As the judge of the 2019 Poetry Festival at Convent and Stuart Hall, I was asked to share a few words about poetry:
It truly is a privilege to be here, thank you for having me. It was only a few years ago after shutting down in nonprofit I had run for 10 years, that I was driving Uber on the streets of San Francisco wondering about my lot in life as an artist and poet. While there certainly are worse jobs than driving for Uber, I cannot believe the good fortune I’ve had in joining Convent and Stuart Hall. Thank you Jason for introducing me to this opportunity, and to Rachel, Julia and the many others who have put their trust in me as a teacher.
Its probably most accurate to describe my vocation as artist, teacher and student of poetry, as poetry is still a relatively new expression.
In every cell of me though I am also a mystic, which if you don’t know the term is not a vocation so much as a way of seeing and being. A mystic looks for meaning and finds it in the embrace of the Present moment. The journey of mysticism begins with a loss of self and a discovery of one’s own belonging to the spirit of life - the mystical journey seems to spiral infinitely around these two poles.
Poetry has become a welcome companion to me on this mystical path of life with its many hills and valleys. Poetry joined itself to me one day while taking a walk at a bird sanctuary near my house.
Because I have lived as an artist for twenty years, I was ready for the moment a poem interrupted my walk. If you want to do anything truly creative it is essential to have a lifestyle that makes room for the interruptions of inspiration. I’d say the work of a poet is 90% lifestyle, 5% inspiration, and 5% other- which includes the occasions you are required to step out of your comfort zone and share the work of your soul with 500 wonderful strangers.
Over a three year period I walked and wrote around 100 poems. I figured I’d edit them and publish a short book. As a testament to the inefficiency of the creative process, more than half of the poems didn’t make the final cut, but what I complied I’m reasonably proud of, and grateful to be standing here to share some words with you.
To me, poetry is language of and for the wise. I think the worst kind of poem is the kind that is trying too hard to be a good poem. I’ve written more than a few of these myself, in fact, there’s probably at least one in the book I published. I’ll probably write poetry all my life, and I’ll definitely write more bad poems than good, but if I’m really really lucky I might write one great poem in my lifetime; though I don’t expect it.
I’m going to do something very non mystical now. I’m going to use some absolutes to describe what I think makes for “good” poetry; and for the sake of time I’m going to oversimplify. This is very non mystical of me.
Good poets know that you can over expose any idea with too many words. Good poetry leaves space around an idea so the reader may approach it from their own experience.
Poetry is not prescriptive; though many would be readers are looking for such shortcuts to their own success.
Poetry instead takes the long way around and in doing so awakens your soul to know what true success in life means for you.
Poetry is not a roadmap for life though; no poet would presume such understanding.
Poetry may at times offer guidance, but more likely solace and companionship on the long, winding and sometimes treacherous road of life.
I’m going to close with a poem I wrote in September. It has yet to be titled. If a good title occurs to you, send me an email.
These shoes are good
for walking around in circles
Looking for words
that have dropped from my mind
before I could find a pen
In truth I did not drop them
They were stolen by a multitude of news
That snuck past my checkered thoughts
and demanded to be seen
Responding to this urgency
is the making of a life, for some,
But I will stand as lighthouse in this storm
My solitude breaks even
the most tacit of waves
So that’s where I lost it
the kitchen and my desk
When all of me
was in the meaning of words
And none of me
was watching my future
Those words are gone
An offering to the God
who hears my thoughts
Thoughts Which glitter like grains of sand
tumbling in the surf
Of a great ocean