How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically
Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
Chapter 11: Living Poetically
What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?
This journal… does for me what prayer must do for the truly religious—sets things in proportion again…. What is interesting, after all, is the making of a self, an act of creation, like any other, that does imply a certain amount of conscious work. Ellen is very much aware of this, I feel. She would agree with Keats about “a vale of soul-making”…. —May Sarton, Kinds of Love
Jean Lall… calls housework “a path of contemplation” and says that if we denigrate the work that is to be done around the house every day, from cooking to doing laundry, we lose our attachment to our immediate world…. [Something as homely as a scrub brush can be] a sacramental object, and when we use this implement with care we are giving something to the soul. In this sense, cleaning the bathroom is a form of therapy because there is a correspondence between the actual room and a certain chamber of the heart. The bathroom that appears in our dreams is both the room in our house and a poetic object that describes a space in the soul. —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life
I can’t tell you, item by item, how to live poetically any more than I could write my poetry and call it yours. The only “rule” that I know of for poetic living is practicing the “I-Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about in his 1923 book I and Thou.
I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword…. “One should [never view]… the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.”
Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response…. Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages. —Michael Joseph Gross, Amazon.com review
In a way, Buber’s book is an elaboration on the “do unto others…” maxim often referred to as the Golden Rule—
As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?” —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
If you can consistently and joyfully practice I-Thou relationships (or the Ethic of Reciprocity), I have nothing more to tell you. You are already gentle with others and gentle with yourself. You never, ever beat yourself up. When you make a mistake, you correct it or, if that’s not possible, you learn from it and go on with your life.
If — and this is more likely — you flounder around like the rest of us, then you might benefit from the modest wisdom I have gained on living joyfully and poetically:
Lighten up! The title of the late Richard Carlson’s 1997 book says it all: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff.
Defy entropy. Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it. Find and practice your dharma, your “righteous path, way of living, and ethical system… largely found within oneself, through contemplation, rather than in the external world.” —ProQuest
Engage your imagination. As Nora Roberts points out in her novel Captivated, “The imagination [is] portable, unbreakable, and extremely malleable.” Be creative. Know that your potential is literally unlimited.
Show up. Be conscious and aware and totally in the moment.
Liberate yourself. Be larger than life. Do what you do with class and panache, beauty and grace. Practice courage. Be brave. Go the distance to become not just a good singer/dancer/accountant/cashier but a great one.
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech of 10 May 1994
Keep moving. Continually co-create yourself. Let your actions be learned and practiced but not slavishly habitual. Play. Pretend. Always be aware that you have choices. Solve your problems as they arise.
Find your balance — that place between (a) spontaneity and intuition and (b) wisdom and orderliness. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success, maintains that the most successful people are those who trust their sixth sense.
Make a list of 100 things you want. We’ll call these your goals. The items on your list can be grand or trivial: a movie you want to see, a new restaurant you want to try, habits you want to form, things you want to do before you die, places you want to visit, people you’d like to meet, desired changes in relationships….
Choose just one thing from your list. It makes absolutely no difference which goal you choose.
Write loosely in prose about, or make a diagram of, the distance between you and the goal and the steps you can take to overcome that distance. Conclude with reaching the goal.
Close your eyes and imagine, but don’t write down, how you will feel when your goal is reached.
Condense your prose into a Spenserian sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. An example is the following sonnet (1595) by the English poet Edmund Spenser. The metrical pattern is generally iambic pentameter, and it is easier to discern if you understand that, four hundred years ago, many words were pronounced differently, with added syllables. The first line, for example, might have been spoken thus: “Hap-PY [or, more likely, HAP-py, making the line slightly irregular] ye LEAV-es! WHEN those LIL-y HANDS”; and the word derived in line 10 was probably pronounced “de-RIVE-ed.”
Happy ye leaves! when those lily hands, (a)
Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (a)
Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (b)
And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (c)
And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (c)
My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (d)
Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)
NOTE: Do not overtly express your feelings of victory or accomplishment in your poem. Let your artistry, and the rhetorical devices you use, do that for you.
Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
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