Monthly Archives: April 2019

EXTINCTION

I am embarking on my 18th book – perhaps the most difficult yet. It is titled BROKEN GLASS, which is about our broken world – particularly with respect to the impending Extinction brought about by Climate Change. The difficulty for me has been the darkness of Extinction and the pacifying alternative of Impermanence. Yet my writing so far has brought this steadily my way to document. I have drafted an Overview that sets the scenario. This will take a while with research, writing and persuading my publisher to run with it. http://www.ianprattis.com

OVERVIEW for BROKEN GLASS 

I Had a Dream                                                                                  

 I dreamed I was in a river running kayak, sitting quietly in a pool outside the swift eddies racing to the edge of a waterfall that was huge, sheer, with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. The kayak was bright yellow, the short stubby craft an extension of my body. My wetsuit was black and I wore a red lifejacket tightly fastened. My helmet was also red. The shaft of the paddle was black, the twin blades a dancing red. I looked around at the high mountains and forest, noticing the mist rising from the swift flowing river. Then pushed the kayak into the racing eddies straight to the edge of the waterfall. As I went over I raised the paddle high over my head and leaned back. I did nothing to steer or guide the kayak. The descent seemed forever – timeless. Yet in a moment my craft had submerged into the river below and then I was bobbing on the surface paddling downstream. My first thought in the dream as I manoeuvred close to the river’s edge was “That was a really bad run. I didn’t do anything.” Then moments later in the dream I stopped my thinking, realizing that it was the perfect run, precisely because I did not interfere with forces greater than mine. My lack of insight had missed the surrender to the fierce current of the waterfall, to the awesome power of the stream of consciousness. The surrender to the stream of consciousness was far more important than I realized. The dream lingered in my mind long enough to reveal that my literary works were the stream of consciousness – just different pearls on the same thread.

I had flown into the small airport of Castlegar in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia for my son’s wedding in the summer of 2009. The short hop over the Rockies in a Dash 8 aircraft from Calgary was spectacular, especially the flight into Castlegar airport. The wingtips seemed to touch the valley mountains as the aircraft swerved sharply into the river fringed village of Castlegar. My son Iain, his bride to be – Nancy – and my grandson Callun were there to pick me up and deliver me to where I was staying that night in nearby Nelson. The wedding ceremony was the next day in the Tibetan Buddhist Gompa.

The unforgettable dream, vivid in every detail, took place that evening in Nelson. I shared this dream with Iain and Nancy next morning, so they could perhaps see for themselves the surrender to the other, necessary for their marriage to work well. They understood. Their dharma and mountain friends enjoyed an incredible wedding in the Tibetan Gompa. There was a mountain of alcohol at the reception and dance afterwards, bottles of wine, beer and whisky with a line of glasses for Mai Tais. Yet hardly anyone drank, as the “high” was the quality of celebration and surrender in the wedding ceremony.

I have thought about this dream a great deal over the past decades and the reflections were revealing, though difficult to address. Where was it taking me? I eventually realized it was into the dark space of Extinction of our species. That was a shock that went through me.

The creation of my 2008 book – Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves – was part of this surrender though I did not realize it at the time. It was written from an unusual place and was also the midpoint for two trilogies of books. Several years ago at the beginning of spring after a severe winter in Canada, I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony with respected elders from the Ojibwa, Dene and Mohawk First Nations. We made deeply personal and collective commitments to serve the Earth. At the end of the ceremony we emerged into the pristine beauty of a late snowfall under a clear star studded sky. There had been a two-inch snowfall during the ceremony. As we walked barefoot to where we were camping I turned round and saw our footprints in the snow. It seemed as though these were the first footprints on the new Earth. I gestured to my companions to stop and look. They silently shared the same insight with soft smiles. In that instant the stillness and silence renewed our commitments to serve Mother Earth with all our hearts and minds. That was the moment when I became integrated with the Wisdom of the Elders.

Failsafe was born from that moment at the end of winter in 2006. It was published in October 2008.  I was giving a talk about this experience to an audience in Vancouver and suddenly found myself talking about two previous books I had published and the next three books not yet written. Failsafe was the midpoint. All these books were writing me, although I was not aware of it. Each book had issued forth from the experience of profound silence, a life work writing me!  It took me years to wake up to this. The first book in this trilogy  Anthropology at The Edge was published in 1997, followed by The Essential Spiral in 2002 and Failsafe in 2008. They talk to you from the seasons of my life.  My insights, disasters and occasional breakthroughs are the basis for this abundant creation.

These books were university text books and the basis for two television courses. They investigated the necessity of changing the mindset of humanity in order to combat Climate Change. I wrote about a Failed Genetic Experiment, though did place a question mark after “Experiment.” I knew that if we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglected ignorance, there is no place on Mother Earth to sustain our present civilization. It will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity. We have allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values – an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consume mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or our creation of vast inequality and poverty. Planetary care is not part of this agenda.

My deepest hope, however, was that our innate knowledge would somehow become manifest as we interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered. Diligent mindfulness can change our brain structures in the direction that permits new paradigms of behavior to come into form. As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia, it is as though humanity can align their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility. The plan in my mind was that the critical mass would arrive and amount to a collective tipping point for our species. Once the ego-driven mind is reined in, then clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way. This is what happens if we “Begin It Now” – the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.

The following book – Earth My Body, Water My Blood – was co-authored with students in my last university class on Ecology and Culture. The students brought passion, insight and sheer hard work to investigate the basic components of a new social and economic form for the 21st century – eco-community. It was based on the Five Great Elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space – inherent in all aspects of life. The driving force adopted by the students was from the feminine representation of enlightenment. I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate phenomenon, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. These principles have parallels with Vedic philosophy and are found in Indigenous, Chinese and Western Alchemical traditions. Circles within circles all interconnecting – beautifully expressed by the Oglala Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, as the interdependent hoops of all nations and traditions. The students had decided on a profound template for this collection. Their adventure to establish eco-communities reflects the shift in mindset required to salvage the global ecosystem for human habitation. Our present values and patterns are the architects of the present global ecological emergency. We are our environment. Whether we live in a rural or urban locale, in the industrial or developing worlds, our mindset has to be focused on living as one component of Gaia’s ecosystem.

The second trilogy after Failsafe begins with Redemption. It was a lost manuscript, first written in 1975. I rediscovered this heartfelt book in 2011. The narrative was vivified with hindsight from my writer’s eye forty years later. The story is an allegory for life difficulties I experienced at that time. I was a real mess, yet despite my desperate state of mind this novel about Awakening emerged. Laced with grim humor, the novel has nature’s harsh and beautiful rhapsody as the background for tragic human failings. Redemption is set in The Hebrides, islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, with startling cycles of maturing and downfall of the epic character, Callum Mor. He was a gifted child, master mariner and derelict drunk, who eventually gains wisdom from a hard life’s journey. Redemption reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and of human nature. The starkly gorgeous and remote island setting creates and reinforces the central themes of struggle, family, community and wonder at the beauty of the world. Redemption alludes to more than what is openly stated. Every scene provides a striking visual clarity that mystically slips into the realm of timeless storytelling. All of this provokes the tapestry for deeper, more subtle messages of compassion and faith to carefully unfold.

Book Two of the trilogy, Trailing Sky Six Feathers, is a Hero’s Journey – as if Indiana Jones meets the Buddha with a dash of Celestine Prophecy. Shamanic healing of childhood sexual abuse, guru training and near death experience in an Indian ashram has this author stumbling through the first part of life, then standing strong in his own sovereignty in the latter part. Past life memories collide head on with the present.

With a voice steeped in authentic experience, I navigate past and present lives over four centuries; from brutal raids on Indian settlements in 18th century Arizona, insane sea voyages off the Scottish Hebrides in the 20th century, to a decisive life moment of surrender to the Muse in the 21st century. These epic tales weave seamlessly to create inspiration for a wide range of fellow spiritual seekers. The genre is legend mixed with autobiography.

In New Planet, New World, I bring the 18th century to collide with the 21st century. Time, culture, space and consciousness are fused across centuries to create the final book of this trilogy. New Planet, New World provides a counterpoint to the demise of modern civilization. I chart a Beginning Anew for humanity, a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing, as power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth. This adventure is not without risk or cost. The clash of centuries opens Chapter One with a lyrical and dangerous meeting on a distant planet in 2080. The protagonists are from different centuries and cultures. The dark episodes and lyrical passages move the story along with action, fear, resolution, death, execution, bravery and exile in a futuristic opportunity for humanity. This action packed book of intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. This end game is a philosophy for the future. The reader now begins to harken to the rip tides of this futuristic novel and anticipate just where I am going!

In my career as an anthropologist I was fortunate to encounter many First Nation 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 on how I thought and wrote. I would say that without poetry cultures implode. Four extraordinary indigenous 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 and consciousness. I chose to listen to the feminine voice of Earth Wisdom rather than the multitude of competing voices in my deep unconscious.

This direction of my writing found its foundation in poetry. I made a radical turn to reconstruct anthropological methodology as the poetic voice was required for anthropological investigation of the cultural other. The language of the anthropologist could not represent raw experience about field work. therefor poetry is philosophically essential to the work of anthropology. I saw poetry as an uninterrupted process whereas field notes were not. I suggested to colleagues that the poetry of observation is what anthropologists are supposed to do.

To prove this, I called on forty brilliant anthropologists, many of them senior icons in the discipline, to send me the poems they wrote while studying the cultural other. Much to my surprise the American Anthropological Association (AAA) published the ensuing book I edited. In 1985 Reflections: The Anthropological Muse was released by the AAA at their annual conference and held up as a new direction for the next century of anthropology. Here’s why.

My basic contention, shared by many other anthropologists, was that something crucial was missing from field work. The study of other cultures had often become pseudo-forms, which were neither true to the cultural other or to the science of anthropology. I proposed a poetry of observation in order to close the epistemological gap between observer and cultural other. In this way the poetic dimension became a crucial part of the developing methodology of anthropology. It had the function of revealing what has been suppressed and ignored. Anthropological poetics at the level of “interiority” is a distinctive account that the accepted discourse in anthropology at that time did not convey.

I wanted a different kind of anthropology, one that will engage dialectically with the cultural other and express it in a way that is useful for the other culture and my own society. Reflections: The Anthropological Muse changed the manner in which anthropology is justified and practiced.  Anthropologists who commit themselves to poetry in order to say something different about field experience are the tricksters and shamans of the discipline. I have been described as much worse! Though do believe that  I am part of a basic radicalization of the discipline and an evolution into a different kind of anthropology. A continuation of this radical perspective emerged several decades later when I brought out a personal volume in 2018 – Painting with Words Poetry for a New Era. Some words from Five Star Reviews may bring that piece of the thread home.

Kathryn Bennet wrote:

“I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time I felt that I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me there is something truly magical about a work that can do that…….The poems strike right at the heart of the journey the author himself has taken in life, and yet it also has an ability to resound with others…….You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read….This collection of poems takes the reader through the full gamut of human emotions. The author has masterfully used his own life experience to transport the reader through this journey, while striving to leave a mark directly on the reader’s heart.”

From K.C. Finn:

“Shying away from the old fashioned traditions of symbolism and imagery, the work expresses an emotional outcry in a raw and direct form, creating powerful auditory moments to express the highs and lows of the human condition………What results is a work which runs the full spectrum of emotional consideration, taking a singular personal experience and reaching for the qualities which make it universal to all…..The poems are direct in address, but spiritual and philosophical in the message they leave lingering afterwards.”

Romuald Dzemo speaks:

“A collection of poems thematically arranged that reflect the very soul of humanity, filled with imagery and rhythms that mimic the different seasons of the human soul. The poems in this collection bear witness to what readers feel, perhaps in the hushed hours of the day; emotions, thoughts, feelings, and realities that allow readers to connect with the things he writes about…….The voice is powerful, the poetic lines rhythmic, and the entire collection is filled with powerful imagery……..I love the depth in Ian Prattis’ poetry and the beauty in the rhythm and richness of its diction…….For instance: “A week in the life/ of a poem/ has words racing to knowing’s edge.” Here is another: “Phrases creep/ over the dawn of logic/ suspended then gone.”

I also brought out four e books on Buddhist Dharma and placed them on Amazon Kindle, Keeping Dharma Alive Volume 1 & 2; Portals and Passages Book 1 & 2. I was assessing this path as a way to handle the incoming extinction I felt was so imminent, placing dharma and environment in sync with one another. In my television course on Ecology and Environment I presented the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Buddhism as being nothing other than Environmental Ethics. Our World Is Burning My Views on Mindful Engagement soon followed. The sixteen essays offered examples of how to respond to the most serious social, economic, environmental and personal challenges of the Twenty-First century. I thought Mindful Engagement would be a tenable tool to cultivate awareness as an ethical framework which would guide actions, create steadiness and equanimity, and furthermore replenish body, mind and spirit. The book was offered as a lightning bolt to singe incredulity and cynicism.

The reviews of this book reinforced my attempt to create an authentic tapestry about the state of the world and how we could best engage with it. I could only draw from my experience and hope that would be enough for the reader. My approach to life comes through experience, crises, difficulties and joys that may have common ground with many readers. To the best of my ability, I endeavor to follow Gandhi’s principles of ahimsa and the teachings on mindfulness. These are the guidelines and foundations for my peace and environmental activism. I live very simply as a planetary activist. I am a Zen teacher, also a recognized guru in India. My initial task is to refine my own consciousness – to be a vehicle to chart an authentic path. The focus on daily mindfulness from my Zen practice enables me to be still and clear. From this energy the poems, chapters and books emerge.

My activism is a result of my internal work. Steadiness, clarity and compassion are within me, rather than ego posturing from the lunatic fringe. Though there was certainly a “rush” from the latter, I prefer the still-point, uncoloured by the excess of ego and desire for recognition. Such a still-point permits me to be free in my own sovereignty, no matter what I am doing. It also propels me to serve the planet and humanity by creating bridges and pathways of harmony.

My writing delivers a vigorous message about personal transformation in order to become different stewards of the earth and society. In the Sixteen Essays of Our World is Burning, I offer reality-based information that is in high demand in today’s society, which provides the potential for my projects to become fresh, new icons for today’s hungry culture. Hungry, that is, for authentic transformation. It takes training, practice, intelligence and creative vision to find the drive to create a tangible spirit of co-operation, the willingness to share and be supportive, and learning how to cross the bridges of conflict. This thread of understanding finds a place in every essay in Our World is Burning.

However, my attempt to get mindful engagement across to society was not successful – very little changed. So I have to up my game, as it were, and steadily examine the Darkness and Extinction that is rapidly drawing closer to wiping humanity from this planet. In this present work – BROKEN GLASS –  I am developing a perspective to handle Extinction well – though I find it difficult to write about Darkness and Extinction. So I draw on sages, Wisdom of the Elders and attempt to face Extinction with bravery and a developed consciousness. I am encouraged by a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens to fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.”

This takes me to recognize the significance of impermanence, which could be deemed a pacifying response to ecological apocalypse and the Sixth Extinction. Protest and rebellion to a nation’s inadequate attempts about Climate Change are unlikely to succeed. Protest and rebellion may be thought of as the alternative to impermanence – but they will certainly be brutally dispersed by national police and military. Thus the outcome of Extinction remains unstoppable before our eyes.

There is a Sequence to unravel the competing outcomes, captured with difficulty, though logic may sustain a rally.

Part One: Broken Glass is candid and brutal. It opens the darkness. It begins with a futuristic analysis of Climate Change and the inevitable fate provided by the suicide pact engineered by corrupt corporations for most of humanity. The next essay is about the Children’s Strike for Climate instigated by Greta Thunberg. I admire this magnificent young woman as she impacts generations and perhaps some politicians. Yet, the corporate oligarchy will not budge from their greed and power. They have already bought and sold governments. They will certainly gut the possibility of restraint with respect to Climate Change, thereby dashing the bravery of children worldwide. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion – a global grassroots environmental organization – is a disruption I fully support. The target of Extinction Rebellion is the existing political establishment at the beck and call of corporate cabals. Such very powerful financial interests, creators of Climate Change, will not allow their power and control to slip away. Inevitably this escalates to the collapse of societies amidst violent revolution.

Part Two: Facing Extinction begins with an understanding of impermanence, drawn from Buddhist perspectives that make sense. I add three stories that provide different faces of Extinction. Only one of them is uplifting.

Part Three: All My Relations rests on indigenous wisdom. Four stories that bear on the wisdom holders who patiently taught me their lore about Mother Earth.

Part Four: Hello Darkness is a relief from the darkness. Four stories about bravery – from India, through the eyes of a terrified nine year old boy, a futuristic gift from the Hopi and a moment of awakening.

Part Five: The Muse. Three poems to provide a stamp on the whole offering. The final poem draws on Ancient Wisdom, appropriately defining an alternative way that may no longer be available.

I return to the dream of the waterfall with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. This was where I surrendered to the awesome stream of consciousness pouring through me. One thing it has taught me – the many books created are one body of work that culminates in “BROKEN GLASS.”

Part One – Broken Glass

  1. A Candid Look at the Future
  2. The Children

Part Two – Facing Extinction

  1. Manifesto of Extinction
  2. Love Lost and Dark Shadows
  3. Solace of Winter
  4. Torched

Part Three – All My Relations

  1. Remembering
  2. Wolfie’s Life in Death
  3. Four Arrows
  4. Sacred Stalker

Part Four – Hello Darkness

  1. Through Nine Year Old Eyes
  2. The Transfer Particle
  3. Transformation in India
  4. The Ewe

Part Five – The Muse

  1. Vietnam War Memorial
  2. Cabinet of Bigotry
  3. Ancient Wisdom

Three Five Stars for Painting With Words

Some words from Five Star Reviews may bring the book alive for you. You can pick it up from the author or order it online, details at: http://ianprattis.com/PaintingWithWords.html

 

Kathryn Bennet wrote: “I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time I felt that I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me there is something truly magical about a work that can do that…….The poems strike right at the heart of the journey the author himself has taken in life, and yet it also has an ability to resound with others…….You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read….This collection of poems takes the reader through the full gamut of human emotions. The author has masterfully used his own life experience to transport the reader through this journey, while striving to leave a mark directly on the reader’s heart.”

From K.C. Finn: “Shying away from the old fashioned traditions of symbolism and imagery, the work expresses an emotionally outcry in a raw and direct from, creating powerful auditory moments to express the highs and lows of the human condition………What results is a work which runs the full spectrum of emotional consideration, taking a singular personal experience and reaching for the qualities which make it universal to all…..The poems are direct in address, but spiritual and philosophical in themessage the leave lingering afterwards.”

Romuald Dzemo speaks: “A collection of poems thematically arranged that reflect the very soul of humanity, filled with imagery and rhythms that mimic the different seasons of the human soul. The poems in this collection bear witness to what readers feel, perhaps in the hushed hours of the day; emotions, thoughts, felings, and realities that allow readers to connect with the things he writes about…….The voice is powerful, the poetic lines rhythmic, and the entire collection is filled with powerful imagery……..I love the depth in Ian Prattis’ poetry and thebeauty in the rhythm and richness if its diction…….For instance: “A week in the life/ of a poem/has words racing to knowing’s edge.” Here is another: “Phrases creep/over the dawn of logic/suspended then gone.”

 

Vesak in Ottawa, May 5, City Hall 10am – 2pm

The roaring beat of Cambodian temple drums opens the day with a bang.  They are followed in procession by the monastic Sangha walking mindfully to their places next to the podium, led by Bhante Savath from the Cambodian Temple in Ottawa. From the monastic chanting all the way through to the finale – the day unfolds in a majestic way. City Hall is decorated with beautiful artwork, food tables and booths for Asian embassies and other community groups for this celebration of Vesak Day. It is always a stunning day.

Asian Buddhist communities in Ottawa – from Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand – created this Vesak Celebration with Visita Leelaratna organizing the many parts of the day. He is the founder of this celebration. The first Vesak Festival in 2014 received guidance from three spiritual advisors – Master Bon Dat, Bhante Rath Sam and Dharmacharya Ian Prattis. They each come from different Buddhist traditions in Ottawa and three different countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada. They established a common cause to spread the seeds of Buddha Mind across Ottawa by creating an atmosphere of generosity, humility and kindness.

The Vesak and Asian Heritage nature of the event brings messages from the Governor-General, Prime Minister of Canada, and the Mayor of Ottawa. This is a wonderful support for multi-culturalism and interbeing from all levels of government in Canada. The vigorous Lion Dance from the Vietnamese Youth Group always lights up the crowd. A talk on Loving Kindness is offered by the Buddha Meditation Centre in Toronto. Lawrence Greenspon also talks about his tour of Buddhist World Heritage sites in Asia. Connections are made, bridges are crossed and the organizers and audience went home very happy.

Here is some background about Vesak and the Buddha.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived and taught in India ca. 2,600 years ago. 550 million people in the world identify Buddhism as their religion or way of life.

Vesākha Day is the day Buddhists remember the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away of the Buddha. The United Nations marks Vesākha Day as an official holiday, worldwide. As Buddhism spread from India, it was adapted to many cultures, and consequently Vesākha Day is celebrated in many different ways in various countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, and Nepal, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama.

Some will visit their local temple before dawn, to raise the official Buddhist flag, which represents a rainbow. Some may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and incense, which serve as a reminder that just as the beautiful flowers will wither, and the candles burn out, so too is life subject to impermanence. In some countries, birds and animals are released in a symbolic act of liberation. Vesākha Day is therefore a time when we reach out across the various Buddhist traditions to celebrate, and to non-Buddhists to enjoy dialogue and harmony.

And that is what happens in Ottawa City Hall on May 5, 2019!

Poetic Voice

                                              

I will talk about the Poetic Voice and “Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era.”

In 2017 I published a book of essays titled “Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement.” Once I sent it off to the publisher I had to clean out my filing cabinet, which was a total mess. In the process of dumping stuff I was surprised to come across a folder with 60 years of my poetry stuffed in it. Most of it was garbage, but there were sufficient gems to feature six distinct thematic moods to capture the shared aspects of human experience.

It all started during my teenage expedition to Sarawak, Borneo (1960 – 62). This was with Britain’s Peace Corps. I kept a journal of the vivid surrounds and how I was feeling. From that time on I scribbled poetry wherever I went, accumulating poems that reminded me of the experiences. Later on in life, my extensive shamanic training with First Nations medicine people was also carefully logged. Those notes and poems were a sign-post to always be authentic. In my career as an anthropologist I was fortunate to encounter many First Nation story tellers across North America. Their poetic recounting of myths and history had a deep impact on how I wrote. I would say that without poetry cultures implode.

My first book – Redemption – was written in 1975. I refer to this novel as 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. In 1975 I was writing way over my head and lacked the maturity to understand the deep nuances emerging from my pen. Redemption was writing me and it is fitting that it was not published until 2014. It reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and human nature. The time lapse allowed me to grow into the insights and revelations writ large. I was a total mess in 1975 – with a failing marriage in the Hebrides and trying to keep my career intact as a young professor at Carleton University. I was not doing a good job with either. The surprise for me in 2014 was how did I write such a powerful poetic novel while in a desperate state of mind? This background brings me to “Painting with Words” – my latest book

PART ONE: BITTERSWEET

It growls rather than sings – a side show malady of words I sometimes prefer to hide. It relishes what I failed and flailed at – my discomfort with relationships, hierarchical structure and all that is phony. Growing up I was acutely aware that I was a maverick – on the outside looking in. I saw more clearly and deeply than allowed.

The poem Punk Palace in the Moonlight presents a sudden shift in the first mood. This poem is about my son – lost in the drug underground of Glasgow, Scotland. I went there to bring him out. Punk Palace in the Moonlight is a collaborative poem composed with my son. We took turns composing lines of a poem to the moon. I cannot discern where he began and where I ended, which is perhaps just as it should be.

Punk Palace in the Moonlight

Moonlight speaks of a morning passing by

life crisis turns beyond wreckage

preventing boundless life entering grim death.

The moon a delicate mistress

veiled by fleeting clouds and mysteries.

It makes the stars and galaxies dance.

The moon does this,

with all that is in me.

This gateway to boundless space

is a door for my troubles and joy.

For I am in the moon and stars

and they are in me.

We dance together

– Now Bright; Now Turbulent

Now Lost; Now Found –

Beyond any sense or reason.

And the night sky casts movement and hues

to something I touch

with that in me.

The full harvest moon

rises from banks of pastel grey,

pacing existence

through the rhythms of our universe.

Glasgow, Scotland. September, 1995 

PART TWO: PAINTING WITH WORDS

Part Two displays my passion for nature, the colourful images of nature’s cycles and its “undeterred rhythm” of change. I remember as a child how I blithely assumed that nature walked me when I cut school to roam the forest and rivers near my home. As a child I had special relationships with wild animals, in particular with one otter and a family of hedgehogs that I kept under my bed. My parents were long suffering over the stray animals I brought home, but their patience was severely stretched over the hedgehogs. They had to be returned to the forest when I became infested with their fleas, which I passed on to my immediate family, classmates, and also to a particular schoolteacher that I did not like.

My poem “Weaving in the Forest” paints the image of a lake, awakening the senses to the striking beauty of the depicted scene.

Weaving in the Forest

 

Let me share it.

This symphony of autumn color,

cascading melody from a sky

pastel grey and fiery red.

Descant to the dancing tones of

a painted forest

cooled by lush evergreens.

 

Sensual beauty,

rhapsody of forest and sunset sky

fused a golden sheen,

caught in a still lake.

Waiting with patience

beyond time and space,

A pause to reflect this moment of

splendor –

Weaving

Lac Philippe, Gatineau Hills, October, 1992

 

PART THREE: AGUA VIVA and PART FOUR: FOOTSTEPS OF THE BUDDHA

I will run together Part Three: Agua Viva and Part Four: Footsteps of the Buddha. They are both about the spiritual journey at different times. Agua Viva (in Mexico) provides poems about my clumsy emergence to new understandings. They are very different from the more mature Part Four – Footsteps of the Buddha.

I met a visiting Rishi to Canada in 1995 – a holy man from India who recognized me and insisted I go to India for spiritual training. In November and December of 1996 I became seriously ill in India. As I observed my bodily systems crashing one by one I knew there was a distinct possibility of death. I was living in a small ashram in the city of Mumbai – reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category yet felt their grace at hand. One humorous manifestation of that grace occurred one morning when I woke up and opened my eyes to greet one of my swami mentors. He smiled broadly and said in his wonderful Indian accent:

“We are all so happy Ian that you have decided to die with us in India, if indeed you are to die. And we will be most happy should you live.”

I went back to India six years later. My wife Carolyn and I embarked on a pilgrimage – In The Footsteps Of The Buddha – through North India and Nepal in February 2003. I created six insight poems that provide a glimpse of experiences that are too immense to otherwise communicate. The Footsteps of the Buddha pilgrimage was full of wonder and miracles. It was a journey to the center of being so that everyday life becomes a pilgrimage.

 PART FIVE: SPEAKING OF TRUE LOVE

I do not have the credentials to speak of this lofty pinnacle. My relationships through time hardly equipped me, as I stumbled through ignorance, stupidity (mostly mine) and unhappiness. My mistakes were legion and I eventually decided to live alone. I found a spacious cabin set in the Gatineau Forest across the river from Ottawa.

An old friend pierced that bubble. She was taking ballroom dancing lessons and asked me to accompany her, as her partner was unable to do so. At the Jack Purcell Centre in Ottawa, an elderly Jamaican gentleman was our instructor. He was charming and had all the moves to put us through the paces of ballroom dancing. I noticed an attractive blonde woman always dancing the male part with her female friends – all from the same office. Her name was Carolyn. I asked if she would like to dance the female role with me. Her wide green eyes and gentle smile said it all. The following week of dancing with her was magic. Not once did I tread on her toes during the intricate passages of the Quick Step and the Fox Trot.

Before leaving that evening, I asked if she would like to meet my wolf. As soon as these words came out of my mouth, I thought she must think this was the worst pick-up line in the world. She paused, smiled and then said “Yes.” I did, in fact, have a pet wolf in the back of my truck. He had found me in the Mt. Currie forest in British Columbia. He played his part beautifully. I rolled down the window of my truck and Carolyn could see his magnificence. He had a russet brown coat with white forelegs and face. He rested his large paw on Carolyn’s shoulder and gently licked her cheek. It was an instant match. She told me much later that she fell in love with the wolf first, then thought that there must be something about the fellow who had him.

The thematic focus of these poems is a celebration of souls mirroring each other, bonded in a union reminiscent of twin flame bonds. They remind me of the Romantic period in English literature, or the Sturm and Drang of the German poetic expression, where ecstatic feelings prevailed over the poetic form. Here is a taste: “Our soft spoken adoration blows on dandelions, creating parasols drifting to fertile ground” – PAUSE – that begins one of the many verses.

PART SIX: ANCIENT WISDOM

PART SIX – ANCIENT WISDOM was written when I accompanied two friends on the first leg of their cross Canada canoe expedition.

My creation of this epic poem had a double focus. I wanted to leave a document about Canada’s wilderness for my grand-children, so they could be inspired by Mother Earth. I also wanted to weave in the Wisdom of the Elders, to speak about Canadian waterways from the reverence of First Nations.

Painting With Words Poetry for a New Era ends with this thematic focus on Ancient Wisdom – pulsating with the rhythm of the river, the spirit of nature of its ancient inhabitants. In spite of being exposed to the merciless harshness of the elements, the poet – that is me – still smiles because I am a part of this world just like a tree or a rock.

The connection between humans and nature is illustrated in the poem about a solitary tree and a man. In each other’s presence, their feelings of aloneness vanish.

The Forest

In the forest a great many entities

of the earth and sky speak of before

and what is to be.

Clearings sunk into the earth

await further visits.

In the center of one clearing

stood a single tall aspen

Waiting for companionship,

fragile in its aloneness,

in her aloneness,

in our aloneness.

I stand within her circle

– this tree and I –

and for a brief moment,

neither were alone.

To finish I would like to bring to your attention a 5 STAR review which inspired the writer of it to start writing poetry again. READ.

Kathryn Bennett writes:

I have to be fully honest in saying I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time, I felt like I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me, there is something truly magical about a work that can do that. You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read. It was truly a pleasure to be able to read this collection of poems and it has inspired me to look back on some poetry I used to write and perhaps to start doing so again. I would highly recommend this book to any reader who loves a journey and wants to find themselves mesmerized by the written word.