Ars Poetica

“In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not their poets.”  Jonas Mekas –

It is hard to think about the political, humanitarian, and environmental challenges facing us and our planet and not hover somewhere between optimism and despair. But there has never been a time in history that has not seemed full of problems to the people who were living through it. This has been a year of great uncertainty and change. I find solace in poetry when the world doesn’t make sense. Poems are magical. They expose truth in places we would never have thought to look and can change the way we see ourselves and the world.

If from Space not only sapphire continents,
swirling oceans, were visible, but the wars –
Like bonfires, wildfires, forest conflagrations,
flame and smokey smoulder – the Earth would seem
a bitter pomander ball bristling with poison cloves.
And each war fueled with weapons: it should be visible
that great sums of money have been exchanged,
great profits made, workers gainfully employed
to construct destruction, national economies distorted
so that these fires, these wars, may burn
and consume the joy of this one planet
which, seen from outsiders transparent tender shell,
is so serene, so fortunate, with its water, air
and myriad forms of ‘life that wants to live.’
It should be visible that this Bluegreen globe
suffers a canker which is devouring it.

It Should Be Visible
– by Denise Levertov

Here in the rural southwestern French countryside, life is slow. There aren’t many dramas. Recently, the last tempête d’exclamations, storm of exclamations, occurred when the police arrested a farmer who had fatally shot a trespasser he suspected of trying to steal his coveted mushrooms. Otherwise, life goes on as it always has.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again

The Thing Is
– by Ellen Bass

While driving through the ochre-hued vineyards of Madiran the day before the latest lockdown went into effect, it was easy to feel connected to the alchemy of the seasons rather than the current global chaos. Here, life can be so mundane and ordinary that the rest of the world almost becomes invisible. When I moved across the Atlantic, I thought I’d found a place where I could escape the turmoil of the 21st century – and I have. But I’ve discovered, just like you take your problems with you wherever you go, you take the world with you, too.

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.

– by Martha Postelwaite

 In Buddhist practice, one learns to never look away from the pain and suffering of the human condition, and at the same time to never look away from the beauty and value of life in all its infinite forms. In doing both you learn to find a middle way. This is a conscious process, one that I repeat, sometimes unsuccessfully, every day.

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

The Laughing Heart
– by Charles Bukowski

We are all bit players in the epic of the cosmos. There are no walls that can separate people because nothing is separate. We are all human beings regardless of our, color, ethnicity, culture, wealth or lack of it. We’ve spent centuries being divided by our differences. What we haven’t done is spend enough time living without them.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.
What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out what is hidden,
what is lost,
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body,
for finding its way
toward flesh,
for tracing the edges
of form,
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still
to the blessed light
that comes.

How the Light Comes
– by Jan Richardson

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