Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

William Stafford prescribed creative writing to find your own voice and reveal your inner light

November 30, 2020

One of the first books of poetry I ever bought for myself was You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. It was part of The University of Michigan Press series of Poets on Poetry. His poems, essays and interviews on writing, teaching, and performing were a revelation!

I was discovering the writing process at the time and how to facilitate it, and found Stafford’s poems and his thoughts on the teaching of writing poetry to be very relevant. Here are a few that caught my attention: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, and A Course in Creative Writing.

I reread his poem, Rx Creative Writing: Identity, and decided to include it.

Rx Creative Writing: Identity
By William Stafford

You take this pill, a new world
springs out of whatever sea
most drowned the old one,
arrives like light.

Then that bone light belongs
inside of things. You touch
or hear so much yourself
there is no dark.

Nothing left but what Aquinas
counted: he—touched, luminous—
bowed over sacred worlds, each one
conceived, then really there—

Not just hard things: down on
a duck as real as steel.
You know so sure there burns
a central vividness.

It tells you;
all you do is tell about it.

This poem was also later included in The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems. The last poem he wrote the day he would die introduces the book. You can read it in this blog post: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

There is a quote on the back cover of You Must Revise Your Life taken from an earlier compilation of his, Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation. It epitomizes Stafford’s approach to writing.

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

As part of their Poets on Poetry series, The University of Michigan Press published three books of Stafford’s collections of prose and poetry on the writing profession, the poetics of a new generation. Writing the Australian Crawl was the first, followed by You Must Revise Your Life. The third and final volume was Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation. I had bought and read all three of them.

I also very much enjoyed reading the biography written by his son Kim, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. The lines from his most profound and favorite poem, The Way It Is, were used as chapter headings. I’ve posted more of his poems on The Uncarved Blog.

Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process are mentioned in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

I was naturally influenced by what I was reading and experiencing at the time. Some of my first inspired attempts were very meta, commentaries on Writing—a poem on the writing process, and Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity.

What is Poetry and where does it come from?

November 11, 2020

I posted many wonderful poems under this blog’s Poetry category. Also saved comments about poetry written by poets throughout the ages. These two made an impression on me years ago that I’ll share with you.

Yang Wan–li (1127–1206) Sung dynasty poet: What is Poetry?

Now, what is poetry? If you say it is simply a matter of words, I will say a good poet gets rid of words. If you say it is simply a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning. “But,” you ask, “without words and without meaning, where is the poetry?” To this I reply, “Get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry.”

Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927): The Music of Life, Poetry (pg. 327)

The one who reads poetry, the one who enjoys poetry, and the one who writes poetry must know that poetry is something that does not belong to this earth: it belongs to heaven, in whatever form one shows one’s appreciation and love for poetry, one really shows one’s appreciation and love for the spirit of beauty.

Poems on Poetry

Here are links to a few meta-poems I’ve written over the years about the sometimes mysterious creative process of writing poetry and its influence on an audience: Writing; Sometimes Poetry Happens; Poetry—The Art of the Voice; a seven-haiku poem, Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Universe; and Haiku on The Nature of Haiku.

Also see this post: Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers.

Sue Monk Kidd on empathy and the purpose and power of literature to enter the common heart

November 10, 2020

It’s sometimes serendipitous how one thing can lead to another while surfing the internet. I came across this tweet by Alicia Keys about her recent conversation with Sue Monk Kidd. They were discussing each other’s books. Alicia had just published, More Myself, and Sue, The Book of Longings. A previous book, The Secret Life of Bees, was made into a movie (2008). Alicia posted the podcast on her YouTube channel AliciaKeys.lnk.to/AKSMK.

Sue Monk Kidd is a novelist, essayist, and best-selling author. She has received wide acclaim for her books on feminine spirituality and theology. Her inspiring lectures explore the intersection of writing, creativity, and soul. I wanted to know more about this author and found an intriguing title to a talk she gave in Saint Paul at a Westminster Town Hall Forum. The live talk, Sue Monk Kidd: Life is a Story, was sponsored by SPNN on February 11, 2014.

Sue Monk Kidd (SMK) gave a profound talk about how she became a writer later in life, what the act of writing means to her, and how it can be used to shine a light on injustices, particularly with issues of women and race, giving readers a window into the lives of her female characters. Her spirituality is connected to justice and compassion. For her, one of the important purposes of literature is to enhance empathy, allowing readers to enter what Emerson called “the common heart.”

She mentions her favorite authors and books, and had stenciled some of their quotes on her walls, which informed her life and work as a writer. I transcribed some of her many inspiring comments from the talk. The hyperlinked phrases will take you to those segments in the video.

creativity and the writing life

Introducing the idea of creativity and the role of writing in her life, SMK says, “Well, creativity, I think, is essentially a spiritual experience, at least it is for me. I think it is a conversation that one has between one’s self and one’s soul. It’s not always a good conversation, but it is some kind of conversation.”

She then references the poet Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet, where he tells a young man who’s written him for advice: “So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it.”

moments of being…a silence beneath my words

She reiterates this notion. “I think there’s a realm inside us. We could call it the inner life, or the interior life, or the life of the soul or something else. Merton often referred to it as the true self. And I think my 30-year old self was trying to start up a conversation with this place. What I suppose I have in mind here is a kind of contemplative experience. It’s very easy to lose touch with this part of ourselves, especially in our contemporary culture. I think we often feel, at least I do, besieged by life.

I think the world seduces us with an artificial sense of urgency sometimes. But the soul doesn’t move at the same pace as the world. The creative life doesn’t, at least mine doesn’t. I think it has a completely different slower pace about it.

So contemplative moments, I think, moments of being, help us, help me cultivate this life I’m talking about. I often say to myself that there must be a silence beneath my words. If there is not a deep silence beneath my words, then my words are probably empty.

the real power of literature

When asked what does she hope readers would take away from her work, she references what the female protagonists go through in her books. “My hope I suppose, if I had to articulate that, would be that readers would have a felt experience of what it’s like to be an enslaved person in the 19th century; or a white woman without any rights, with shockingly few rights; or what it’s like to be a 14-year old girl looking for home and belonging; or a woman adrift in the middle of her marriage; or a 50-year old woman trying to find the 3rd act. What does it feel like?”

“And I’m talking of course about empathy, which is taking an other’s experience and making it one’s own. I think that is perhaps the most mysterious transaction in the human soul. And I think it’s the real power of literature.”

empathy…the common heart…an intrinsic unity with all of humanity

While in college SMK studied Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is where she learned about his concept of “the common heart.”

He described it as a place inside every human where we share an intrinsic unity with all of humanity. Now this idea has remained with me all of these years. I have never forgotten it. And as a novelist I have to believe in this place. And as a person I believe in this place.”

“So I began by saying that, for me, creativity is a conversation with one’s soul. And I think in that sense maybe writing has been my longest prayer. But I also think, that in this sense that readers go to the common heart, that they can find their way into the common heart, a portal through a book, that reading becomes their prayer too.”

distractions…contemplative rhythm…conscious loitering…listening

The most difficult part of writing for her is the solitude—the paradoxical need for it and the isolation that it brings. She describes her process. “I find that, I have to find, particularly when I’m writing, ‘a contemplative rhythm’. I like to refer to it as ‘conscious loitering’. Because loitering is really a good thing in a lot of ways. It’s just to, to be, without any purpose other than being within oneself. And this centers me; it grounds me. It allows me most of all, the time and place to have this conversation that I need to have with this deeper part of myself, or to go to that deeper part of myself and to listen.”

She tries to avoid social media. “I think listening is so important. I don’t know how to do that with all of this, you know, Twitter and Facebook, and all of this that is going on. It’s kind of a whirlwind, and I think our attention span is shrinking dramatically with it. And I’m about the long form. So it’s attention, actually, I think for many writers, and it is for me. And I kinda go back and forth in these worlds and try to navigate both of them and sometimes do both of them poorly.”

In a previous post, famous songwriters have said a similar thing about the need to be alone undisturbed where the mind can idle (loiter). Ideas come along, get fiddled with, and inspire lyrics turning them into songs.

fundamental to writing is the courage to find and believe in your self

When asked what advice she would give to a young writer just getting started, she shared what she had written her daughter in a card the night before they would drive her to college. “Be true to yourself. Have the courage to be true to yourself, and stand by yourself. It was as simple as that. And maybe that is really the key.”

“You know writing, as I said, is an act of courage. It’s about having something to say and the ability to say it. But the real thing is about the courage to say it at all. And it has to do with some sense of truth in one’s self, and finding that truth, and being willing to have an authentic conversation with it.”

“So I think I would say that, believe in yourself, but first of all find the self you want to stand by, and then believe in that self, because that’s fundamental to writing.”

related blog posts on writing

Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers | Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing | Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights | Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say | John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets | The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice | Letters to a Young Poet Quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke

Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within

August 30, 2020

Having seen the Canadian movie Indian Horse based on his book, and enjoyed his journal entries compiled in Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, I decided to actually read one of Richard Wagamese’s novels. I started with Medicine Walk and ended with Starlight, the latter an extension of the former to become a two-part story, albeit an unfinished one. His flawed wounded characters seek healing and reconciliation, as he did throughout his life. The image below and his description of a mended broken heart reveal how his courageous talent honored and celebrated these lives, ultimately his own, and why he was beloved as one of Canada’s greatest Indigenous storytellers.

Medicine Walk

Richard Wagamese’s skills as a soulful storyteller and consummate wordsmith grew with each successive novel. I enjoyed reading Medicine Walk. It’s the story of young Frank who reluctantly agrees to help his extremely ill biological father, Eldon, a stranger to him, complete a journey into the wilderness to a special location where he wants to die in the traditional Indian way.

This emotionally charged story is an attempt at a reconciliation between a seemingly irresponsible absent father and his disappointed hurt son. This was something Wagamese had been grappling with throughout his own life, from both perspectives—as a young boy and later as a father to his own sons. It’s why he wrote the book.

Starlight

I also read Starlight, his final, and unfortunately unfinished novel. Only 61 years of age, he died in his sleep before he could complete it. Beautifully written, this profoundly moving story is about the redemptive power of love, mercy, compassion, and the land’s ability to heal.

This is ultimately a tale of recovery from trauma by the power of human connection to the natural world and each other. It’s something Richard wanted to explore through the main character. This last book continues the story of a now older Frank Starlight. The old white man who raised him and taught him everything he knows has died and left him the farm and accompanying wilderness.

The story is filled with beautiful descriptions of Frank’s transcendent experiences in nature. He had also taken up photography as a hobby. During his time alone in nature he was able to come into contact with a pack of wolves. He runs with them from a safe distance. When he fearlessly taps into nature’s silence within, the alpha wolf seems to trust him and doesn’t bolt. They howl at the moon, and Frank captures this intimate scene through the lens of his camera resulting in rare photographs.

But the main part of the novel is about a potential relationship between Frank and a young woman and her daughter who come into his life. Unbeknownst to him they had violently escaped an abusive situation. The injured men involved are tracking her down to seek revenge.

A man of few words, Frank teaches Emmy and Winnie how to connect with the land, its creatures, and ultimately their own inner nature. It strengthens and heals them, enhancing their self-esteem. These scenes are profound, well-written, worth reading and rereading. I scanned those pages and may reproduce some of the content in a future post.

A tension is created between these contrasting situations. But the book stops just before they are about to intersect. A Note on the Ending, indicates how Wagamese was intending to complete the novel. It includes an outline and examples from previously published short stories.

Finding gold in the flaws of his imperfect life

A Publisher’s Note at the end explains how they came by the manuscript. Throughout the process of readying Starlight for publication they were guided by something that Wagamese wrote. It became the reason for this post. I found this image online as an example of what he describes.

I once saw a ceramic heart, fractured but made beautiful again by an artist filling its cracks with gold. The artist offering a celebration of imperfection, of the flawed rendered magnificent by its reclamation. I loved that symbol until I came to understand that it’s not about the filling so much as it’s about being brave enough to enter the cracks in my life so that my gold becomes revealed. I am my celebration then. See, it’s not in our imagined wholeness that we become art; it’s in the celebration of our cracks . . .

This reminds me of two previous posts related to this notion. One was when I discovered this Japanese ceramic technique Richard is referring to known as kintsugi. I included a definition, an image, and a poem, a tanka I wrote about this process as a metaphor for human growth.

The other was about Leonard Cohen and his song, Anthem, where he tells us to: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

These great Canadian writers had the courage to try to come to terms with their own struggles and the skill to creatively express them in their own unique ways. Experienced aesthetically in the lives of their fans who may have been going through similar life challenges, these hard-earned truths became a validation, bringing beauty and meaning into their lives.

See these related blog posts on Richard Wagamese and Leonard Cohen: Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese and Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations and Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything–how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations

May 26, 2020

I’ve been reading Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. I discovered an excerpt from it on a blog I follow. I had not heard of him and previewed his book online. Inspired by what I saw, I included three profound perspectives on silence, the soul, and his creative process in a blog post I created: Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese.

A collection of early morning writings he had posted on his Facebook page, they were later put into an award-winning book by his publisher. I ordered a copy and found similar entries about the silences he experienced outside in nature, and those within—the gaps between thoughts, words, and moments.

To write, he would separate himself from the noises and distractions of everyday life and retreat into “the sound of silence,” then bring it out with him into the world, “the sound of self emerging.” For him, “silence is the stuff of life.” He wrote, “I want to dive into those small bits of silence. They contain the ocean of my being and our togetherness.”

This impressive insight concludes Chapter I: STILLNESS.

I DON’T KNOW the word for it, that space between seconds, but I’ve come to understand for myself that it’s the punctuation of my life. Between each word, each thought, each moment is where the truth of things lies. The more intent I am on hearing it, seeing it, feeling it, incorporating it, the more precise the degree to which I’m focused on my life and the act of living. I want to dive into those bits of silence. They contain the ocean of my being and our togetherness. So if I don’t respond quickly, excuse me. I’m busy allowing the surf of consciousness to break over me so that I can stand on the coast of our unity and be more.

This reminds me of Maharishi’s Vedic Science. He described this silent space or gap as the transcendent, our own inner transcendental consciousness that we tap into during Transcendental Meditation. He said it was also an unbounded reservoir of pure knowledge, the Sounds and Gaps in Veda and Vedic Literature that structure creation in a sequential, self-referral flow. I mention this process in a previous post. He also spoke of ritam bhara pragya, a refined state of consciousness, ‘that intelligence which knows only the truth.’

Those Embers entries indicate an experiential understanding of a deeper inner reality. In a Q&A session that followed a talk Richard Wagemese gave at MacEwan University, he answered a question about how his recent practice of yoga and meditation had impacted his writing. His answer and the video are both included in that blog post referenced in the opening paragraph above.

Here is another significant insight from the book, in Chapter III: TRUST.

MY MOTHER’S PHYSICAL death taught me that I didn’t come here to master devastating situations, circumstances, changes, losses or even my own feelings. I came here to experience them. I came here for soul lessons and spirit teachings so that I could carry on in this wonderful spiritual journey we are all on, this teaching way, this blessing way. So that, in the end, I can, like my mother has done, return to the beauty that I was when I first arrived here.

A similar theme is expressed in Chapter IV: Reverence.

I CAME HERE to inhabit a body that would allow my soul to experience. So I am not my body. I came here to experience the grandest thought. So I am not my mind. I came here to experience the deepest feeling. So I am not my feelings. I am all of it: thought, feeling and experience. That translates to awe, joy and reverence. For all life, for all beings, for all Creation. Knowing this, understanding this, make living the hardest thing of all—but the joy is in the challenge, the gradual day-by-day becoming.

In Chapter V: Persistence, he learns the miraculous power of forgiveness.

I LIVE FOR miracles in my life these days. Not the earth-changing, light-bringing, soul-powering kind. But the ones that carve out a small space of peace where before there was only the jumble of resentment, fear and doubt. The ones that happen from choosing to live the right way. Like coming to understand that forgiveness isn’t about gaining a release from others—it’s about gaining release from me. If I release my hold on what binds me, I can walk free and unencumbered. But I have to embrace the resentment, fear and doubt to gain that. I have to own them, hold them again, so that I can learn to let them go. In that letting go is the miracle.

There are more entries worth sharing, including short dialogues with a wise elder, Old Woman. His questions elicit unexpected pithy replies as she offers wise advice about life. Here’s an example from Chapter V.

ME: You always repeat things three times.

OLD WOMAN: Just the important things.

ME: Why? I hear you the first time.

OLD WOMAN: No. You listen the first time. You hear the second time. And you feel the third time.

ME: I don’t get it.

OLD WOMAN: When you listen, you become aware. That’s for your head. When you hear, you awaken. That’s for your heart. When you feel, it becomes a part of you. That’s for your spirit. Three times. It’s so you learn to listen with your whole being. That’s how you learn.

Advice on Writing

My earlier post shared Richard Wagamese’s reflections on the writing life. In Embers, Chapter III: TRUST, he describes the process of timed free writing and what it can do for us both personally and professionally.

WRITE SPONTANEOUSLY EVERY day for fifteen minutes.

First, get settled. Breathe. Big, deep, full breaths, taken slowly. Clear your mind of words. Be wordless. Then, open your eyes and write whatever comes out of you, and keep writing without taking your hands from the paper or the keyboard for fifteen minutes. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Just write. Every day. Fifteen minutes. Regardless. Watch what happens to your level of craft when you work on a project. Why? Because stories live in our bodies and we need to feel our fingers moving in the process of creation every day. Your hands are your interpretive tools. They bring your spirit out in words and language.

In Chapter IV: Reverence, he shares his personal approach to writing.

YOU STOKE THE FIRES of creativity with humility, gratitude and awareness. You need to ask for the gift to be directed. Writing is a spiritual process. To be a creator you need to connect with Creator.

In Chapter VII: JOY, he tells us that writing is a process of self-discovery.

DON’T JUST WRITE what you know. Write what you wish to know. What you reveal to yourself, you reveal to the reader. Storytelling is about discovery.

It was how he wrote Medicine Walk. I included his quote and video link in that earlier blog post about him. He had described this process in that same talk he gave at MacEwan University for their Book of the Year selection—Indian Horse. That book was turned into a film by the same title, which I had recently seen on Netflix but didn’t know it was written by him until I made the coincidental connection.

With reference to spontaneous writing and storytelling, I know what he means. When I first discovered writing and what writers said about it, one of my first poems came out as a result of free-writing practice: Writing—a poem on the writing process.

Around that time I had made up a bedtime story for my kids. It was so magical we did it again the next night and recorded it. After it was done I spontaneously spoke out what that process was like, then wrote those two sentences down as Storytelling—a poem on the storytelling process.

Wagemese concludes by encouraging us to share in the transporting and transforming power of storytelling, advising us to not be didactic, but to inspire others instead to discover the questions for themselves.

TO TELL. TO use the act of breathing to shape air into sounds that take on the context of language that lifts and transports those who hear it, takes them beyond what they think and know and feel and empowers them to think and feel and know even more. We’re all storytellers, really. That’s what we do. That is our power as human beings. Not to tell people how to think and feel and therefore know—but through our stories allow them to discover questions within themselves. Turn off your TV and your devices and talk to each other. Share stories. Be joined, transported and transformed.

It reminds me of what Raner Maria Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations became a 2017 BC Book Prize Winner. I can see why, now that I own a copy. In addition to Richard Wagamese’s words of wisdom, humility and gratitude, the book cover and content are colorfully laid out with creative photographs, all printed on quality paper. Douglas & McIntyre produced a beautiful work of art.

New post added: Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within.

Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese

April 30, 2020

Discovering Richard Wagamese the Poet

I first discovered this great Canadian aboriginal writer on a blog I follow. I looked into the book she quoted from, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese, and bought it based on this first entry I read in Chapter I: STILLNESS.

I AM MY silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

These two entries in Chapter II: HARMONY are equally profound. This first one, about the relationship between the soul and the body, reminds me of what the Sufi mystics said about the body and the universe, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

I USED TO believe my body contained my soul. That was fine for a while. But when I started thinking about oneness with Creator, I came to believe that it’s the other way around. My soul contains my body. It is everything that I am. I am never separate from Creator except within my mind. That’s the ultimate truth, and I need to be reminded, to learn again, to learn anew in order to get it. When I do, I know the truth of what my people say: that we are all spirit, we are all energy, joined to everything that is everywhere, all things coming true together.

Interestingly, when the mind forgets this oneness, loses its connection to inner wholeness, the result is what Maharishi calls Pragyāparādha, the mistake of the intellect, which identifies with a changing limited reality instead of our unbounded inner Self. This identification with the world and loss of memory of the Self is the root cause of all of our suffering, the difference between bondage and liberation.

The other entry, about coming under the influence of the muse, reminds me of William Stafford, another poet who would also get up early every morning to write before sunrise. Although similar in theme, but not as profound, his poem, When I Met My Muse, is more lighthearted.

WHEN THE MUSE is full upon you, you move to the chair at your desk as if entranced, and in that ghostly glow against the full dark before sunrise, story becomes a shape-shifter, a presence that cajoles you, tempts you, coaxes words to eke out onto the page, creating worlds and people from the fire deep within you so that this alchemy of creation becomes transcendent, making time lose all its properties. There is just you and the universe and this creative fire moving through your fingers in bold palettes of colour chasing the dark away until you emerge in the sure, calm light of morning and feel like a writer again.

I discovered a similar transcendent experience described by Canadian Realist Painter Sarah McKendry as she paints through the night until sunrise. See my comment and her quote below in the Responses section.

Discovering Richard Wagamese the Storyteller

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955 – March 10, 2017) was an internationally renowned, award-winning author, newspaper columnist and reporter who had also worked in radio and television. In this CBC interview, Candy Palmater asks Richard how a library helped him become a writer. As a destitute, homeless teenager, he walked into a building for warmth and noticed it was filled with silence and many books. He didn’t know where he was. A kind librarian brought him some food and showed him how to find what he was interested in. Richard had only a grade 9 education and devoured books on a wide range of topics. He taught himself how to become a writer and would copy sentences by hand of the great authors who moved him just to see what it felt like. He tells Candy the role he played in the making of the film based on his book.

Indian Horse, the novel and the film

I had just watched an emotionally-charged film on Netflix called Indian Horse. I checked and found out that the film was based on the award-winning novel Indian Horse written by this same Ojibway author! Clint Eastwood was the executive producer. It tells the tragic, yet hopeful and redemptive story of the main character, Saul Indian Horse. Events unfold during a dark era in Canadian history, when young native Indians were separated from their families (including Wagamese’s parents), and sent to notorious Catholic Residential Schools where they were forced to not speak their language or practice their culture. The nuns and priests tried to “scrape the Indian out of them” violently molding them into Christians, traumatizing them for life.

Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and the most favorite of Canadian pastimes — hockey. Fascinated by the game, he secretly teaches himself how to play, and develops a unique and rare skill. Saul’s talent leads him away from the misery of the Residential School to a Northern Ontario Indigenous league and eventually to the pros – but the terrors of Saul’s past seem to follow him.

Wagamese suffered from second-generational trauma, abused drugs and alcohol, was homeless and landed in prison many times. He would eventually be diagnosed with PTSD, which gave him a better understanding of his helpless situation, and finally sought treatment.

A wise tribal Elder told him his role in life was to become a storyteller. Writing would become a healing redemptive practice for him. Surprisingly, many of his readers felt seen, understood. His stories helped them too in their healing journey, fulfilling his destiny.

People who knew Wagamese said he was the creator, parent and protector of stories. Host of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and chancellor of the University of Victoria, Shelagh Rogers said of her longtime friend, “Richard really believed everybody had a story.” Listen to Shelagh Rogers’ tribute to Richard Wagamese, a great man who passed away unexpectedly and too soon at the age of 61.

The nature of a writer‘s life

As a writer, Richard Wagamese would win many prestigious awards. On November 3, 2015 in Toronto, the Writers Trust of Canada honored him with the 2015 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life. In his humble, at times emotional acceptance speech, he beautifully described his early morning rituals followed by sitting for a while in the candle-lit darkness, thinking about what it is that he is about to do, “and you ask for as much guidance and strength from The Creator as possible.” He heads down the hall to a place where he will sit for hours at his computer. “And you sit there and you breathe and you hope and you dream and you close your eyes, and you feel the essence of that gift radiating inside you. And you put your fingers on that keyboard and watch while they emerge out upon the screen.”

I love this part of his speech: “And you wait for that time when you know that that perfect sentence has just occurred. And there‘s a gladdening in your spirit when that happens, and you seek to write another one, just like it, to follow it across the page. And in my experience, that‘s the nature of a writer‘s life. That immaculate sense of solitude, when there‘s just you and the language and the air and the universe and that gift that The Creator downloaded you with free-of-charge…. “

Richard Wagamese 2015 Matt Cohen Award speech

And in my experience, that‘s the nature of a writer‘s life. That immaculate sense of solitude, when there‘s just you and the language and the air and the universe and that gift that The Creator downloaded you with free-of-charge.

Writing for the story’s sake and not your own

In this talk at the University of British Columbia (Nov 27, 2013) on his book tour for Indian Horse, author Wagamese gives some valuable advice for young writers. His years of experience honing his craft as a journalist and a writer for radio and television prepared him to become a successful novelist and poet. “In that way of writing you learn how to be sharp, simple and concise, and learn how to trim the fat from every sentence, and you learn how to say exactly what you mean and to mean what you say.” He emphasized “that conciseness and that brevity that results in perfect clarity really served this novel well.”

He goes on to explain that it wasn’t necessary to be overly dramatic or poetic in his prose. “You harness that, you reign that back in and you learn to work for the story itself. And if there’s any aspiring or perspiring writers in the room, that’s the biggest advice I can give you, that if you work for the story’s sake all the time it will spare you the anxiety and the inner debate about how much you should write or in what way you should write it because you’re writing for the story’s sake and not your own. And again that particular rule served me well in the writing of Indian Horse.”

In a July 4, 2014 Globe and Mail article, we learn where he got that advice from: Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? A: Norval Morrisseau once told me to “work for the story’s sake” and that is the best advice I’ve ever received. When I work for the story’s sake I leave my ego at the door and the energy of the story emerges without my interference. It’s why Indian Horse and Medicine Walk ring so resonant with people – because me and my ego are not in the way of the story pouring outward.

Embrace everything and write what you don’t know

A year later (Nov 18, 2014), Richard Wagamese was invited to read from the MacEwan Book of the Year 2013/14, Indian Horse. It included an on-stage interview with author Richard Van Camp. He read from Indian Horse, answered good questions from the audience, and concluded with a reading from his new book Medicine Walk, a story about a reconciliation between an absent father and his son, something Wagamese had been grappling with in his own life. MacEwan University posted this inspiring event on YouTube.

He offered good advice to hopeful writers and shared his process, how when he goes on long walks, he connects with the land, and thinks about ideas that get triggered. He says them out loud to himself as he develops a story until it’s clearer to him, then returns home to type it up on his computer, offline to avoid distractions. He told them to be open to anything as it could trigger a story. They should open themselves up to and embrace everything as it would impact their writing and keep their readers engaged.

He also touched on the notion that “some courses and programs tell you to write what you know.” I found his take on that advice revealing: “But it’s come to me over the course of the last few books, that if I write what I don’t know, then the process of me discovering the answers to what I don’t know makes the journey of following the story in the book stronger for the reader, because we both get to find the answer together.” (These great writers said the exact same thing.)

But it’s come to me over the course of the last few books, that if I write what I don’t know, then the process of me discovering the answers to what I don’t know makes the journey of following the story in the book stronger for the reader, because we both get to find the answer together.

This final question was very interesting, one that he “was not often asked.” He gave a surprising and impressive answer. He shared how his 16 months of yoga and meditation practice, along with a change in diet had improved his life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On all these levels, yoga was “informing my sense of myself.” It brought a peace and a quietness within the process “that I’ve been waiting for all my life.” Answering her question specifically he explained, “and so when I turn to the act of writing, I bring that same sense of holism into the process of writing.” He then described the kind of improvements he experienced in his skill as a writer, attributing them to that influence, which, he concluded, created “a big leap forward” that showed up in his new book, Medicine Walk. (A good question that elicited a great answer!)

Learning to become a better person

In her informative and heartfelt obituary (March 24, 2017, updated May 16, 2018): Ojibway author Richard Wagamese found salvation in stories, Globe and Mail journalist Marsha Lederman wrote that “his last book, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, came out of Mr. Wagamese’s daily Facebook posts. They had a devoted following and Douglas and McIntyre head Howard White proposed publishing them as a collection. On March 7, Embers was nominated for a BC Book Award. Two nights later, Mr. Wagamese went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”

The book actually did win the 2017 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. This is the conclusion to her article: In one of Mr. Wagamese’s final Facebook meditations, posted in November, he wrote about starting his day with candlelight, tea and meditation, and what the years had taught him. “Actions born of contemplation are wiser than those made in quiet desperation. If all that’s true, and I feel it is, then I have grown some in these 61 years. I have learned and become a better person. And from that maybe it’s the years ahead that will be the richest of my life. A quiet man moving forward, gladly beyond all expectation.”

Two new posthumously published books by Richard Wagamese

CBC Books posted news of two new posthumously published books by Richard Wagamese: the unfinished novel Starlight (Mar 01, 2018) and One Drum (Nov 06, 2019). This latest book review also includes 3 earlier CBC Radio interviews, 2 of which are referenced in this blog post. You can Read an excerpt from Richard Wagamese’s final book, One Drum.

New posts added: Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations, followed by Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within.

Breath and fire in the heart feed each other as essential creative forces in Erica Jong’s poetry

April 11, 2020

I’ll admit my ignorance here. All I remember of Erica Jong was her early 70’s infamous best-selling novel, Fear of Flying. I had no idea that she had become such a prolific award-winning writer. Besides being a famous author, she is also a fine poet. She says, “The poetry is the source of absolutely everything I do.” I discovered some of her impressive poems looking inside Becoming Light: New and Selected Poems, and on poetry websites PoemHunter and Poeticous.

Filled with life and passion, Jong uses breath, air, wind, “prana whistling in the dark;” and fire, “a flame in the heart,” “a living lantern,” as imaginary ways to describe the creative forces within the heart of a poet. They are beautifully expressed in these 3 poems: Alphabet Poem: To the Letter I, Poem to Kabir, and Zen & the Art of Poetry. There may be other poems with these motifs I have yet to discover, but these caught my attention for their shared imagery and theme of being a poet, a writer.

Alphabet Poem: To the Letter I (12th/last stanza, 3rd poem in Becoming Light) 

We are all one poet 
and always 
we have one 
communal name, 
god's name, nameless, 
a flame in the heart, 
a breath, 
a gust of air, 
prana whistling in the dark. 
i dies— 
but the breath 
lingers on 
through the medium 
of the magic 
alphabet 
and in its wake 
death is no more 
than metaphor. 

Poem to Kabir   

Kabir says 
the breath inside the breath 
is God   

& I say to Kabir 
you are the breath inside that breath 
which is not to say 
that the poet is God–   

but only that God 
uses the poet 
as the wind 
uses 
a sail.

Zen & the Art of Poetry
 
Letting the mind go,
letting the pen, the breath,
the movement of images in & out
of the mouth
go calm, go rhythmic
as the rise & fall of waves,
as one sits in the lotus position
over the world,
holding the pen so lightly
that it scarcely stains the page,
holding the breath
in the glowing cage of the ribs,
until the heart
is only a living lantern
fueled by breath,
& the pen writes
what the heart wills
& the whole world goes out,
goes black,
but for the hard, clear stars
below.

In the last section of What You Need to Be a Writer, Jong comes clean, listing her fears, then describes what it really takes to be a writer — having something to say so intensely, that it “burns like a coal in your gut…pounds like a pump in your groin,” and concludes with having “the courage to love like a wound that never heals.” Ah, the human condition.

& then there’s all 
I did not 
say:   

to be
a writer
what you need
is
 
something
to say:
 
something
that burns
like a hot coal
in your gut
 
something
that pounds
like a pump
in your groin
 
& the courage
to love
like a wound
 
that never
heals.

In a Mother’s Day Playboy interview last year, the first question daughter and writer Molly Jong-Fast asks her mother is how she knows things, especially what’s happening to women in the socio-political arena. Jong answers: “I think a writer is someone who lives like a wound that never heals. And if you’re a writer, you feel the rumblings in the air.” It’s interesting how she uses the same metaphor for a writer to love or live like “a wound that never heals.” How she’s been bravely living her life.

Guest: William T. Hathaway reviews The Supreme Awakening, written & compiled by Craig Pearson

February 16, 2020

Author William Hathaway is a frequent guest blogger. His review of The Supreme Awakening appears in 12 online magazines so far, including Conscious Life News. See previous articles by William Hathaway and Craig Pearson posted here on The Uncarved Blog.

The Supreme Awakening

Reviewed by William T. Hathaway

The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time — And How You Can Cultivate Them is the ultimate guide to higher states of consciousness. This latest book from Craig Pearson presents inspiring experiences from mystics and saints, then shows us how we ourselves can live these states permanently in enlightenment.

A sampling from the anthology:

Social reformer and poet Edward Carpenter (England, 1844-1929) describes the stages of transcendental consciousness: “There comes a time … when the … brain is stilled. It does not cease from its natural and joyful activities. But it ceases from that terrified and joyless quest which was inevitable to it as long as its own existence, its own foundation, its own affiliation to the everlasting Being was in question and in doubt. The Man at last lets Thoughts go: he glides past the feeling into the very identity itself, where a glorious all-consciousness leaves no room for separate self-thoughts or emotions. … [A]nd so there comes to him a sense of absolute repose, a consciousness of immense and universal power, such as completely transforms the world for him. … [y]ou come at length to a region of consciousness below or behind thought … a consciousness of quasi-universal quality, and a realization of an altogether vaster self than that to which we are accustomed. … To experience all this with any degree of fullness, is to know that you have passed through Death: because whatever destruction physical death may bring to your local senses and faculties, you know that it will not affect that deeper Self.”

Author Irina Starr (USA, 1911-2002) writes of her experience of unity: “[I]n some peculiar way my consciousness seemed to have expanded until it was present in a general way, far beyond even this planet. I was aware of no specific details of anywhere beyond my immediate vicinity, but I was a vastness somehow, that in no way contradicted or conflicted with my limited individuality. Subject and object had become one — had fused, in some way. There was the objective world around me … but now … there was a vast ‘plus.’ I was both my individual self and in some greater way, ‘I’ was also everything. Not the personal I, but the greater I AM. There were no longer two, only one, I AM.”

Black Elk (USA, 1863-1950), the Sioux medicine man who helped defeat Custer and was injured in the Wounded Knee Massacre, says: “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the soul of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its Powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka [absolute Being], and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real Peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”

Other luminaries in the anthology include Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth, Thoreau, Emerson, Rumi, Rita Carter, Goethe, Mary Austin, Meister Eckhart, Dante, Kabir, St. Teresa, Howard Thurman, Whitman, Rabbi Abraham Kook, Helen Keller, and Einstein.

Although these seekers were brilliant, most of them lacked a technique for systematically producing the experiences, which as a result were usually seldom and brief, glimpses of enlightenment treasured for a lifetime. Now, Pearson states, the Transcendental Meditation technique is enabling hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world to experience higher states of consciousness, not just occasionally but on a regular basis. Their descriptions match those of the mystics and saints. A sampling of similar reports from TM meditators:

“The experience of bliss consciousness has become more clear, intense, and stable not only during Transcendental Meditation but also during activity. Now I find that a soft but strong feeling of blissful evenness is present most of the time in both mind and body. Physically it is expressed as an extremely delightful liveliness throughout the body.

“This evenness is so deep and stable that it is able to maintain its status even in the face of great activity. Even  when faced with great  problems, this blissful evenness of mind and body continues. Every day it grows stronger and more stable. This evenness cushions one against all possible disruptions and makes all activity easy and enjoyable. Every place is heaven when you feel that evenness. One is completely self-sufficient. Nothing can prevent one from having that fabulous inner mental and physical blissfulness.”

A report of unity consciousness: “Increasingly I experience everything and everyone as nothing other than my own Self. … It seems that Being … is shining and glistening and even smiling at me from the surface of everything. … It’s as if the inner Being, the Self of everything, somehow rises to the surface and makes itself apparent. … With this experience of my own Self in all things, love begins to flow — love without boundaries, without exceptions, without considerations of any sort. Love flows out towards all that I perceive and seems to flow back to me as well.”

A description of permanent enlightenment: ”’Relative life’ is still there, but it is eternally and completely cloaked in, saturated by, and imbued with this indescribable, attributeless softness of one’s own eternal Self. When that is the ultimate reality for you, life is just softer, more filled with those most fundamental qualities of creation: beauty, love, sweetness, and wholeness, in a perfectly integrated way — in their finest, most mist-like, indescribable value. It is lovely beyond words. … One begins to see that one is not the body at all, not the limited personality, but something beyond that — something eternal, unchanging, unbounded, removed from the fray of what we used to consider daily life. … Never before had it been so obvious that I have always been, that there is no end to me.”

Pearson presents scientific research showing Transcendental Meditation effectively and regularly produces higher states of consciousness. It creates a pattern of brain waves, hormonal levels, and metabolic rates significantly different from meditations based on concentration and control, which are mental activities and therefore less effective at reaching the non-active state of samadhi, transcendental consciousness, in which the mind is alert and aware but free of thoughts. TM uses a special method of non-concentrative thinking that takes the mind effortlessly to the deeper, silent, unbounded realms. There it becomes suffused with the energy, intelligence, and happiness at the source of our Being and brings these qualities back into the active, thinking dimension, where they enrich our lives and improve our performance.

The Supreme Awakening first inspires us, then shows us how to make this inspiration a reality by becoming enlightened ourselves. Pearson has given us a practical guide to living an exalted life. Chapters are posted at https://www.amazon.com/-/de/dp/B079K4LSQ1/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_de_DE=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&keywords=Supreme+Awakening&qid=1577014849&s=books&sr=1-1.

*

William T. Hathaway’s novel of the climate change, Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness, tells of an old woman and a young man healing nature through techniques of higher consciousness. Chapters are posted at https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/cosmicegg-books/our-books/wellsprings. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher consciousness is more effective than violence. Chapters are posted at http://shattercolors.com/fiction/hathaway_summersnow01.htm.

John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets

January 27, 2020

These 4 short lines by John O’Donohue describe how he lived his creative life—amazed by each revelatory moment, turning them into poems.

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue

Enjoy 3 more of his lovely poems: A Blessing of Solitude (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom); The Inner History of a Day and For a New Beginning (To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).

William Stafford expressed the same notion in his talks and poems of being innocent, spontaneous, and responding creatively in the moment: A Course in Creative Writing, You and Art, and When I Met My Muse.

This poem my son wrote when he was in 6th grade epitomizes this idea: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

These poems I wrote on the process share in that same sentiment: Writing; Storytelling; and Sometimes Poetry Happens, which turned out to be a commentary on this revealed poem, ODE TO THE ARTIST: Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

In our efforts to fluently express ourselves, writing, primarily, is a process of self-discovery. Burghild Nina Holzer says journal writing allows us to discover who we are and what we have to say.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

WHO ARE YOU?, a poem in the film, Words and Pictures, invites us to write and discover who we are. There’s a fascinating story behind it.

In the words of Donald Hall, “Writing is the process of using language to discover meaning in experience and to communicate it.”

In this collection of Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers, Hall also wrote:

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

Tony Walsh @LongfellaPoet’s poem, Take This Pen, inspires Brits to contribute to @PoetryDayUK

September 7, 2019

National Poetry Day, the UK-wide celebration of poetry, celebrates its 25th anniversary on 3 Oct: the theme is truth. Enjoy, discover & share!

I came across this tweet by Tony Walsh @LongfellaPoet about this event: Delighted to share this. Please watch/tag/share. It’s my poem Take This Pen, beautifully illustrated by the wonderful @chrisriddell50. It’s an inspiration piece to launch #tellyourtruthpoem for @PoetryDayUK.

Enjoy this powerful poem and video that is sure to inspire young and old alike to creatively express their own truth in a poem. Read more on this international superstar poet, teacher, and performer Tony Walsh Poet.

Very relevant is this poem, WHO ARE YOU? in the 2013 film, Words and Pictures, inviting students to create and become who they are.

Here’s one of my earliest poems about this magical creative process: Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity.

My son wrote this wise and amazing poem when he was 11 years old: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

This post—The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice—is a treasure trove of knowledge and teaching strategies by poets, writers, and innovative educators.


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