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6 April 2009

i finished a book called poemcrazy.  super good memoir/writing how-to/meditation book with short little chapters.  i likes it.

at some point along the way, I jotted in the inside cover
(a favorite place for notes [even with library books {use pencil}])
the following:

This book giggles and sloshes. Gallops and stomps.
It’s a thrift store. A buffet.
A jar full of jellybeans. A beach.

It’s so good, it made my notes poetic.

One of the very last chapters is so spot-on to how I’ve been feeling for the last oh, half a year, that I wanted to share it here. (not really plagiarism to copy a whole chapter if you cite, right? these are things I should know, but I’m pretty sure the MLA handbook never explicitly told me…) Oh well, I’ll take the risk. It’s kinda long but it’s super worth it. So. Read it.

by Susan G. Wooldridge
Chapter 56 apo ka tas tasis 

When I was twenty, misplaced in college in New York City, my boyfriend was being shipped to Vietnam. My mind and body staged a halt so complete that who I thought I was and would be was undone forever. Our culture has no name for this process—the unraveling of all the yarn in a sweater to undo a faulty stitch before we resume knitting, or digging back in an argument to uncover the pothole so we can re-create a foundation. I guess one name is breakdown, but there’s no light in that word, no hope or possibility of renewal. And that winter in New York and back in Chicago I was unconsciously unraveling myself back to a new place of departure.

Sometimes, if things aren’t going to fall apart, we have to take them apart. This may be what’s heaped in a closet or it may be the way we’ve been living our lives.

Our culture doesn’t see the value of this occurrence. When crisis or collapse is happening, it’s almost impossible to recognize the unraveling, much less to honor it. It can feel like being bumped backwards out of control downhill into chaos as we level the old to break out of what binds us and create something new and free. If we had a name for this process, maybe we could see it differently and recognize the forward motion despite all appearances.

Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine won a Nobel Prize in 1977 for his theory of dissipative structures, a kind of chaos theory. He showed that a period of dissolution is necessary before any system—a cell, society, solar system or person—can jump to a higher level of organization. Seen this way, unraveling or disintegration is a vital, creative event making room for the new.

The Hebrew Kabbalists wrote about this idea centuries earlier. They believed that to change from one reality to another a thing first must turn into nothing, where it reaches “the rung of nothingness,” the state before creation when the egg has disappeared but the chick hasn’t formed. Chaos. A worshipper, Kabbalists hold, “becomes like an empty tree, a flute played by God.”

Such emptiness may be the state of being in which we can write poems that connect us with the most hidden parts of our hearts and psyches. In a poem, Roethke wrote, I can “shake the secrets from my deepest bones.” We can begin to find words to describe and shape any “undoing” we may be experiencing. Words can help us express and possibly understand the unraveling. They can help us let go.

Whenever I see what seems like a disaster coming on, it helps me to say apokatas’tasis (apo-ka-tas’-tasis), from the Greek, meaning to set up again, to restore. It’s an invocation, referring to good fortune hidden in apparent misfortune or tragedy. The word asks: out of apparent catastrophe, bring blessing. As soon as I can remember to say apokatas’tasis I realize I’ll live through whatever bumping backwards I’m going through and I’ll come out in a better place.

Rumi closed his poem “The New Rule,”

The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.
Here’s the new rule: Break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower’s breath.

Poems often slip into us in the realm where everything has fallen apart and can begin to come back together—in a crack between worlds, outside of time, in the realm of chaos.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. D. Gilson permalink
    6 April 2009 8:20 pm

    Sarah! I am going to order this book right now. Seriously. It seems mind-altering…or better yet, maybe mind-channeling, mind-finding, something like that.

    Call me sometime. Seriously. 417.838.9841. There, I just published my cell phone number on the web for you.

  2. D. Gilson permalink
    7 April 2009 7:50 am

    ps: how fitting a post for national poetry month!

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