolding, I wait And He writes. Spirit-ink penetrates, bleeds All the way through as nib makes Graceful strokes recording on me Flourishes of kindness, goodness, Grace on me. If you would like to participate in Random Acts of Poetry, read here for instructions. RAP Participants: Milton's spring planting nAncY’s mask poem Marcus’s Bird Watching Monica’s Paper Laura’s Glass Papa Poet's Progressive Lens Brian’s Mask Stacy’s The Cave Blue’s Swan Song Emily’s trying it out Lynne’s Moon Speaks Yvette’s Master’s Table Claire's Reflections on Colour Ted's Silence Jennie's Standing Sara's "Cello" and "Piano" Emily's Scarlet Seeker LL's Morning After Jennifer's Ideal Deb's Cuff of Thorns Cheri's Captured Milton´s spring planting

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Barrels photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post written by L.L. Barkat.

“Most of the material on The High Calling is available for reuse under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. Unfortunately, work by Laura Barkat is not available for reuse. If you are interested in reprinting work by Laura Barkat, please contact her directly.”

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