Posts Tagged ‘spiritual but not religious’

Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014)

December 5, 2014

Mark Strand, former U.S. poet laureate (1990-1991) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1999), felt strongly that writing and reading poetry could make us better human beings. “Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human,” he said in an Inscape interview last year.

Percy Bysshe Shelley had famously said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” When Mark Strand was asked what he thought the function of poetry was in today’s society, he replied: “It’s not going to change the world, but I believe if every head of state and every government official spent an hour a day reading poetry we’d live in a much more humane and decent world. Poetry has a humanizing influence. Poetry delivers an inner life that is articulated to the reader.”

Indeed, especially if they were as transformed by poetry as Mark Strand, who wanted to feel himself “suddenly larger . . . in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment.”

Last week, one of my poet friends, Roger Pelizzari, emailed me about the passing of Mark Strand, and included a favorite poem of his, My Name. Roger included a link to an earlier Paris Review interview: Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, with his friend Wallace Shawn, from which I’ve included interesting excerpts.

I was surprised and sorry to hear the news of Strand’s passing and checked the Paris Review for an update. I found Memoriam Mark Strand, 1934–2014, under The Daily by Dan Piepenbring, and sent it to Roger.

Media from around the world published Obituaries reviewing the Canadian-born, American poet’s accomplished literary career. The LA Times described Mark Strand as “a revelatory poet who addressed love and death in his poems, but in radically lyrical, revelatory ways.”

This poem is filled with the wonderment he sought, and seems a fitting memorial, prophetically written in the poet’s own magical words.

My Name

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

(more…)

“Sanctifying Morning” is a poem by Ken Chawkin on one way to be “spiritual but not religious”

February 17, 2013

Sanctifying Morning is a poem I wrote four years and one month ago today. It may remind you of the phrase, “spiritual but not religious,” how millions of Americans now identify themselves, a trend I was not aware of until I learned about it from Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda. TM* is my way of being spiritual but not religious.

Sanctifying Morning

Charcoal in a church,
Incense-filled smoke,
Knees on the ground,
Wafer on a tongue —
Prayers ascend the sky.

It’s Sunday morning,
And I have my own rituals.
The smell of burnt toast sanctifies the morning air.
Orange rinds round out the debris of breakfast.
Fumes float upwards from a hot coffee cup.

Having pacified the body’s urges,
With no work to be done today,
Though the senses focus outward,
It’s time to bring them within,
And prepare for this peaceful morning.

I retire to my meditation room,
Sit comfortably, and close the eyes.
Thinking my mantra, effortlessly,
I descend to the depths of my mind,
And transcend.

My body follows —
Breath slows, and suspends,
Heart beats quieter,
Brain cells speak softly, in unison —
I’m at peace with myself.

This is the true communion of the spirit
Within the church of the Self.
No pews are required here
As one prepares to meet the maker
Of one’s life.

© Ken Chawkin
January 17, 2009
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

*TM stands for Transcendental Meditation. It’s not a religion. To me, it’s a spiritual practice that is compatible with any or no religion. Today millions of Americans admit to practicing some form of meditation. Members of different faiths practice Transcendental Meditation, including monks, nuns, priests and rabbis. Even atheists and agnostics meditate. You may too, some day, if you haven’t, already.

Publication and Update

Carrying the Branch-Poets in Search of Peace

Thanks to Iowa poet and editor Rustin Larson for selecting “Sanctifying Morning,” which was later included in Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace. The book was published by Glass Lyre Press October 1, 2017 and edited by Ami Kaye. My poem is found on page 132. These other poets also submitted their poems and participated as editors soliciting poems and curating their sections for this anthology: Diane Frank, Lois P. Jones, Gloria Mindock, and Melissa Studdard. All profits after printing go to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

It is also an honor to be included among so many distinguished authors and poet laureates, like Robert Pinsky, W. E. Butts, Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, and Jane Hirshfield, to name a few collected here.

Blogger Chris Rice Cooper was the first to review our anthology, (January 17, 2018): Receiving & Giving Peace in the anthology CARRYING THE BRANCH POETS IN SEARCH OF PEACE . . . She put a lot of work into it with photos, excerpts, and links to an alphabetical listing of the poets and their websites. Next to my photo she provided the link to an article: PR to poetry – how things sometimes happen to Ken Chawkin.

After describing the different problem areas the poems deal with, Cooper says, “In this specific piece I’d like to focus on the poems that offer suggestions of acts and thoughts that we as individual human beings can do or think to bring peace into our own lives, the lives of our communities, and the lives of the entire world.”

Surprisingly, she includes my poem in her review: “In Ken Chawkin’s poem “Sanctifying Morning” the speaker of the poem experiences his own peace by having “church” in his own body, in his own home where he retreats to his meditation room and meditates mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”

She concludes by saying, “There are numerous lessons to be learned from this anthology but the top two are:  we must love the enemy within and without ourselves; and we must transcribe our experiences down, rather on paper or canvas – only then will the next generation receive their rightful inheritance – their own branch of peace.”


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