Where Poet and Mystic Are One
“The language came from the land,” Letitia intoned in her lush Welsh accent. “Remember before Christ and before and before and before when we had 13 eyes on our body, and 13 ears? We still have them but we don’t use them. We heard sounds that we don’t hear anymore. And we began to repeat them and form them into language.”
I met Letitia at the first workshop I gave on the “far” side of the Atlantic: Wales, 2006. It was my first taste of a culture – and here I include both Welsh and Irish – where poetic language seems inscribed in the marrow, where lines of Yeats or Dylan Thomas rock babies to sleep, where poets have been seen throughout the eras as the wisdom keepers and mystics.
Of course, many Irish and Welsh people have hastened to caution me against waxing rhapsodic and romanticizing a culture where just as many kids have been scared off poetry in grammar school as on my side of the Atlantic, and the adults are still in recovery. Yes, I can relate to that, and so can many who come to my workshops and concerts regardless of nationality. I give thanks that we are “in recovery,” that through some mystery each of us heard a call or felt a longing that was more compelling than the bruises left on some of our psyches by educational mishaps.
Can you relate to this story of the prodigal poem-lover? Do you remember the moment when you changed course, when whatever it was that scared you away from poetry, or bored you, or shamed you into flight was dwarfed by the call to return? What was it that called you back? A voice heard on the radio? A poem spoken at a funeral? A book gifted to you by a new friend? I’d love to hear what it was for you. Leave a comment below if you can relate to this archetypal journey. Tell me about yours.
But I digress.
Back in 2006, when I offered my first “Poetry Dive” workshop in Wales, I don’t think I had any idea that I had stepped into world that would pick me up and carry me to unimagined depths of my own work with the transformational power of poetry.
I have not yet found words to express the profound gift that these lands and their people have given me in their willingness to explore beyond the edges of their own “known” and mine too; in their willingness to take poems into their lives, voices, communities, workplaces, dinner parties, hospitals, therapy sessions, groups, seminars, parenting, partnerships… and on and on. All of my work today, from serving underpriviledged communities in Kenya to leading soul shifting retreats on Hawaii, is infused with what I discovered in Celtica.
As one person said,
It has been more awesome than any religious experience – being taken out of myself, into myself. Many encounters – the angels Jacob wrestled with I have encountered in the poems – radically disturbing yet affirming also. I am now seeing myself as holding citizenship of a bigger world – and perhaps not just citizenship, but leadership.
I have discovered that a poem-as-sacred-medicine is a visceral indwelling entity and as such it transforms. It has to be voiced because the voice is a present-moment experience – and only in the present-moment can healing happen.
Every time time I speak a poem now, my body straightens, and I am in a “sudden grace.” I feel reborn into another body, another wisdom beyond me, into something and someone I must know and yet have never before embodied.