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,
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.
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
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.
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.