Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dreams and Poetry

I got to go to a workshop on poetry with the best teacher I have ever had the privilege of working with--- Rodger Kamenetz.  He came to town for a reading, and had a circle of local poets for this workshop-- and it was an unbelievable "mitzvah" or blessing, that I was off, and able to go, and be in that space!
He started out by saying "Let's set aside both pride and shame."  The idea of doing so, as the preliminary to a workshop, was breathtaking.  Then he spoke about the difference between a word and an image--- how much richer and more meaningful an image is, than a word.  I had not read his book yet, called "The History of Last Night's Dream".  He explained that the way he wanted to approach the subject of our poems was to speak about what is on the horizontal axis, the daily life stuff of the poem, and then the vertical axis--- the place in a poem where we get an image, a really rich soul-work piece of the puzzle, which is where the strength of the poem would be.  As each person read their poem, he handled the commentary in that way--- avoiding tinkering with the horizontal or the structural issues, and just trying to discuss the importance of the image itself--- the "where's the beef?" of the poem.  I read a poem from the set I have been working on, about the Camino.  Since he had asked for dreams, I read a poem called "Dreaming the Journey".   Rodger was intrigued by the line "I carry the tribes with me."  I was writing about bringing the "new world tribes" back to Spain, in my own person.  He inscribed the copy of his book about dreams to me, "to the one carrying the tribes".  I was excited to think about this line more deeply, as an image, and also the one about the "gold on those altars" in Spain.  After the workshop, I read Rodger's book "The Jew in the Lotus" about a group of rabbis going to meet the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, and sharing issues about soul-work, across the two traditions.  I was fascinated and interested in his command of the subject, of rabbinical thinking-- of Torah and the mishnah of reflections on the scriptures.  And also, because he is a well-educated and sensitive Jew, his appreciation for the traditions, the mores of the Jewish people.  I had grown more interested in Jewish faith and traditions when I was trained at Maimonides hospital in Brooklyn.  Also, I have read a lot about the soul-journey, and so his way of looking at the question of "where's the beef?" in the tradition moved me and kept me very keenly interested, in his book.  So when I got to the new book about dreams, I was overjoyed to see that question about yearning to see the face of God.  I am still very interested in that question, and in anyone who asks it, from any tradition.  I have pored over stories about the Baal Shem Tov, and the reflections in the 13-petalled Rose.  I loved Rabbi David Cooper's book "God is a Verb" which I read about 20 years ago.  I am also very much a fan of Martin Buber, and the "I/Thou" conversation.  So each page was just getting more and more interesting, as I read about Rodger's soul work, and his going to Jerusalem to work with Colette, a dream-work person who was highly intuitive and aimed at healing through dreams, and the great-granddaughter of important rabbis in both of the lines of her genetics.  In the book, Rodger finds a dream-work person in Vermont, named Bregman, who is very adept, and who sees the real soul image in a child, rather than the animus/anima of Jung.  I was completely taken with and in agreement with this way of seeing things, because for me the deepest question is still that yearning to be in the "I/Thou" which is only possible if one acts as a little child.  Jesus said "unless you are like a child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven".  The other thing I really love about his work with this mentor, Bregman, is that there is an adversary or a predicament, and there is really important work to do, to get to that deep interaction with the divine.  And that the way he characterizes that work is to say it requires the discipline of obedience.  This fits with every spiritual tradition, and to me it is an ongoing invitation to what is really real, and really true.  When one recognizes that one is being directed or guided, and that one must humbly do the work, we are at the depth of being on the journey.  I am really excited to be thinking about this.  It has been a long time since I have had a vivid dream.  But like his teacher, I feel that I am being clearly directed in my work, and that my job is to humbly DO it.  And that many times, I am working from instinct,  and that voice, not from some intellectual grasp by my own capacity.  I feel like I am working like a blind man, feeling carefully along the narrow path, using my white cane, and listening for that voice.  There is a word I did not know before, "metonymy"--- which is when one is referring to an image, not using a comparison (like or as)--- which Rodger says is more true of modern poetry.  I have stayed with that idea for a couple of weeks now, as I have read through this book.  I feel like he gave me a whole new way of writing the poems for the book about the Camino.  I am really grateful.  I sent him a note and told him that I think he is the person for whom I wrote the poem "The Key to the House in Toledo".  I was so excited when he mentioned that in Spain at around the time of Maimonides, there were Jews and Moslems, writing in Arabic, and sharing mystical understanding.   It gives me tremendous hope that we could maybe recover that matrix of understanding, and interfaith sharing, and that somehow Spain is the crossroads, where it is possible.  My feeling about being able to add this new sense to the understanding of the Camino is thrilling.