I’m on a week-long cleanse, trying to help my body gracefully transition from winter to spring.
I’ve been clearing out stuff for a while now — half my closet, a couple of drawers in a large chest — making room for JC which I hope will send out the signal that I want him to join me shortly. (Send a prayer to the good folks at Homeland Security.) I’ve written notes to old lovers (shredded, not sent), exfoliating my past so I can make a fresh start. I can’t completely walk away — there are photos still hanging, dozens of journals filled with despair and indecipherable scribbles and insights that felt brand new but I know have come to me again and again and again. These I’ll hold onto, review when my mind has found the space to listen.
Last year, as this one, I cleansed before Passover. This year, I began the day after the third Split This Rock festival, where hundreds of socially engaged poets gathered to ask each other a litany of questions. Is poetry a noun or a verb? Does poetry matter when words like drone and collateral and casualty are casually thrown around? How do we write about home when we’ve been in exile most of our lives? Should we write or should we teach others to find their voice? Who are my literary ancestors? How can we measure the distance between outrage and optimism? How can we feed ourselves love when the headlines poison fragile minds? How can we translate numbers into something that moves us off our couches? How do we translate sounds from a language that is suffocating because of the one we speak?
I taught my yoga and poetry class to an eclectic group of poets and activists. I’d guess that each one had a radically different experience. One woman, wearing a skirt, wasn’t sure she wanted to participate at first. “Are you gonna make us downward dog?” (Her smile was electric as she left.) We practiced warriors in our chairs, wrote about courage after reading Anne Sexton’s poem of the same name, rolled tennis balls under sore arches, laid back on our spines and visualized the flame of a small candle burning away what was non-essential in our lives, leaving behind all we needed to carry into this new season.
One woman thanked me for coming over to her during the flame meditation and lightly laying hands on her at what she said was an uncanny moment. She was welling up, unsure if she could stay in the room, remembering being intentionally burned by a candle when she was a small child. (Yogis and writers are much the same in this way — the longer you do either, the more intuitive you get. I think it has something to do with getting out of your thinking mind, and learning to pay attention to other signs. But maybe it has more to do with the same thing this season asks of us: clearing and cleansing and planting new seeds that have grown from the old.)
She told me she had been writing about that experience recently. Write more, I advised — but not to her. Hers was the kick I needed, reminding me that writing saves ourselves and others.
Luckily, April is National Poetry Month, as good an excuse as any to write something every day.
If you find yourself staring at a blank page, I suggest setting your timer to 10-15 minutes and using one of the thousands of writing prompts around to get you started:
And I’ll leave you with a fabulous photo of Esther Iverem and Joseph Ross, looking exuberant after Split This Rock participants (better known as Splitistas) read a form of poetry known as the Cento in front of the Supreme Court — each poet contributing 12 words (her own or from someone else) — to create a collage poem speaking to the perversion of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United which equates money with speech, effectively silencing voices of the millions of people who can’t donate to a Super PAC.
With blessings for a happy spring!