Deprecated: Hook custom_css_loaded is deprecated since version jetpack-13.5! Use WordPress Custom CSS instead. Jetpack no longer supports Custom CSS. Read the WordPress.org documentation to learn how to apply custom styles to your site: https://wordpress.org/documentation/article/styles-overview/#applying-custom-css in /home/leahr/poetry.ruekberg.com/wp-includes/functions.php on line 6078

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/leahr/poetry.ruekberg.com/wp-includes/functions.php:6078) in /home/leahr/poetry.ruekberg.com/wp-content/plugins/docket-cache/includes/src/Plugin.php on line 1186

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/leahr/poetry.ruekberg.com/wp-includes/functions.php:6078) in /home/leahr/poetry.ruekberg.com/wp-content/plugins/docket-cache/includes/src/Tweaks.php on line 453
Ruminations - Page 3 of 3 - David Ruekberg, Writer Press "Enter" to skip to content

Speakeasy

David Ruekberg 0
Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 1 pm: Speakeasy at Cheshire (above Solera), 647 South Ave, Rochester, NY. David will read a long poem from Hour of the Green Light, to be published by FutureCycle Press in late 2020. He will have copies of Where Is the River Called Pishon? (Kelsay Books) available for sale.

Speak Easy: Open Topic

"Don’t let April showers keep you locked in your house! Come on out and celebrate Spring with a craft cocktail and some popcorn while 10 local writers share their short works of prose and poetry from our stage We have a great line-up planned for this one, including: David Ruekberg, Emerson Bondi, Joanne Williams, Sean Mulligan, Walt Way, Rebecca Finein, Deb Sperling, Lise Kunkel, and Javannah Davis. Don’t miss it!" Doors open at 12:30 pm. 21 and Over with Proper ID. $7.00

David Ruekberg and Charlie Coté: Poems of Loss & Transformation

David Ruekberg 0
Prepare your souls and mark your calendars for a reading by Charlie Coté and David Ruekberg as part of the Writers & Books Genesee Reading Series, hosted by Wanda Schubmehl. David will read from his first book, Where Is the River Called Pishon? (Kelsay Books), which explores the longing for spiritual belonging in everyday life. Poet and novelist Pablo Medina notes that his poems “engage the domestic and natural spheres to encounter the elemental forces that drive us: love, grief, despair and hope.” David received his MFA from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, and teaches English at Hilton High School. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, Borderlands, DMQ, Lake Effect, Mudfish, North American Review, Poet Lore, Slush Pile, and elsewhere. His second manuscript, Hour of the Green Light, was semi-finalist in the 18th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Award. The elegies in Charlie Coté’s forthcoming book I Play His Red Guitar (Tiger Bark Press, due out in May 2019), lament and celebrate the loss of a beloved son, taking the reader through seasons of grief, recovery and transformation. Coté is a clinical social worker in private practice in Rochester, NY, and the author of Flying for the Window (Finishing Line Press, 2008). His work has appeared in Barrow Street, Big City Lit, Segue, Salamander, The Cortland Review, Connecticut River Review, Upstreet, Connotation Press, Ducts, Terminus, and Quiddity. He teaches poetry at Writers & Books and serves as the chair for 13thirty Cancer Connect. Now in its 36th year, the Genesee Reading Series is a smorgasbord for your literary palate. $3 for members, $6 for the general public.

WAYO Interview with Al Abonado about Where Is the River…?

David Ruekberg 0
Thanks and I owe a big hug to Al Abonado for talking with me about my collection, Where Is the River Called Pishon, on his weekly radio show, Flour City Yawp, on WAYO 104.3 FM (Rochester, NY) and, of course, online. After some introductory music,* the interview starts around 4:00. (Click here, yo.) Two amazing things about this show. One: Rochester actually has a low-power live FM radio broadcast, playing all kinds of crazy stuff, from out-there modern music to, well, a one-hour show about poetry. Stream it and let it roll in the background while you are organizing your books or working up your resume at Linked Everywhere or whatever. The other, of course, is the host, Al Abonado. Not only is he a fine poet, slogging his way towards recognition in the publishing world -- a place which has become as attention deficient as the Internet itself -- but doing great work in his adopted back yard of Rochester, New York, to help poetry thrive. Poetry, of course, exists independent of promotion, as a level of consciousness triangulating somewhere among meditation, orgasm, and raising squash, but Al does what he can to keep it real in the City of Rochester and environs. The eight arms of Al Abonado.
  1. Flour City Yawp (see above)
  2. Poetry prof at SUNY Geneseo
  3. City Newspaper CityVersePoetry Column
  4. New Ground Poetry Night, first Tuesdays, Equal Grounds Cafe (with Jonathan Everitt)
  5. Bloom Poetry: Prompting poetry to pop up and bloom in beds, cracks, and crannies in the Rochester area
Arms 6-8 are currently in the darkroom. And thanks to Al for reading the helical poem, "Valentine," with me superbly well. As for the interview, I was nervous as heck before the show, even though I'd spoken on his show once before. This time, it was all about me. Am I real news? Am I fake news? Snopes.com had no data. So you must decide. As I did in my first years of teaching, I over-prepared. Fortunately, Al was gentle, and time passed quickly. I have a few things to learn about interviewing. Say "um" less. Breathe more. Keep the focus. Life-long goals.      

Review of “Looking Askance” by Laura Klinkon

David Ruekberg 0
Review of Looking Askance, by Laura Klinkon Stesichorus Publications, Rochester, NY. 2017 Available at Amazon.com

Pungent, not biting

Laura Klinkon’s chapbook, Looking Askance, suggests its tone in the title itself. The work glimpses into the narrator’s relationships to mother, neighbors, self, and others with an ironic but usually gentle attitude. The cover art, a Byzantine portrait bust, goes a long way to suggest this tone. As described by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “this sensitively carved portrait bust presents a mature woman with a thoughtful expression and piercing gaze; the scroll held in her right hand signals an appreciation for classical learning and marks her as a member of the elite.” Perhaps not a member of the elite, but Klinkon reveals herself as definitely schooled in classical learning. The front matter of her little book is a little intimidating at first, beginning with an epigraph from Juvenal, followed by an introduction in which she ponders to what extent the satires she intends “fall under the classical Horatian, Juvenalian, or Menippean categories.” I prepared to feel quite stupid as I read her poems, but I needn’t have feared. The first poem reveals itself to be quite approachable in its diction and subject matter, as its easygoing title, “I went to the city today,” suggests. Though the poem employs a few top-shelf words and concepts (“contingency realms,” and a brief philosophical debate on will versus desire), it poignantly evokes a situation of modern loneliness. Although we don’t learn the specific circumstances of the event—Klinkon often explores the philosophical underpinnings of events more than the physical details—the poem peruses the “bones” of the event, an image used in the poem itself to suggest the lack of substance in the conversations she was a party to. “‘What is your weight in bone?’” is the “one thing / I hadn’t dared say,” she writes. The loneliness engendered by feeling somewhat estranged from the company of others even while in their company is a theme that runs throughout the work. The four-line “People may look” finds the speaker being looked at “askance” by others, while “Some tides rise” explores “various projects / incomplete,” which appear to include the project of identity as well. “Scattered clouds” suggests that this feeling of incompleteness is the loneliness of the introverted and introspective artist who, given the complications of relationship with anyone, might finally resolve to stay in bed and “not even / pick up the phone.” This is echoed in a later poem, “Today you liked my shirt,” in which a hole in the front represents “solitude” and “a shroud hung / on the bones of a mazurka-stepping / apparition.” In fact, I don’t find these pieces that satirical, though there is certainly irony in them; and though they suggest criticism of both society and self, I find the tone more sympathetic than mocking. “After the concert” certainly conveys a criticism of social manners, as the speaker “correctly used no fingers / for my food, my weaving / through the klatsches ruffled / no one.” But this is about as critical towards others as Klinkon gets. And certainly she is self-deprecating a little later in the poem when she admits an awkward moment leaving the party, “my head nearly thumping the banister” in her haste or distraction to get the hell out of there. Yet, rather than the ire or caricature of satire, the poem ends with a poignant admission: “I saw / all I was, done, knew…could be entwined / in a bundle and trundled as a bien vivante, / bon voyagée courante.”  

Diction and Form

I must admit, there were many times I had to run to the online dictionary for some of the terms Klinkon chooses, sometimes perhaps unnecessarily taxing the reader’s resources (making me research “annelid,” when she had already used the word “worm,” which sufficed). In the above case, Google did not give a precise translation of the two French terms. But I got the idea (I hope). The loneliness I sense in these poems gets more specific than grand existential pathos. As the chapbook develops, Klinkon introduces a relationship with a neighbor who is useful as a plowman in winter, but whom “I liked better before you had your / colonoscopy.” True, there’s a sting to that statement, though it seems pretty direct; ironic, rather than sarcastic, only in the social expectation that we should love our neighbor, even if sometimes he expects too much. Klinkon doesn’t employ traditional forms, though she uses plenty of internal rhyme, as in the first poem discussed. I went to the city today where others awaited not me, but it was okay, I had little to say, so they made some space for me. The last line of the poem highlights the conjunction between form and content: “Today, I was keenly all ears.” The last time I chatted with Laura, she mentioned that she had published The Silent Lyre, a collection of translations of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets from English into Italian, so it’s clear she’s well-acquainted with formal poetry. These poems mix form and a conversational tone to make them sad but sharp little songs. Maybe next time we chat Laura can clear up my misconceptions about satire, but it may be a hard sell. There’s a little too much sweetness in these poems, though mixed with bitters, as in the beautiful images of the final poem, My heart is a pip poison as an apple seed slippery as a lemon’s crimped in a leather rind As she admits in her Introduction, “the result is pathetic.” I understand that not in the modern sense of “miserably inadequate,” but in its original sense: “evoking pity, sympathetic sadness.” As the description of the Byzantine bust suggested, the speaker in Klinkon’s work is thoughtful, piercing, and sensitive.  

What is the River Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this winds all through the land of Havilah where there is gold....The second river is named the Gihon, and this winds all through the land of Cush. The third is named the Tigris, and this flows to the east of Ashur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Genesis 2:10-14 New Jerusalem Bible

The title of my book refers to the Pishon, the only river mentioned in the second creation story of Genesis whose location has not been identified. Various theories include the Nile; a now-dry channel running from Medina to Kuwait; and even the Danube, associated with this mosaic in Qatr, Libya, perhaps depicting a thirsty pilgrim, or Adam (© livius.org).

Submission

David Ruekberg 1
Submitting poems to journals is an arduous process, and apparently my way of implementing it makes it more so. I have a personality defect which makes me sometimes take things too seriously, and sometimes not seriously enough, (but that will be the subject of another post). So everything takes a little longer as I consider, evaluate, reflect, reassess, grumble, consider again, and eventually come to a resolution. Or not.
The advent of the paperless world has made submitting poems easier, though electronic vehicles come with their own challenges, as you know. Mostly, though, it's easier. In the old days I had to stuff envelopes and mail them out, a more arduous task than it might sound to those whippersnappers who have only been on the receiving end of an envelope. The first step in submitting work was to research journals that might be a fit for my work. In the 1990s, when I began to seriously engage the mechanics of publication, I consulted a three-inch thick directory of little magazines and small presses called The Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. When I found some I thought sounded interesting, either because of their titles or subject matter (various indices indicated each), if I were responsible I visited the local Borders or independent bookstores (neither of which exist in the Rochester area any more, except Greenwood Books in  Rochester and Lift Bridge books in Brockport), or tried to find them in a library (sometimes I was able to locate a few in the Rochester downtown branch or, rarely, at the University of Rochester). If I were less responsible, I just shot in the dark (against my nature, at least the greater part of it). Having narrowed the field one way or the other, I compiled 3-5 poems in Word document batches according to style or content. Then, usually during school vacations, I filled our large dining room table with the printed-out batches, placed cover letters atop them, folded SASEs for responses and return of manuscripts, and then stuffed stamped envelopes with the lot, and hauled the bundle to the post office. A few months later the rejections rolled in, and I would repeat the process over the next school break. My wife told me she had heard of a poet who kept his batches in a cubby he had inherited from a local post office, and as soon as a rejection came in sent out a new batch, but I never got that organized. In those days, few journals accepted simultaneous submissions, so the cycle was slow. As those of you know, now the process is much easier. Go to the website of the journal you hope will be interested in your work, read a few sample poems to see if it is a good fit, click the "Submit" link, and upload your work. Most sites have some kind of submission manager, such as Submittable, to help you keep track of your submissions. Some use the Ur-submission manager, Devin Emke's "Submission Manager," that all presses accepting work online used to use, and that now only a few, such as Cider Press Review, still do. Maybe they've invested too many of their few dollars and precious time to move over to Submittable, which most journals use, or maybe they're just very nostalgic. Some, such as Diode, still accept work only through email. And some very respectable journals, such as The Southern Review, still rely on the post office, which probably narrows the field to those who are really serious -- or who can't deal with the computer. Though the process is easier, it doesn't necessarily mean one's chances of getting a poem or story published is much greater. There's a proliferation of online poetry journals, and more people seeking publication for poetry than fifty years ago. Presumably the same problem exists now as did then: more people writing poetry than reading it, but at least online publishing makes it easier for people to access creative work, as noted in Stephanie Burt's 2015 article in the New Yorker, "The Persistence of Lit Mags." Regardless of success, I don't write to get published. Several times in my life I've given up on trying to get in print, but after a few depressed weeks of not writing, picked up my fountain pen again and started. Not to get published, but just because I couldn't help it. Of course, being back in the saddle riding towards publication does put a happy pressure on what I write -- or at least what I choose to revise -- to be clearer, wiser, funnier, and altogether more effective as a writer than if I were just fiddling with my navel in a journal. Wish me luck.    

Things I Think About

David Ruekberg 0
Things I think about wander all over the place. Perhaps you are wondering, then, on a site apparently focused on poetry (hence the URL), why I don't narrow them down to my thoughts just about poetry. In fact, I've done a lot of thinking and writing about poetry. For instance, what the difference between poetry and prose is, though after several attempts, I concluded that it was a fruitless inquiry. It's like trying to define the difference between New York and Ohio. Sure, there's a clear difference between New York City and Sandusky, but the closer you get to the border between them, the more you find they have more in common than not. I do have a fifty-page essay written for my MFA program analyzing rhythmic structure in poems by Randall Jarrell and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I also have written a lot of thousand-word annotations for the same program, and I might post some of them someday. But their focus is pretty narrow. I kind of don't think most people would enjoy reading them. As for what I do post, what does it have to do with poetry? Well, maybe not so much, unless you consider that poetry is everything. How? Andy Roberts' poem, "Sometimes I Take Becoming a Monk" (just after my poem "Vespers" in Albatross) says it better than I can: I think of Darwin as a young man crawling through the East Essex marsh on his hands and knees, storing a spotted frog in his mouth because his hands and pockets were already full. Poetry is the taste of the frog. If you object to this generalization as being too smooth, think of it in the way Richard Hugo writes about sound at the end of his essay, "Writing Off the Subject," The fact that 'suicide' sounds like 'cascade' is infinitely more important than what is being said. It isn't of course, but if you think about it that way for the next twenty-five years you could be in pretty good shape. Some of these posts are current, some were written a while ago. Some of them appeared on my previous blog, some never appeared anywhere but my computer. I've edited the posting date to show when they were first composed (as opposed to made public here). I hope that doesn't upset anyone. See the sidebar for past blog posts. Oh yeah, and none of these pieces are poems.

Praise for Where Is the River Called Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
Where Is the River Called Pishon? is published by Kelsay Books. You can purchase it from Kelsay, Amazon, or from the author directly.
David Ruekberg's poems engage the domestic and natural spheres to encounter the elemental forces that drive us: love, grief, despair and hope. “Dirt and instructions” coalesce and point to answers not given but suggested, offer “somewhere to overnight/before rain, and winter,” promise love as surrender, “and no one asking questions.” Where Is the River Called Pishon? is an irresistible book that asks to be read and read again.Pablo Medina, author of The Floating Island (poems) and Cubop City Blues (a novel), and thirteen other works, including an acclaimed translation of Lorca’s Poet in New York.

David Ruekberg's probing debut collection renders the world for readers, in many senses of the word. His poems distill experience to concrete moments of "magnolia blossom. . .Dutch Catholic schoolgirls. . .traffic's wreathed whine." They also present a world in flux. Past and present, creation and destruction coexist: a "half-world below heaven," where "the species will follow all species…it will die out"; where "The law commands the cells' bloom/in the body, light's intercourse with matter, the ions' banquet/of rust." Ruekberg marvels at it all, even at questions about the meaning of existence: "History is the ultimate act of faith. Plant an atom in darkness/and you sow a cosmos." By turns playful and solemn, the poems are generous invitations to consider the origins of life and its inevitable ends, to remember the fact that, at least sometimes, "everything murmurs and winks, as if holy."

Tracy Youngblom, author of Growing Big and One Bird a Day  

Teaching Poetry in High School

David Ruekberg 0
One day my friend and small god, Albert Abanado, invited me and a few other teachers who also write poetry to his radio show, Flour City Yawp, on Rochester's independent radio station, WAYO 104.3 FM. Al writes, "Poet-teachers Marcy Gamzon, Reenah Golden, David Ruekberg, and George Steele swing by to talk about the difficult task of teaching poetry in high schools. We cover practices, the pressures of bureaucracy, and the economic disparities that complicate it all." Al's write-up and the interview speak for themselves, so I'll let you discover them by clicking this little link (scroll all the way down to listen; the interview starts at 3:30). [caption id="attachment_442" align="alignleft" width="150"]Al Abonado Al Abonado, poetry DJ at WAYO-FM[/caption]

Waiting for the Bus

David Ruekberg 0
Today I want to complain about moms and dads who drive their kids from the house to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus in the morning.  I see this every day when I drive to work.  I’m a teacher and I live 25 miles from where I teach, and I take back roads for the first half of the commute, so I get to see a good variety of houses and neighborhoods on my way.  I wouldn’t say these cases are the majority, or numerous, or ubiquitous, but they are regular enough that I have to take notice, and my sense is that their numbers are increasing. My first question is, of course, What the hell? Before I slice these people up, I want to try to understand what might be legitimate about their practice.  First of all, it’s possible that in the winter, on a morning when all the kids (and their teachers) are praying for a snow day, because the flakes have been falling all night, or the temperature is below zero at five a.m. and the wind chill has knocked that down ten or twenty degrees more, that mom or dad would be truly concerned about their kid and sit with them in their mobile shelter with the motor running to keep them from getting frostbite on their fingers and noses which would make doing math problems and writing compositions and sniffing out the bullies difficult. I was going to include to keep their hair from freezing, as I remember mine doing after sports on winter afternoons as I walked home from the gym, but then I realized most of these kids are blow-drying their hair. But that doesn’t explain the other 170 or days of the school year. This past spring I drove by, and there they were, sealed up on a blessedly balmy morning, the sun rising outside their tinted windows, exhaust placidly streaming out of the tailpipe. This image leads me to my second forgiving supposition: that mom or dad and junior are sharing a few moments together, talking about the day ahead or just past, or about grandma’s upcoming operation, or the reason for fog, or any number of other intimacies that I have found have transpired between my step-son and me when both of us were sitting facing forward looking at the world through the screen of a car windshield. Like TV without the commercials, or the idiocy. But in that case, I think, why not have that conversation standing on the good earth, and be able to include in the experience the twittering of birds, the breeze on your cheeks, the changing light, and – if you love machines that much – the sound of cars, mine and others, whizzing by on their ways to work? Maybe mom or dad is on the way to work, and so is just taking the opportunity to warm up the car and spend a few precious moments with her or his child? But often enough I’ve seen the bus come and, as I’m waiting for the child to slowly, slowly board and the stop sign attached to the side of the yellow hulk to fold back and the red lights to stop flashing, the parental vehicle – usually an SUV or at least a minivan – backs down the driveway towards the garage, there to shut itself down and the parent to slide back into the warm cave of the home. In many cases these homes are newly built on what was just a few years ago active farm land.  In some cases the driveway between the road and garage is long, sometimes very long: ranging from  a hundred yards to a quarter mile.  These are no doubt people who have fled the dangers and noise of the city to build their 4,800 square foot dream home in the country amid the wonders of nature (the teeming goldenrod and sumac, the polecats and falcons safely distant beyond their five acre lawns), so they can expend fossils fuels at the rate of a gallon a week to drive their kids down to the road to wait for the bus. Later, to keep their kids from joining the growing epidemic of obesity and drugs and afternoon re-runs, they shuttle them off to the soccer league after school, then swing by the local supermarket to pick up some frozen oven-fried chicken, a quart of coleslaw, and a couple of two-liter Cokes to shovel in at the kitchen breakfast bar that suffices for a dining table as they hurry off to do homework or catch the latest installment of Survivor. Unfortunately, the floods of climate change won’t come to their front lawns, which are well-above sea-level. If the drought comes they won’t be affected, because the county recently ran a water line out to their house so they wouldn’t have to depend on a well anymore.  (They didn’t run the line specifically for their sakes, but as side effect of construction out to the little town on the edge of the county where the new landfill sits, a deal the town council, though not its constituents, thought was a bargain.) If Lake Ontario dried up, they might be in some trouble, but that isn’t likely to happen in our lifetimes. And, if, as predicted, this particular region becomes wetter than it already is (and grayer, which many already complain about), there will certainly be no shortage of water, and they can rely on their sump pump to keep the basement dry, and advanced artificial playing surfaces to keep the soccer fields playable. Though, Where to? would be the question. The deserts of the west are due to become dryer, and all the rain we’re expected to get here won’t help that – though there are plans afoot to pipe some on Ontario’s water out west, or even ship it to our friends in the Saudi Arabia in exchange for, you guessed it, oil to keep mom’s and dad’s motors purring. (That could shorten Ontario's useful life.) Can they make a driveway long enough or a window glass tinted enough to shut out all those contingencies?  
This rant was originally posted on my blog "Ruekblog" at poetry.restory.com (now defunct) on July 5, 2007.  

On the Necessity of Prayer and Art

David Ruekberg 0
I am thinking this morning about prayer. I had tried to meditate for the first time in a long time, and encountered the same old problem: an inability to really shut off the chatter of talk and image in my mind. It’s what frustrated me when I was twenty and seeking connection with a higher power in meditation. Perhaps it was that frustration that led me to stop seeking. Recently, I have been forced back because I had lost control over some aspects of my life. At any rate, this morning I gave up as quickly as ever trying to ignore the chatter, and tried something I have avoided since I was little: I prayed. I used words. This had the immediate effect of making me feel some of that contact which I have again, at forty, realized I need. I am not sure why this works better for me than for others; I still envy those who can clear their minds, and maybe someday I will be able to as well. Maybe it is just the way my mind works; since I am a writer, words wash through my mental landscape relentlessly. I think it must also have something to do with how everyone’s mind works. Perhaps the clearing of the mind is unnatural, though like several unnatural practices—such as writing—great benefits are derived from it. Or perhaps it is just a different mode, because certainly I have caught myself meditating without intending to. (I am referring to the Eastern idea of meditation, not the Western, in which a subject is actively explored mentally.)  There have been times when I have looked out over a landscape and puzzled about the wonder of trees, or fussed about the hunger of humankind. But there have been moments when my mind has just cleared, and I have simply looked, or better yet, been a part of the landscape, without comment, judgment, or drawing conclusions. But this phenomenon of prayer took me by surprise, until I realized that it is really a close neighbor to storying, as well as to dreaming. By storying, I mean not just the reading or telling or stories, but the constant stream of stories we create in our minds throughout the day. We are either recalling an old story, something that happened to us, or revising it (either more to our liking or less, depending on the flux of our mental health). Or we are inventing a story that has not happened, perhaps one that we wish would happen (a happy relationship), or one that we wish would not (getting mangled in a car wreck). Our imagination functions through storying. Dreams, of course, are the most obvious place in which stories come to life in our minds, and though some doubt that these are any meaningful kind of stories, others live by them. In my experience, understanding my dreams has certainly helped me understand parts of my life that were otherwise incomprehensible. I was hiding something from myself which the dream presented to me, either to my pleasure or chagrin. I think that everything we do, every decision we make must, by the nature of the structure of our thinking process, be drawn through the wash of the storymaker inside. That is why it is essential that we understand and revere that part of ourselves. It is the intermediary between ourselves and that higher power within us. Some call that higher power God or by any other assortments of names. Some believe that it exists only within as a psychological construct, others that it exists everywhere, in every object and force of nature, and still others that it exists as a King on a throne somewhere in the sky. It is impossible to prove where it exists, but whichever metaphor serves each of us in a healthy way is appropriate. I think we can never really know it directly, but only through this intermediary. The Hopis have a ceremonial figure named a kachina who acts as this sort of intermediary. In their dances are figures who represent beings on the other side of consciousness—gods, demons, unconscious elements, however you want to call it. These are sometimes frightening and always mysterious. It is the job of the kachina to mediate between those members of the shadow world, of heaven or hell, of the unconscious, and our world. To bring us rain and maybe the news from the other side. Any decision we make without consulting this helper, kachina, storyteller, or whoever, is at best a gamble. We might win or lose. The purpose of consulting with a higher power is not to ensure we win. That is why bringing myself to prayer felt at first so odd, so corny, so shallow. Too often prayer is used to ask for special favors from God, as though higher power were a kind of Santa Claus. Likewise, I was never satisfied with religious justifications for not having one’s prayer’s answered: “God works in mysterious ways.”  It is hard for me to believe that there is a divine figure playing dice at my expense, or taking time out from managing supernovas to make sure I get the Christmas present I asked for. I will take a chance here an theorize that higher power is not interested in my personal success, but in the success of life. Thus, if we consult higher power and the decision ends up going “against us,” it is not a loss. In this case we are prepared to use the experience as a learning experience because we are connected to what matters, to the core of life. If we are not so connected and we are disappointed by our “luck” then we are open to confusion, bitterness, and doubt. God is not so much a part of me as I am a part of God. Higher power is not stooping to help me; I am reaching for it. But this dichotomy is unnecessary. There is a design that I am a part of; the energy flows both ways. Therefore, getting right with myself is not only necessary for my own health, but contributes to the health of all life. This is not a grandiose sentiment, though it could lead to that. It is more like voting. My vote alone means little but, combined with the votes of all around me, can make a difference. I do my part, at the same time encouraging others to do theirs. This is another way in which the life of the imagination is critical, though it is often downplayed by our culture. Whether it is through story, poetry, art, theater, dance, or other forms of purely imaginative play, we strengthen our contact with the essential core of our being. Art is not fluff, therefore, but one of the most important endeavors of our daily living. It is our way of ensuring that our contact with God is strong. It is also important that all expressions of art be honored. Not all news from the other world comes in a bright sunny form. Sometimes things in our lives or our society are out of sync, are unhealthy, and as with nightmares we need the disturbing expressions of art to help point this out, to help amend whatever is unhealthy. Of course, some art may truly be only for shock value; perhaps this is akin to the addict abusing whatever substance or behavior that once inspired to now do harm. Alcohol may have helped someone break out of his shell, but then the sensitive personality retreated into the drug, rather than using it merely as a catalyst; or the sex addict fell into the sensual abyss, mistaking the hormonal hit for the boost of feeling connected to life. It’s hard to determine, though, if a work of art is done merely for shock value or other personal gratification only, or from the legitimate need of society to hear the cry of pain from the artist, or what degree of each. Even the artist may not be a reliable source of help on this question, though I think each of us knows when we are acting out of the self or out of communion with higher power. And maybe it doesn’t matter, since even the most legitimate expression of art will shock or dismay some while it enlightens others. Ultimately, the purpose of art is not to please, but to elevate (though it may please some to be so elevated). Thus, art becomes a kind of prayer (or whatever method of contacting the life-source one uses), a social prayer, through which a group of people may be able to contact what is best in them, in each other, in the life around them. The kachina dances. We watch, listen, join the dance. At the end of the festivities, at the end of the day we return to ourselves alone, and must ask ourselves if we are satisfied with who we are. The need to contact the power that can make us so is a daily necessity, one which we are reminded of through our social experience, our contact with others and art, through our own behavior, and through our thoughts and dreams. It is hard to avoid some kind of feedback about how we are doing, yet we often avoid it well every day. So, it can come as a shock that we have been living a life out of balance. If the shock does not come in the form of an artifact, still it will come. Nevertheless, when it does there is a force which can help us survive it.  
This piece was originally written on August 28, 2000