“All poems are letters,” Diane Wakowski writes in Toward a New Poetry, “the poet a letter writer addressing himself to his friends.”
When I work with yoga teachers and poets on what I call “knowing poems,” familiarizing themselves enough to memorize a poem or recite it fluently, I encourage them to think of sharing the poem as sharing a part of themselves.
This is what we do in letters, address someone with news of what matters to us. So much of effective teaching and performance hinges on the ability of the speaker to connect with her audience, as a letter writer connects with a recipient.
Wakowski goes on to say that letters are intermediaries. So are poems.
They are communiques, bridging, like an extended hand, the distance between people.
Emily Dickinson writes a poem that “is my letter to the world/that never wrote to me; the simple news that nature told with tender majesty.”
Richard Hugo wrote letters to friends as poems as others did and do including Luis Omar Salinas, Ted Kooser, Joann Kyger and Gary Snyder.
When reading a poem to an audience, whether you’re giving a formal presentation or closing a yoga class, think of the poem as a letter.
If it’s not your own poem, be sure to name the poet who wrote it. And pause for a moment to consider what the writing entailed, taking time from the day to put thoughts down on paper, then sharing it.
Sharing a poem, you’re bringing more people into a common experience of recorded impressions.
Think of conjuring across time, through your voice, every instance of the poem’s sharing.
What does it take to prepare yourself to write a letter, a missive? Follow the trail of your thoughts, setting the words like footsteps on the page.
Coaching poets long-distance on their poems, I find the slow exchange through the mail to be more effective than email exchanges with phone calls. The sustained attention required by paper and pen becomes a contemplation.
If I can help you access your voice, spoken or on the page, through your yoga teaching or poetry, essay or fiction writing, please drop me a line at alexamergen(at)gmail(dot)com. We’ll make it happen.
Satya, the second yama, translates as truth. Truth emerges naturally from clarity: the more we know ourselves and accept ourselves, the greater the odds are that every word, action and thought will be in alignment with that self. Really, to be truthful is to be steadfast with yourself, your loved ones, the world.
I’m down to 20 journals, dating back just two years. I’ve filled hundreds over decades, recording feelings, friends, dreams, recipes, events and plans throughout Europe, in Mexico, Central America and Asia, and during back-and-forth trips across the U.S. My journal has been therapist, confidante and guide. It’s been a writer’s notebook, an artist’s studio and a naturalist’s log. I’ve devoured others’ journals, especially travel narratives, and stories of journal keeping. (Favorites are Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds.) I’ve taught students how to keep a journal. I’ve given blank books as gifts. I’ve received dozens as gifts. I’ve written with pen, marker, colored pencil, and pencil, in books leather-bound, locked, spiral and perfect bound, on paper lined, unlined, and graphed of all weights.
I’ve given it up.
I am training my mind to remember and my heart to release. The hour or so a day that I used to spend bent over my journal, I spend instead in contemplation. Like a notebook, cogitation is portable. I can muse in a coffee shop, meditate on a park bench. A diary entry is a record of the past or anticipation of the future. I am finding that not journaling keeps me more present–and I don’t want to miss anything in this life.
Two exceptions to the self-imposed journaling embargo: plans for yoga classes and poetry workshops, and starts to poems. Research shows writing by hand is a process of reflection, reflection is part of preparing for others.
Yoga and poetry. The shapes our bodies take on the yoga mat, the breaths we notice while sitting on the cushion, the sounds pronounced to make the words that form a poem, are beautiful because they are fleeting. They are a kiss, a good meal, a sunset watched until dusk, the vacated bird’s nest that falls to the ground with the first storm of winter.
After I read through these remaining 20 journals, they’ll be burned, buried or recycled. They are, after all, ephemeral. I’m not the person I was when I wrote the words that fill them. Holding on to them is like keeping windows closed against summer breeze.
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–