This Friday, I’m presenting on a panel called “Spelling: Poetry as spell-casting” at the &Now Festival of Innovative Writing in Bothell, Washington. As I was preparing my remarks, I found myself hyper-conscious of how I use the word “thinking.”
I use this word a lot. I use it to mean processing information as a way to understand the world around me. For all of my life I’ve valued being a good thinker, a critical thinker, smart. And I’ve valued the work of other people who think critically, who I think are smart—by which I have meant they have sharp insight and can articulate themselves with clarity and nuance. I felt that becoming very good at this kind of knowing and communicating was critical to my full development as a human being and a social change agent.
I still very much value clear and nuanced thinking. But I’m beginning to understand that relying solely on thinking is a severely limited way of processing and knowing the world around us. Here’s how I put it in my remarks for Friday’s panel:
I see now that this is like me, as a sighted and hearing person, walking around with horse-blinders, earplugs, and gloves. This might help me see very clearly what is in front of me, but it leaves out other ways available to me to know and be in the world. It prevents me from experiencing the knowledge that can come to me from—in this analogy—the information on the periphery of my vision and the sounds and textures of the world around me. So I’m learning, slowly, how to take off the blinders, earplugs, and gloves in order to understand the world differently. I’m learning to trust my intuition and emotional intelligence; learning how to engage in reciprocal communication with plants, animals, stones, and other beings; learning how I might perceive and work with the divine forces that surround me and are within me.
But it’s not easy. There is a strictly enforced hierarchy of knowing deeply ingrained in me. Even as I recognize the falseness of this hierarchy, I feel hesitant to trust anything other than my analytical brain. I feel nervous to even write these ideas for fear of being ridiculed, not taken seriously, and perceived as “not smart.”
And no wonder. Intuitive knowing—trusting our gut, our bodies, our spirits, nature—has long been associated with femininity, indigenous cultures, and communities of color. Methods of perceiving and understanding that fall outside scientific rational thought and investigation have always been a threat to the power and control of power constructed by capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. And therefore, they have been degraded and dismissed.
Altar for the full moon in Pisces and poetry as spell-casting. Image description: Altar with poetry books, shells, stones, starfish, coral, pearls, candle, and High Priestess and Moon cards from the Collective Tarot.
Today, I believe more and more people in the U.S. feel somewhere in their guts and hearts that things are not right. That the balance of power is wrong, that the way we are taught to scramble to get on top in this society is deeply damaging to ourselves and others, that the way we have divorced ourselves from the rest of nature has hurt us in ways we cannot even name.
I also believe that many people have probably been feeling this for centuries, to one degree or another. And, to be sure, many people have acted on those feelings – but just as many, probably more, have not.
But what if everyone who felt that things were not right in the past acted on these feelings? What if all the factory foremen early in the industrial revolution refused to treat the workers in the ways the owners wanted them treated? What if all white people in the U.S. who felt even one wave of sickness at the treatment of enslaved Black people acted on those feelings? What if all the scientists working on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos listened to the quiet voice deep in their hearts telling them to stop the creation of a weapon of unimaginable destruction and suffering?
We would be living in a very different world.
And what if, today, all the people who feel that things are not right trusted that feeling? And I mean trusted our deepest feelings—deeper than the anger, hate, and divisiveness being stirred by today’s demagogues bent on cementing even deeper injustices; deeper than feelings of overwhelm and apathy.
I believe the vast majority of people trusting their deepest feelings would act from a place of love, abundance, and connection. And we could forge a very different future.
But how do we get there? How do we break out of the grasp of hyper-intellectualism and learn to value and trust our deepest intuitions?
I don’t have a grand answer. I know there are many people working on this problem from various angles across many ways of knowing. But for me, one way that I am approaching it is through poetry.
Reading and writing poetry is a way for me to engage with language (and therefore thinking) from a nonlinear and emotional approach. It’s a way for me to make the leap from thinking to feeling to intuiting and back again. Poetry casts a spell on me, and gives me spell-casting powers. When writing poetry, I can let go of the need to control meaning through language, and let deeper truths emerge in a way I don’t have access to when I’m trying to make meaning with prose. And I think that when people read poetry, if they allow themselves to not need to “make sense,” they are able to step into a kind of altered state where understanding flows from somewhere beyond the sole realm of the brain.
We learn from the myths, stories, and folktales of many cultures that great transformation can happen suddenly and by magic. But we also learn such magic doesn't happen without groundwork—whether that groundwork is a person wishing and dreaming, going on a great journey, going to the aid of another creature, or casting a spell or two.
I see my poems as doing a small part in laying down this groundwork: visioning and spell casting toward an eventual great transformation of society.
Prompting & engaging
To use in journaling, writing, meditating, tarot pulling, etc.
Find a quiet place and get comfortable. Have your writing materials ready.
Take a few deep breaths. Call up a situation that you wish to transform. It can be big and systemic or deeply personal—trust whatever comes up for you. Describe it in a phrase at the top of the page.
The past: Imagine the roots or beginning of this situation. Now, call up a rhyme scheme or rhythm from your childhood—it could be a nursery rhyme or commercial jingle. Don’t over-think any of this, just trust what comes. Write three lines in that rhythm or rhyme about the roots of the situation. (If the rhyme scheme requires four lines, write four lines.) Try to engage with this in the spirit of play; don’t worry about explaining or making sense.
The present: Write three lines about the situation as it currently exists. You can do this as plainly or as mythically as you wish, but try to convey the heart of the situation as vividly as you can.
The future: Write three lines that embody a powerful transformation of the situation. You don’t have to know exactly how that transformation will occur. Imagine what that transformation might feel like or look like—and try to evoke those feelings and images. You might want to return to the rhythm or rhyme of the first section, but alter it somehow. Again, don’t worry about explaining or making sense. Make is as magical as you want.
If you have a tarot or other deck, you might want to pull one card for the past, present, and future, and let each card inform the imagery of that section.
If you are attending the &Now conference, I hope you can join me and my fellow poets and spell-casters. In addition to discussing the concept of poetry as spell-casting and reading our poems, we’ll be leading the creation of a collective poem-spell for liberation. I’d love to see you there!
&Now Festival of Innovative Writing
University of Washington, Bothell, DISC-252
Tamiko Beyer, Destiny Hemphill, Tatiana Figueroa-Ramirez, Lisbeth White
Friday, September 20, 10:45am - 12:00pm
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