Archive for October, 2022

Discover Ada Limón, the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

October 25, 2022

I recently discovered Ada Limón. I found her refreshing and her poetry accessible. She is the author of six poetry collections and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. This past summer she was selected as the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate for 2022-2023.

Here are 3 related sequential videos: a Library of Congress interview, followed by a PBS interview and announcement, and Ada Limón giving her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. I added a bonus video at the bottom, from 2019—Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

1. July 12, 2022: Ada Limón: 24th Poet Laureate (19 min)

Ada Limón talks about her poetry and her appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate with Library of Congress Chief Communications Officer Roswell Encina, in the Library’s Poetry Room.

When asked how she writes, Ada explains that composing a poem is an all-body experience for her. She involves all her senses, not just her mind. She is asked what inspires her, and replies: “I find inspiration in so many different things. I always say the muse is, or my muse is the world. It’s everything.”

At 6:45, she expresses the essence of what it means to be a poet.

But I think I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving. And it can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance. And no matter how many years I’ve been writing poems and no matter what I’ve done, that is the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it.

I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving…can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance…the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it. (edited)

Ada Limón, 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

The other side of the equation, of course, is how the poet is also transformed by this process. It is obvious that Ada Limón was meant to be a poet, and now a poet laureate.

But what she said reminds me very much of what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about this experience. I discovered it in Jane Hirshfield’s book, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, in the chapter on Poetry and the Mind of Indirection, pages 119-120. Rilke gets to the essence of what that deep attention, deep looking (and loving), can bring a devoted poet. Hirshfield writes:

Both readings of Novalis’s aphorism—that an awareness in the things we wish to observe and know, and that the way we come to them matters—enter into a letter from Rilke, sent in the winter of 1920 to Baladine Klossowska, a lover and fellow writer with whom he shared a passionate correspondence.

This next paragraph, translated by Stephen Mitchell, reveals that essential art of deep seeing, and its surprising hidden reward of spiritual transformation.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” And if the Thing sees that you are otherwise occupied with even a particle of your interest, it shuts itself off; it may perhaps give you some slight sign of friendship, or word or a nod, but it will never give you its heart, entrust you with its patient being, its sweet sidereal constancy, which makes it so like the constellations in the sky. In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” … In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels. (edited)

Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter to Baladine Klossowska

Mary Oliver also reiterated this truth: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It was her essential message for living a full life. She emphasized: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She formularized it in this succinct 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.

Even well-known Canadian actor Keanu Reeves said something similar: “The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.

For John Keats, this experience of reverse deep seeing was to inhabit a state of being perceived outside himself. It involved negating his Self to become The Other, what he described as ‘negative capability’.

2. Jul 27, 2022: PBS NewsHour: Ada Limón on becoming the new U.S. poet laureate (6 min)

Ada Limón has been named the nation’s new poet laureate. Jeffrey Brown recently met with Limón to learn more about her life’s path, one that includes backyard groundhogs, Kentucky bluegrass, pokeweed and plenty of poetry. It’s part of our arts and culture series, “CANVAS.”

3. Sept 29, 2022: Live! at the Library: U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón Opening Reading (56 min)

Award-winning poet Ada Limón will give her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, with an introduction by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. The historic reading marks the beginning of Limón’s laureateship, and it traditionally launches the Library’s literary season.

4. January 30, 2019: Hill Center poetry series, The Library of Congress. (63 min)

Poet Ada Limón discussed her work with Ron Charles, book critic at the Washington Post. It was a rich interactive and intimate conversation, introducing and then commenting on her reading certain meaningful poems from her life. Enjoy Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

PS: These posts share similar experiences described by Limón and Rilke: Being written—how some poems come through us and Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad. Also see negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry.

In this post, New York poet laureate Marie Howe reads “Annunciation” to Krista Tippett On Being, she describes how the poem came through her. In another interview included there, she is asked if she thinks of writing as a spiritual act at its core, and answers:

“I do, because it involves a wonderful contradiction, which is, in order for it to happen, you have to be there, and you have to disappear. Both. You know, nothing feels as good as that. Being there and disappearing—being possessed by something else. Something happening through you, but you’re attending it. There are few other things in the world like that, but writing is pretty much a relief from the self—and yet the self has to be utterly there.”

New: What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it.

Being written—how some poems come through us

October 20, 2022

In the previous post, I was impressed by what Brendan Graham said about being chosen for a song to go out into the world. “I had learned to keep out of the way, let the song write itself. … The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.”

The video clip concludes with him saying: “I am grateful to be merely the conduit, an accident of time and place through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

This reminded me of some of my own experiences in the past writing certain poems. As he said, it was more like they wrote me. I just put them down on paper as they were being given to me. I was the conduit—the intrinsic reward. Here are 4 poems and how they came to be written.

ODE TO THE ARTIST Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park

The first magical interaction I remember was with an artist friend. While driving around the Fairfield, Iowa countryside we noticed signs to Round Prairie Park. It turned out to be the first park the Jefferson County Conservation Board had developed. We drove on and found the entrance. A small historic schoolhouse on the left and a pond on the right were the first things we noticed. We continued on around the bend past the campsites and picnic tables to the end of the road and parked the car.

After a short walk, we discovered a bigger pond. It was filled with large lotus pads and pods. A drought that summer of 1988 had lowered water levels everywhere, including the pond. As a result, some of the lotus pads stood even taller. My friend pulled out her notepad and began sketching them. I asked her for a page and a pen. I made a few attempts at writing a poem about them, then gave up.

We spoke about The Secret Life of Plants and how they can sense what you’re thinking. She went back to sketching. I decided to switch perspectives—what I later learned is ‘reverse seeing’—and tried again. This time I felt a heightened awareness and quickly wrote down the words as they came to me. When it was over, I looked down and saw a poem on the page, but it was written in a voice other than my own. At that moment, a bird in the tree above me dropped a turd. It landed on my writing hand! A blessing from nature?

ODE TO THE ARTIST
Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park
Black lines briefly sketched on paper
capture our appearance but not our essence.

Your attention interests us,
although others have never before.
Your watchful eyes tell us
we are apart of you.

Can you feel our thoughts?
Can you think our feelings?
We do yours
and we thank you for committing us to memory.

For long after we’ve gone
and transmuted ourselves back into nature
our likeness will remind you that we were.
And your response will touch our hearts.

I had entered the poem in a Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum competition that was announced in the local Fairfield Ledger and forgot about it. Eventually, the editor acknowledged receipt of the poem, which he appreciated, said it was in the competition, and had a question about the way I spelled ‘apart of’ in the last line of the second stanza.

I explained that I wanted to express both ideas of togetherness and separateness at the same time in the same sounding word—’a part of’ and ‘apart from’. A language professor friend suggested I italicize ‘a‘ and ‘of‘ to give it that appearance and meaning in ‘apart of you’. It felt right.

The following summer, a postcard in the mail told me to go to the Post Office to pick up a registered letter. I had no idea what it was about. When I opened it, the letter announced that I had won Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum’s Distinguished Poet Award, which included a $100 check. The plaque would be mailed in a few days. What an unexpected surprise! It also happened to be Guru Purnima Day 1989, making it extra special to me! I was so grateful for this honor and recognition, especially since I had been going through a challenging phase of my life.

I told the writer at The Ledger about it and she said to come in with the plaque. She interviewed me and they took a picture of me holding the award. She thought The Ledger would need permission to publish the poem and asked me to check with the publisher. He said I owned the rights to my poem and could approve them printing it in the paper. The article had already come out, so they published the poem the next day. These unexpected events were signs encouraging me to keep writing.

Sometimes Poetry Happens

The editor wanted a follow-up poem, which made me nervous since I felt I hadn’t really written that first poem. So, I thought about the dynamic between us and the lotus pads, wondering what had really happened between the two—the observer and the observed—from both sides.

When I put pen to paper, surprisingly, it flowed effortlessly, even blissfully. The middle part of the poem reiterated what Brendan Graham had said about the truly special songs—in my case, poems—finding us and writing us, not the other way around.

But, when I tried to make a statement, nothing worked. I gave up, let go, and lay down on the couch to take a break. In a few moments the conclusion to the poem composed itself in my mind. I quickly got up, went back to the kitchen table, and wrote it down.

It was written in such a comprehensive poetic manner. I never would have imagined such a perfect answer to the posed question of what had happened between the two. I explained that in a reply to an appreciative comment on the poem.

The editor was pleased to have received the poem and published it. Besides being a memory of what had been heard, the poem became a kind of commentary on the creative process, that, if we’re lucky enough, sometimes poetry happens.

Sometimes Poetry Happens
(Sequel to ODE TO THE ARTIST)

Some poets can write
from reflected experience
referring back to what was written.

Others need to be there,
in full view of their subject,
opening up to what’s being given.

Sometimes poetry happens between the two.

It’s then you don’t really write the poem.
It writes you!
You just put it down on paper.

When you see it there,
You’ve captured it.
Or, rather, it’s captured you.

What really happened between the two?

To explore that space
between you and me
is to discover who we are.

For deep within,
at the source of the gap
lie the togetherness of the three—

the seer, the seen, and the poetry … in between.

Being in Nature—a gift from a tree

Other poems would start with a seed idea, then grow and unfold while writing them down. One short poem resulted from a surprising interaction with a tree on the UBC Endowment Lands in Vancouver. I had moved back to Canada during the 1990s.

I was standing with an artist friend closely admiring the bark of a tree in front of us. The tree reciprocated the attention with a ray of words entering my heart-mind: “the realness of natural things, the nearness of you.” I immediately wrote them down.

The next morning, I looked at the two-line stanza wondering where it would go next. The poem answered my hunches and completed itself as I wrote it down in my journal. It felt like a collaborative process.

The repetitive end rhymes and number of syllables per line created their own matching patterns, like a little gem. The title would come much later, while thinking of the word ‘being’ as both a subject and a gerund.

Being in Nature 
a gift from a tree 

The Realness of Natural Things 
The nearness of you 

The Beauty that Nature Brings 
When seeing is true 

The Silence that Inward Sings 
When hearing is clear 

The Harmony Between all Beings 
It exists right here!

Indonesian Mystery Poem

This reminds me of the start of another poem that was given to me a few days after having arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia in early June 2000. I had joined our group there on a project. They told me to just rest (meditate and sleep) in my room for a few days to get over the 17-hour jet lag.

It was very early in the third morning, while I was still asleep, when I heard these words softly spoken in my mind: “He hides within the rock of three dimensions and cannot be found in this world.” I woke myself up and wrote them down. The rest was like taking dictation. I had no idea who or what the poem was about, so I titled it Indonesian Mystery Poem.

When I shared it with an older Indonesian gentleman on our team, he recognized the mythic Queen of the Southern Seas in the poem and told me about her. So did two expats, after I taught them to meditate. In a book on Indonesia I later bought for my son, I discovered the story about Nyi Roro Kidul and the annual celebration taking place at that time.

The leaders of our group—a Canadian and a Dutchman—had been invited by our sponsors to West Java for the holiday weekend. In the Samudra Beach Hotel where they were staying was a room with a shrine dedicated to the mythic queen featuring a portrait of her painted by a well-known Indonesian artist.

When I read the poem to the Dutchman, he shared a few unusual experiences that had happened to him while they were there—before and after meditating in that hotel room, later when swimming in the ocean, and before they left. It’s all in the post of the poem, with various paintings of the queen.

Indonesian Mystery Poem 
Honoring Nyi Roro Kidul 
Queen of the Southern Seas 

He hides within the rock
of three dimensions
and cannot be found
in this world

When night comes
she rises like a moon
to shine her light
upon the mountain

The sea dances
rising and falling
like a lover
in her arms

What pull does she have
on his life
as she looks for a partner
to dance with

The moon bows
before the rising sun
and he is left
breathless

All these confirmations made me feel grateful, as if I had been chosen as a conduit, but for what purpose I did not know. Maybe, as Brendan Graham said, “through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

The Indonesian poem was mentioned in an interview I did with TM Home. They included the first two poems and how they were written in their profile: PR to poetry – how things sometimes happen to Ken Chawkin.

Postscript

Talk about being a conduit in a poetic way, B. Nina Holzer’s final entry in her journal shows us how she is an innocent instrument for writing.

EVENING

One day
I walked on the mountain
and the flute song
went through me.
That’s all.
I became the reed
and the wind went through
and I wrote it down
in my journal.

I recommend her book—A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process—to anyone interested in wanting to express themselves in writing. I found it very inspirational.

In a post following this one, newly appointed U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón describes what Ranier Maria Rilke reveals can happen if you give yourself fully over to a Thing, how it can respond if your attention is completely devoted to it. 

An earlier post discusses negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry.

Added Nov 2, 2022: What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it.

Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad.

October 9, 2022

I can remember as a child getting emotional every time my father would play a recording of Toora-Loora-Looral (It’s an Irish Lullaby). My lower lip would pout and quiver, and sometimes I’d cry. I still feel sad when listening to certain Irish artists and created a blog post about them.

Karen Matheson sings Crucán na bPáiste

Another Gaelic artist and song I recently discovered that also moves me is Karen Matheson singing Crucán na bPáiste, ‘burial place of the children’. It was written by Brendan Graham for the heroine of his novel The Brightest Day, The Darkest Night. When I discovered what it was about, what the words of the song meant, it elicited a stronger response.

One commenter explains: “The song is set during the famine in Ireland (1840s). People were dying so fast that they had to be buried in mass graves—the children included. But there was a special mass grave just for the little ones. That is what a ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ is (burial place of the children). In this song, a young mother grieves the fact she could do nothing to keep her dear little one from dying and wishes she had died as well. Now she vows to leave Ireland forever to the States to try and escape the bitter memories.”

Another later adds: “One other aspect you do not know…this is a graveyard for unbaptized babies…died before being baptized….kept separate by the Catholic Church.” Brendan Graham mentions this in his talk about the song in the second video below.

See a translation of the lyrics from Irish Gaelic to English, and listen to the recorded song on Spotify from Karen’s downriver album or on YouTube. They both play out to the end. Truly beautiful and so very sad.

This video excerpt from a BBC Four Transatlantic Sessions 3 includes an introduction by Karen about the collaboration between British and American musicians playing Gaelic music, followed by the band’s performance of the song.

These musicians accompany Karen in her rendition, which is filled with sorrow, regret, and a pleading prayer. The uilleann pipes in the last third of the piece intensify the overall sense of grief. Embedded here is that live performance of Crucán na bPáiste with English subtitles.

Accompanying Karen Matheson are Donald Shaw on piano, Ronan Browne on whistle and uilleann pipes, Aly Bain on fiddle, Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on slide, Catriona McKay on harp, and Todd Parks on bass.

How Brendan Graham wrote Crucán na bPáiste

The YouTube algorithm later suggested a short video of how Brendan Graham wrote his beautiful song Crucán na bPáiste. It was a revelation! He happened to be walking up in those beautiful mountains, “a place above the world hung between heaven and earth,” and came upon that place of unmarked stones. That’s when it happened.

He describes how he was affected, how the history of that time and place worked on him over many months to express itself, to tell its story, word by word, line by line, until he “had been set free and it had found its epiphany.”

I had learned to keep out of the way; let the song write itself. … The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.”

The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.

Songwriter and author Brendan Graham

“How else is it explained how a song can seep out of the wilderness, out of rocks and streams, and the deep pool of its own dark history, and, how a remote place in the Mayo Mountains, can, of its own volition, send out its story to the world.”

He concludes with all humility and gratitude. “I am grateful to be merely the conduit, an accident of time and place through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

A truly haunting song! It ranks up there with Davy Spillane playing the beautiful lament Caoineadh Cu Chulainn on uillieann pipes, and May Morning Dew on low whistle, alone, and with Moving Hearts in Dublin. Siobhan Miller sings her own beautiful version with her amazing band.

l first discovered Davy Spillane playing Midnight Walker. It captured my attention. Those songs are all embedded with a few artists’ covers here: The hauntingly beautiful music of Davy Spillane played on uilleann pipes and low whistle.

Improvement in U.S. homicide trends linked to group practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs, new study shows

October 4, 2022

This summer, co-author David W. Orme-Johnson sent out an introduction to the latest Maharishi Effect research study. The previous TM study published on this M.E. research was the fourth in a series at the time. That post also listed the previous three studies: Follow-up study suggests large advanced TM groups reduced murder rates in large US cities. This latest and fifth large-scale study looks at the total national homicide rates before, during, and after the experimental period. This is a new development, which further confirms the efficacy of this approach. What follows is Dr. Orme-Johnson’s synopsis.

The study found that during the years when the size of the coherence creating group at MIU practicing the Transcendental Meditation and TM Sidhi techniques reached the predicted national threshold of the square root of 1% of the US population (1725 people) that the rate of national homicides fell dramatically and that when the size of the group decreased once again to below threshold, that homicides turned around and started increasing again.

As there were no known alternative explanations for this phenomenon, because it was predicted in advance, and because it replicates dozens of previous studies, this study provides a powerful new layer of evidence that the group practice of this technology creates coherence in an underlying field of collective consciousness in which we all live and are connected.

Co-author Kenneth Cavanaugh offered some points about the paper.

Sections 1 and 2 of the paper contain a very readable and full discussion of Maharishi’s knowledge of collective consciousness. The final section (Section 6, Discussion) of the paper is also a very readable and nontechnical discussion of possible alternative explanations for the findings and the search for an explanation of the Maharishi Effect from the point of view of modern science.

The article was published in an open access journal with an Asian focus with the hope that its publication will help to increase support in India, Thailand, Nepal and other countries in that region for creation and expansion of large peace-creating groups there, as well as globally. So anyone can download a copy (or read it online) without charge and circulate it freely to others. The URL for this paper is https://doi.org/10.5430/sass.v8n1p1.

New Study Shows Improvement in U.S. Homicide Trends Linked to Group Practice of the Transcendental Meditation® and TM-Sidhi® Programs

A newly published, peer-reviewed study of a 15-year social experiment reports a highly significant 19.3% reduction in U.S. monthly homicide trend 2007-2011 when the average size of a large U.S. group practicing the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs exceeded a theoretically predicted critical threshold. This improved trend was significantly reversed during 2012-2016 after the size of the group declined substantially below the predicted size required to create a measurable reduction in national trends of violent crime: the square root of 1% of the U.S. population (1,725 participants).

When the average size of the group at Maharishi International University (MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa USA was above the predicted threshold during the 2007-2011 “experimental period,” an estimated 10,594 homicide fatalities were averted as a result of the decline in homicide trend relative to the baseline trend for 2002-2006. The probability that the reduced homicide trend could be attributed to chance variation was reported to be less than 1 in 10 billion (p < 1 x 10–10).

As predicted, this declining trend in homicide rates was then significantly reversed in the “post-experimental” period 2012–2016 when, due to reduced funding, the size of the MIU group fell below the critical threshold. During the first post-experimental subperiod 2012-2014, the steeply declining homicide trend leveled out, shifting to a flat trend. (See Figure 1 and Figure 2 below.) The probability that this predicted increase in trend (relative to the experimental-period) could be explained by chance was less than 1 part in a million (p < 1 x 10–6 ).

During the second post-experimental subperiod 2015-2016, homicide rates soared when the group size declined more steeply. The probability of observing this increase in trend relative to the experimental period trend was less than 1 in 100 billion billion (p < 1 x 10–20).

The authors conclude that the theoretically predicted decline and subsequent increase in homicide trend could not be plausibly explained by other factors such as changes in police staffing, policing strategies, incarceration rates, the proportion of U.S. youth age 18-25, seasonal factors including temperature, or economic factors such as unemployment rates and rates of inflation; nor were the results attributable to pre-existing trends or violation of statistical assumptions for the time series regression analysis.

The study was authored by MIU research professors Kenneth L. Cavanaugh, Michael C. Dillbeck, and David W. Orme-Johnson. The article entitled “Evaluation of a Field Theory of Consciousness and Social Change: Group Practice of Transcendental Meditation and Homicide Trends” was published in the July 2022 issue (Vol. 8(1), pp. 1-32) of the international journal Studies in Asian Social Science. A free PDF of the article can be viewed or downloaded at the journal website. The URL for the paper is https://doi.org/10.5430/sass.v8n1p1.

Dr. Cavanaugh remarked: “There are now 32 research articles published in independent, peer-reviewed scientific journals or in proceedings of scientific conferences that validate the effectiveness of this consciousness-based approach to reducing the stress and tensions in national consciousness that fuel the growth of violence, crime, and conflict in society. This evidence-based, cost-effective approach offers an urgently needed solution for reducing the upsurge of social violence and conflict afflicting the U.S. and many other countries globally.”

Figure 1. Monthly U.S. homicide rate per 100 million people (mean daily rate per month) 2002-2016 with seasonally adjusted, fitted trend segments from time series regression analysis.

Figure 2. Monthly rates of change for the U.S. homicide rate (trend slopes) for the four trend segments of the segmented-trend regression model: baseline period, experimental period, and two post-experimental subperiods. The p-values indicate a statistically significant decrease in slope from baseline trend to experimental-period trend (supporting Hypothesis 1) and significant increase in slope from experimental period to the slope for post-experimental trends 2012-2014 and 2015-2016 (supporting Hypothesis 2). The p-value for the difference between the experimental trend slope and that for the 2015-2016 trend is p < 1 x 10–20 (not shown in Figure 2).

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For further references, see Examples of Maharishi Effect Research.

Related: New book suggests how governments can use meditation to help defeat the virus of violence


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