Mysticism and Poetry
Recently at Chicago's Myopic Poetry Series Peter O'Leary, via John Tipton read from his work and translation that come out of the Byzantine Tradition of Monasticism. These lyric works are not what you would expect normally from an avant garde experimental poet like O'Leary and for this I was moved. It was followed by a poetry reading by Murat Nemet-Nejat Turkish poet who read from his marvelous translations of Turkish poetry EDA. The combination of these poets led me to think again differently.
As a Postmodern experimental poet who is also a Catholic rooted in the 5000 year tradition of Mediterrannean mysticism I am unwilling to give up on the tradition that starts with the Greeks, Romans, and Christianity these are fertile fields of origin for me and my poetics. Yet I do not feel free to use the full richness of this, my tradition because of the fact that so many in the poetic world are hostile to these forms- O'Leary has torn that door off the hinges and I am personally in his debt because he has the guts to do it and be open about it.
Most poets who are in the experimental camp of which I myself and Peter are 'members' have chosen not to look at the poetic traditions to develop their artform. For most experimental poets poetry began with Pound or LANGUAGE. The lack of Richness in many contemporary writers and the need to use so much irony is making allot of poetry taste like weak coffee.
Poetry is argably the oldest artform, it has been argued that while they were painting the caves at Altamira the stories that were being illustrated were being sung in verse by bards. There is an unbroken tradition here and it is one that includes these modes ignored today. The situation today is that much of the rich heritage of poetics is looked at as source material but not as living art.
Painters would never discount Giotto because he used religious themes or mystical ideas but in poetry, unless it is Buddhist or Sufi (Current Acceptable Forms of Mysticism). The times when a poet uses Christian or Monastic poetics in his/her work there is a marginization that I think is unfortunate and shows a lack of reading among many poets. No one would for example question Asians use of Buddhist themes or forms but the use of monastic, or other poetic forms from the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions is immediately pushed to one side and I think this is a mistake, whether or not you believe in God or not.
There are so many writers from these traditions who need to be read by postmodern poets; here are some of my favorites, Ephraim the Syrian (Orthodox), Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, (Catholics) Dante, Issac Luria (Jewish), Meister Eckhart, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and many others. There has be a moda recently of reading Hildegard Von Bingen I would urge poets to read Teresa of Avila as well, or Catherine of Genoa or many other women writers who dwell in a tradition that most poets ignore or are hostile to.
This is not an argument for Conservatism, it is an argument for inclusion. It is essential that we give everyone a place in the sun, Jerome Rothenberg has done this so well with his ethnopoetics. But when you go out to read mystical texts do not forget those that come out of the tradition of
that encompasses Christianity, even if you are an atheist.
I will take Peter's reading as a challenge to bring into my own work more of these traditions into my own work and I will eagerly await more of Peter O'Leary's fine translations of Anatolian Monastic Poetry that is lost in a sea of noise.