Interview with The Australia Times – Part One
- When did you begin writing poetry? What were the earliest influences?
In my teenage expedition to Sarawak, Borneo, with Voluntary Service Overseas, I kept a journal of the vivid surrounds and how I was feeling. From that time on I kept journals and scribbled poetry wherever I went. I eventually had trunks full of poems that reminded me of the experiences I went through, particularly in India. My extensive shamanic training with incredible First Nations medicine people was also carefully logged. My notes were a sign post for me to always be authentic, even when it was awful and hard to re-read. I do my best to maintain that. As a professor I wrote text books and scholarly papers, which had particular protocols that were somewhat stifling. When I started late on the writing craft – I had to re-learn how to write without sounding pompous, to be mindful of what the reader could take in. I also gave up on footnotes!
2.Tell us a little about your global travels and how they have impacted your writing, particularly your poetry.
My life as a global traveller certainly stretched my attention beyond any limits I could have placed on it. From teenage volunteering in Borneo with Britain’s Peace Corps to being a yogi in India and a Zen teacher in Canada – expansion of mind was inescapable.
My challenging journey navigated shamanic healing of childhood sexual abuse, guru training as well as a near death experience in an ashram in India. From this vast range of experience I found an ability to sculpt narrative in a novel way and this was expressed in my poetry and books. I certainly stumbled through the first part of life, but then stood strong in my own sovereignty in the latter part. In India, Arizona, France and Canada’s wilderness, I went to great lengths to transform karma. My first book – Redemption – was written in 1975 and I wrote it as an extended prose poem. It became a lost manuscript as I did not know how to get published at that time. When I rediscovered it forty years later I could scarce believe my eyes. How could I write like this when I was a total mess? Anita Rizvi had this to say…. “Redemption is a riveting chronicle of one man’s journey through the stages of innocence, darkness, destruction and transformation.” She goes on to say, “What is so exquisite is the tenderness and honesty with which the author deals with the human condition . . . When Callum Mor’s journey moves him even closer to the abyss, the author refuses to ‘sanitize’ his experiences.” It is important for me to remain true in telling the grittier and more difficult aspects of a poem or story. And also to touch the mystical elements that led to it being transposed to a written form.
In Trailing Sky Six Feathers for instance, readers were inspired by my intention to transcend patterns carried since childhood. Past life memories collide head on with the present, all thanks to a Muse who refused to give up on me. Karma is reversed; the internal battles are over as I begin to live life as a Meditation for Gaia. The relentless shadowing by this engaging Muse brings understanding not only to me, but to anyone engaged in overcoming the darkness of their past.
3. How did your hermitage in Quebec and your relationship with your pet wolf enable you to reflect on the natural world?
When I first met Wolfie he was running free in the interior mountains of British Columbia. He immediately claimed ownership — I was his! After showing me his mountain habitat and uncannily appearing every time I visited a cabin in the Mt. Currie area of British Columbia, he chose to live with me in my home in Gatineau Park forest in Quebec. I made the mistake of trying to train him – until I realized how totally redundant this was. Wolfie could read my mind and would always respond. Obedience training was not part of the deal. His presence of gentleness, patience and above all, his loving heart, were felt by everyone he encountered. The companionship with this wonderful creature was one of protection – he was protecting me. He tuned into energies I had no experience of and gently educated me in the way of the forest. He died when I was in Arizona participating in a sweat lodge and he tuned into me. He placed himself in the way of energies that could harm me and paid the ultimate price. The shaman conducting the ceremony after learning this news said, “He will always be with you in spirit form – protecting you still.”
4. Through your anthropological studies you must have come across many early writings which may have included poetry. Does poetry play a significant role in cultural development?
In my career as an anthropologist I was fortunate to encounter many Native American story tellers across North America – Dene, Hopi, Ojibwa, Algonquin, Inuit – to mention a few. Their poetic recounting of myths and history had a deep impact upon me. I now recreate this impact in my blog “Awakening – Spiritual Relationship with Self and Mother Earth” on WordPress – a great place to tell stories with an authentic voice. www.ianprattis.wordpress.com
I would say that without poetry cultures implode. Over a period of thirty years, four extraordinary aboriginal medicine people enhanced my process of remembering the power of the poetic voice. Through their mentoring, I learned how to reconfigure my understanding of time, place, consciousness, and re-write some of Carl Jung’s psychology. I chose to listen to the feminine voice of Earth Wisdom rather than to the multitude of competing voices in my deep unconscious. This shows up in my writing.
5. You have studied a number of spiritual teachings. What insights has this brought to your writing?
I am a Zen teacher, also a recognized guru in India. My initial task is to refine my own consciousness, so that I can be an authentic vehicle to chart a path for spiritual friends. This is through the creation of a meditation centre – Pine Gate Mindfulness Community – and an activist spiritual vehicle – Friends for Peace Canada. Both based in Ottawa. Slowly but inevitably these vehicles are helping to change the nature of the city of Ottawa – thanks to the many groups and organizations (over fifty) that are part of a loose coalition for change. If I did not do this, then I could not write the way I do. My 2014 books are screenplay-worthy epic tales that weave together seamlessly to create inspiration for a wide range of fellow spiritual seekers, environmentalists, Generation X, feminists, students and academics alike. Global citizens are staring into the abyss – yet instead of being eaten up by it all, I say to them: “Awaken Spiritually,” for that transforms everything. We have made our world an unpredictable beast because we fail to work with it intelligently.
We have to take back control of ourselves and this is a spiritual matter. Turning on the switch of awakening seems to be a good idea right now. That is the prod and direction of my poems and books. We just need to touch the sacred in ordinary experiences of life to find the courage and determination to transform. My writing caps my long-term fascination with consciousness. As a Professor of Anthropology and Religion I taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Engaged Buddhism and Meditation Systems. I am a healer, mentor and educator, able to encourage people through example to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed. All of this funnels back into my writing.