This week I am sharing words of wisdom from poets who are appearing in “The Collective Trauma Summit – A Ten-Day Online Event to Explore Methods for Working with Unresolved and Hidden Trauma in Individuals, Communities and Society.” (September 22-October 1, 2020)
Tuesday’s poet was Jane Hirshfield. She is an essayist, translator, award-winning poet, and author of nine collections. She appeared very calm and serene, with dark long hair parted down the middle and large, beaded earrings. When she spoke, her words were eloquent and mesmerizing.
Since the seminar is on surviving trauma, Hirshfield shared how once in her life, she went into a clinical depression. Something happened and she spiraled downward. She was broken. She knew she had emerged when she stopped wanting time to go back to before the “broken” –she wanted time to go forward. “I want next week,” she said. That was her emergence – her relation to time. Then she put flowers on the kitchen table. She also wanted beauty again.
This observation resonated with me because I have gone through the same process myself, many times. Whenever I feel violated or wronged or mistreated, I become paralyzed. I lay on the couch, or when the alarm clock rings in the morning, I go back to sleep. I simply can’t face the day. But something is working its way through my subconsciousness. Eventually, when the “A HA” moment comes and revelation appears, I am able to look ahead and embrace the new day. I no longer wish for the way things were before the hurt. Time moves forward again. And I am able to create and put flowers on the table!
Can you relate to this?
A poem Hirshfield shared that really spoke to me was one she translated, written 1,000 years ago by a Japanese woman. It goes:
Although the wind blows terribly, the moonlight also leaks between the roof tiles.
To Hirshfield, this poem expresses how we want to be safe from the wind that blows terribly, and we sometimes build walls to protect us from the storms of life, or deep private hurts. “But if you build walls,” she says, “you will also be walling out love and connection.” The moonlight — or love — also leaks between the roof tiles into our hearts. You must make space for it to enter.
I know someone who has built his life carefully around him, with people kept at a safe distance. How sad it is that the very act of self-preservation denies him the connection he so desperately desires! He is trapped inside his walled fortress. He has made his decision. Jane spoke of how “the day comes when someone must greet the great ‘yes’ or great ‘no’.” We all must chose whether we embrace the moonlight or live behind a barrier.
What have you chosen to do?
I will leave you with Hirshfield’s definition of poetry, found in her essay “Justice: Four Windows.”
Good poetry perforates our hard-shelled realities, allowing the seemingly fixed to yield. This is why it is so useful in times of duress. It complicates and unfastens the conceptual mind’s black-and-white words and worlds. It defies the ego’s wish for categorical statement and overly certain knowledge. It dissolves vitrification, at times almost unbearably well. If a poem is good, the solvent of compassion will also be in it, whether in visible foreground or as the subterranean murmur of counterthought beneath the uttered words.
Wednesday’s featured poet is Joy Harjo, United States poet laureate, musician, playwright and author. I encourage you to join the seminar – it’s free until October 1st – and hear her speak!