In the Land of the Bards…
Since 2006, I’ve spent part of my summers in the Celtic realms – Ireland, Wales, Scotland and a part of England called Dartmoor, thanks to the original invitation of Chloe Goodchild, visionary singer and founder of The Naked Voice, and her tribe of gifted facilitators. Through no conscious plan of my own, I find myself in a deep discipleship to Celtic Goddess Brigid, keeper of the triple flame of Poetry, Healing and the Fire of Transformation.
Ostensibly I go there to teach – workshops, retreats and the Poetry Depths Mystery School. Yet I am not deceived by this apparent role! There is no doubt that I am also a student here where, not so long ago, Bards were the wisdom-keepers of the tribe, and, in the indigenous tongue, the word for poet, fila, is also the word for mystic.
How do I convey to you, especially my American friends, what it is like to breathe the air of a place where poetry seems to rise rhythmically out of the sheets of mist, to recite an ancestry of sorrow and survival from between abandoned potato furrows or sing from standing stone circles that grow from the moor like stanzas of silent song?
Not to romanticize. I certainly meet as many people in the Celtic lands as in the United States who feel a sense of “educational trauma” around poetry. They tell me they couldn’t relate to poetry as it was taught to them in school and haven’t looked at a poem in years. But pressed, they admit that their mother recited Yeats to them as children, or that they used to hide, pajama-clad, ear against the door of the central room of the farmhouse, listening to the adults share poems and songs deep into the night. To grow up in any nation that proudly holds her poets as central to the national identity must grow poems into the bones in a way that is so basic to the rhythm of life that it can go unnamed and unnoticed – until a foreigner from a land like the U.S., where poetry is often marginalized, holds up a mirror.
As a child I loved poetry. My mother would read to me from A. A. Milne’s book, When We Were Very Young. Do you remember that book? “Half Way Down the Stairs” was my favorite. Halfway down the stairs is a place where I sit, there isn’t any other stair quite like it…
When I was seven I started to write poems in earnest (my best poem that year, in true Scorpionic style, was called “Death.”) Although my poems were welcomed and sometimes even celebrated by my family or my school, early on I got the message that it was better (safer) to grow out of this and become a lawyer or doctor or business woman, not a poet. Sound familiar?
Even so, I am one of the fortunate ones. Although my parents made it known they would have preferred my turning towards a potentially more lucrative profession, they nonetheless gave me every opportunity to follow my heart – first into theatre, then into spirituality and psychology, then into poetry.
Somehow, in spite of these blessings, I have managed to harbour a secret sense that the arts, particularly the poetic arts, are marginal. It’s like a coming upon an internalized prejudice that’s so innate, so woven into the fabric of your reality, that you didn’t even realize you had it. (And it seems that I am not alone. Just the other day I read the horrifying statistic that the English Major is a dying breed. Verlyn Klinkenborg writes in the New York Times, “The number of students graduating in the humanities has fallen sharply. At Pomona College… this spring, 16 students graduated with an English major out of a student body of 1,560, a terribly small number.”) I am often asked why so many in America have turned away from poetry. This is material for at least a book, if not a life-work. However, you can taste an initial inquiry into the question in a blog I wrote on the Huffington Post.
It’s only when I go to the lands of the Bards that I see my subtle belief system thrown into stark relief against a field of consciousness that knows that poetry is central to the care and feeding of any individual, community or nation, as central as medicine or economics or politics – and at times synonymous with them.
So I return from the Celtic realms blessedly shaken to the core. Each summer that I steep, with the circles of kindred souls at my workshops and retreats, in the mystery and the power of the spoken sacred word, I am moved closer to the knowing I had at seven years old, when I stood up before the family gathering, pushed my horned rimmed glasses up on my nose, tossed my curls out of my eyes and began to read my new poem: “To some it is escape from / To others escape to / But to all unknown.