The Dignity of Rhythm

As the season shifts—light, temperature, the contours of the days—I notice that I want and need to reconnect with habits and rituals that lend a sense of rhythm and continuity to daily life.

Deadheading perennials, cooking heartier meals, seeking fire, and spending more time in quiet study, all signal my own shift away from the lighter, brighter and more extroverted days of summer.

A threshold is upon us, on the other side of which is the season that so naturally lends itself to slower, deeper, more sustained creative work.

Maybe it’s because I was born on the Autumn Equinox, a time of equal light and dark, but I’ve always felt a visceral sense that these thresholds are significant. That if I pay attention to the natural world and my body’s inclinations, I will learn necessary things about myself, and the other-than-human world, about a cycle of life and death which exceeds anything I can devise or control.

In other words, I’m learning how to live, and I choose the moon and oceans and migrating birds as my mentors. I choose the rose making her hips. I choose the longer night, and the desire to sleep longer.

And still I write, and teach, and do my work, but with heightened awareness of my place in a larger rhythm that exceeds even the machinations of politics and history.

Fire poem by Robert Montgomery

Five  years ago, when I started working for myself, independent of a anyone else’s calendar, I began consciously aligning my teaching and personal work flow, with sensitivity toward the natural rhythms of the wheel of the year. More recently, I’ve studied how other cultures relate to time, seasons and the flow of a day, and I’m inspired to make these influences more apparent to my students and clients, who might also find it helpful.

Rhythms—patterns, rituals, creative habits—all help me to gather my pieces into shapely forms. There’s dignity in this. And a form of support that I need so that I can do what I’m here to do as an artist and a human being.

Rhythms also provide integrity when we feel fragmented or out of balance due to external events, especially those we have little ability to change or influence, though we feel them, and want to respond in some way.

What we can do is what we are here to do—our work—and we must anchor ourselves in a strong belief that what we each have an essential place within this ecosystem that includes all sorts of people, and talents and ways of being.

We can create work based on the conviction that our contributions do serve the greater whole, even when we work quietly, or on a small scale.

A poem from Lost Lexicon, a letterpress collaboration with Big Wheel Press.

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An unshakable commitment to showing up to work in all its forms, can change one’s life in all of the ways one may want to change that life, from making it more beautiful, to providing more purpose, to provoking everyday revolutions in how one engages with one’s surroundings.

The rhythm of regular practice trains the body/mind to perform without undo effort or suffering. In this way, we evolve. In this way, we live in accordance with our deepest values and intentions.

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The Shaker’s have a saying that has served as a sort of guiding mantra for me: Every force evolves a form.

Our energy and attention shapes outcomes. For example, a writer who commits to nourishing her love of poetry by reading a single poem every day, first thing, will soon find that her own writing is changed for the better because of this ritual and discipline.

All day long, we have opportunities to give form to our energies and desires. Every force evolves a form.

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Do you notice how the weather, seasons, moon cycles and natural rhythms affect you and your creative work? It might be insightful to make a practice of taking note. What feels natural? What feels good? What doesn’t?

Our intensely masculine economy would have us work hard and consistently, all year long, according to a regime defined by clocks and calendars, grids and linear timelines, with peak production as our primary goal.

But poetry exists outside of commodity capitalism. We are doing something else here, and so we have to act accordingly.

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As for me, the natural rhythms of summer lead me into the world. I balanced my otherwise monastic tendencies with more time in nature, among friends and family, and with travel, most recently to the Beargrass Writers Retreat where the mountains reconnected me with my long love of the west. (Stay tuned for how we could meet in that landscape next summer to shape your manuscript or retreat with other writers).

Reading new work at Beargrass Writing Retreat, Greenough, Montana.

After birthing a new book last spring, a residency in Leland, Michigan, and the exciting opportunity to showing new collaborative work in progress, I allowed myself some time to play and connect with others, which tempered the sadness and despair that had gripped me during the months following the election. Now I’m fortified, and I’ve also renewed my conviction that artists and art is just as necessary as ever as we come to grips with the creep of white supremacy, totalitarian ideologies, and a planet convulsing from climate destabilization.

Whereas summer was much more about saturating myself in actual life, taking notes in the field, attending performances, absorbing work by other artists, now I sense that new poems now want to be written, and I’m ready again to spend time indoors at my desk. I also feel a gathering of energy toward a bigger project that I haven’t touched in a couple of months. This is such a good feeling, and one I trust will emerge at this time of year, just as the apples ripen in the orchard.

I also understand that, as author Katey Schultz puts it, rest supports revelation. Time away means that upon my return, I feel  ready for what lies ahead. This week I’m on a personal writing retreat in Maine, but the next few months hold many opportunities to meet up, and work together.

Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire, where I taught a poetry workshop in July.

 

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If you desire companionship and some rhythm to your writing life, here’s my fall line-up:

Small Pages: a half-day guided writing and collage retreat
w/artist Carol C Spaulding, in her studio
September 16, 2017
10:00 am-3:00 pm
Glen Lake, Michigan
Space for 8

Poetry Immersion: Deeper Practice
October 6-November 24, 2017
Online writing apprenticeship for poets and aspiring poets
Space for 12

Poetry Writing Intensive: Short Poems
October 16-17, 2017
A generative workshop on the art of brevity & alchemy of suggestion.
Interlochen, Michigan
Space for 12

Poetry Forge: An incubator for writers and their work
October 25-December 13, 2017
Florence, MA
*Full details to follow. Please get in touch if this interests you as I am hoping to gather eight poets for this six week focus on new writing.

Diane Di Prima, from “Revolutionary Letter #75: Rant”

I’m also interested in giving artist talks on “Resisting the War Against the Imagination,” and sharing my newest publication, If August, which is an extended poem in fragments that takes into account the design of the book as a vehicle for an intimate reading experience. Get in touch if you have a space that would lend itself to gathering interested readers and writers who might enjoy spending time with me in this way.

Thanks for reading. I send you best wishes for your own work this season.

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