Embodied by Word-Music

By Merle Molofsky, with input from Gene Alexander, Paul Cooper, Karen Morris, and Les Von Losberg (the IFPE Poetry Posse)

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Over a period of several years, a group of people attending IFPE conferences discovered our poetic affinity with each other.  Enjoying the luxury of cyberspace communication, allowing us quick and easy access to each other via email, we began to informally exchange poems, and as we responded to each other’s poems we realized we were responding not only to the artistry, but to the deepest concerns of our lives.  We were engaged in a free associative process, resonating with each other’s words, music, vision, history, conscious and unconscious material constantly surfacing.  We answered poems with poems, playfully, mischievously, seriously, compassionately.  Our process strengthened our friendship, strengthened our poetry, strengthened us.

At some point in our email exchanges, Merle Molofsky addressed the others as Dear Poetry Posse, and thus the epithet originated, and lasted.  The Poetry Posse poets are Gene Alexander, Paul Cooper, Merle Molofsky, Karen Morris, and Les Von Losberg.  All of us have an abiding love of poetry and psychoanalytic process, and the first four named are practicing clinicians.  Barbara Blasdel is often included in our mailings, and she is a “presence.”

The epithet did not establish itself unchallenged.  At one point Gene Alexander, in his inimitable blend of humor, precision, and restless confrontation, wrote:  “poetry posse is a descriptor, not a name.  how about the bi-coastal fabulists?  the psychic unrealists?  post sixties returnists?  savage mentalists?”   When a poet challenges a dubbing, the result is poetry.  Perhaps indeed we are all of the above – and more.

Karen Morris says, “For me, our poetry link has sustained the expressive, dynamic unconscious aspects of psychoanalysis that is part and parcel with my ongoing personal and self analysis.  Working in this way with poems inspired by the links/dreams of others, keeps the dynamic unconscious very much alive, both technically and creatively in psychoanalysis.”

We would like to share with the IFPE community, and all else who visit the IFPE on-line journal Other/Wise, aspects of our correspondence and our poetry that best illuminate the emotional and intellectual engagement that underlies our devotion to psychoanalysis and poetry.

Gene Alexander invites the reader to join the adventure: “As you read the process of call and response, we would be interested in what you see as the unconscious themes and feelings, the derivative material, that binds our work together.”

Other/Wise has an interactive dimension, paralleling our IFPE conference style of presentation and dialogue.  Each article offers the opportunity for readers to comment on what they have read.  We welcome you to join the dialogue of our process through the Other/Wise commentary opportunity.

Paul Cooper sees our process as “commitment” rather than “devotion,” a significant distinction which raises the question of the dialectic between commitment and devotion, and again, the reader is invited to meditate on that distinction.  Paul Cooper and Karen Morris’s countertransference workshop using the Japanese poetic form of waka, offered at an IFPE conference in Pasadena, emphasized “unconscious aspects of creative process in relation to transference/countertransference dynamic.”  The Poetry Posse commitment led us to unconscious processes, involving both our creativity and our intersubjective relationships with each other, with all the attendant feelings paralleling the transference/countertransference dynamic of clinical experience.

Poetry is not as widely read as newspapers, blogs, magazines, Wikipedia….  Images of poets in the popular imagination may include a fantasy of a reclusive Emily Dickinson, hiding her poems in a desk drawer; a fanatically ranting poet, with unkempt hair and unkempt mind; political movers and shakers, inspiring an uprising and chronicling oppression; rap stars; dweebs and nerds; dreamers and lotus eaters….  Each poet faces the challenge of self-defining as a poet in what sometimes seems an impenetrable world, a world of cereal box readers and cell phone addicts, a world where people will not read the poems being written.  Poets seek community, and create their work in solitude.  I’d like to acknowledge up front that the Poetry Posse does provide validation, we validate each other as poets, we validate for each other the value of poetry, through response.

CALL AND RESPONSE

The call and response that Gene identifies and emphasizes arises in one voice, one heart, and is answered by a resonant voice, a resonant heart.  Technically, call and response is both a musical and communication sciences term.  In music, a phrase, or riff, is offered, and is answered by a phrase or riff that relates to it in musical terms, that is, harmonic, rhythmic, tonal.  Forms such as verse and chorus, and antiphonal choruses, are call and response patterns.  In human speech, call and response can be a back and forth dialogue, a Q and A, any other form of interactive give and take (in contrast to lecture and oration).  To apply this to psychoanalysis opens up a host of meanings – beginning with the process of evenly hovering attention, listening without memory or desire, creative listening.  The analysand enters an analytic relationship searching – that is the call – and the analyst responds, and interacts.  The process can be described in classical analysis terms as free association and interpretation, or more broadly as unconscious meets unconscious, or subjectivity meets subjectivity, or pilgrim meets wilderness guide, or voice and heart calls, and voice and heart responds.  The call and response takes place in language, gesture, bodily experience, emotional response (including experience of emotional deadness), and much more.

Poetry does the same.  The poem, language organized into music, feeling, and thought, calls, seeks a reader/listener.  The reader/listener receives, responds, and in that reception and response something new is created, as it is in psychoanalytic process, as two subjectivities engage in creating new modes of perception and understanding, through engagement with unconscious process.

What did we, as poets immersed in psychoanalytic encounter, create with each other?

VALIDATION AND BEYOND

To respond to a poem, either with an informed literary critique or with another poem, is a validation of the existence of a poetic self – and beyond, to an encounter and dialogue that says, we exist in a language-rich, imagery-rich, symbolic world, where we can understand each other and feel understood, an essential craving that the most self-confident, actualized being would continue to experience – and which we as poets all admit to feeling – without worry as to whether we are indeed self-confident, actualized beings, or just human beings with emotional needs.

After a period of silence, Karen Morris offered this poem December 10, 2009:

SO LIKE THINGS

Is it like those shoes
that you would never think
of leaving the house in?
Is it like kid,
or glove leather
when caught by accident in the rain–
spotted, stiff and cracking?
And what of those chic, black taffeta folds,
in the highest couture ecclesiastical modes
you’ve kept bagged and boxed beneath the bed,
take out to admire then slip back in.
And still the day comes
so much sooner than thought,
practically on the heels,
near points of pure marvel–
these are no longer new.
Is it really like that?

—  Karen Morris

Merle comments:

On reading Karen’s poem, I found myself riveted by the way Karen evoked a sense of privacy and loss, a part of the self that yearns to be expressed, a part kept hidden, yet cherished, a part that needs to be brought to light and used.  I resonated with the images, responded within by considering my own repression, my own yearning, my own vanity.  Within the intensity of my own memory and my own emotional state, caught up in a fantasy of what Karen’s poem meant to Karen, I responded to her with a poem of my own, saying “Welcome back, barefoot ballerina!  I danced with your poem, and wrote this for you.”

SHE LEARNS TO DANCE

Toes squishing in mud, she burrows, then twirls,
Mud splatters taffeta, but onward she whirls,
Copper hair glowing in bright sun-lit curls,
Little girl playing.

Toes grip flat rock, then rock back and forth,
Bare arms stretch upward, toward magnetic north,
Body springs forward, knows she is worth
The price she is paying.

Now she is cat, and downward she’s crouching,
Now she is way hip, hip forward she’s slouching,
Now she is reed, her water-roots touching.
Young maiden swaying.

Fingers entwining, two hands together,
Kneeling and bowing, not knowing whether
Her words are heard.  Among wild thyme and heather
Woman is playing.

— Merle Molofsky

In a poem to poem response, we take liberties we would not take in a psychoanalytic session.  Merle took a fragment or two of Karen’s imagery, and feet and shoes, taffeta, and leapt into her own imagery.  She moved from bagged and boxed shoes in a bedroom to the outdoors, and re-imagined the confined feet, the confined shoes, as mud-squishing naked toes.  Merle says,

For my own purposes.  And to give a gift to Karen, a response to her call, hearing her call in own way and responding to my own interpretation of the meaning of her poem.  In a session I would have stayed more experience near, more closely echoed the language the analysand used.  I would have played with the images I conjured up, and possibly converted them to something more like what the analysand would say.  Or I may have more tentatively offered an image of mine, from my own response, more as a question than a statement.  Perhaps, in a long established analytic relationship, I may indeed have wandered as afar in a call and response as I did with my poetic response.

On the cusp of the New Year,  Karen assured us of a healing New Year to come, writing,

“Peace and the softly pealing bells of midnight for a Happy New Year to All…Love, Karen,” and offered this poem:

In final moments—
imagined rough spots appear
and disappear in white drifts.

–Karen Morris

In response, Gene greeted us, called to us with a lovely, lilting, yet dark poem:

illusion

there’s no beginning.
this falling rain, fell yesterday.
what do I imagine?
the year at its end?

–Gene Alexander

In an even darker vein, still on the cusp of the 2010 New Year, Gene further called:

new year?

when I point out dark clouds
my friends remind me
of the sun
on the other side

when I complain of winter storms
they talk about
the jewel like glow
of icicles

when I note the constant rain
they point out
the small bursts
of sunshine

where, oh god,
are the pessimists
who’ll offer me
my schadenfreude?

–Gene Alexander

In this poem, Gene does not settle for his own misery.  Insisting on “misery loves company,” at least for the duration of the poem, Gene declared his desire to take pleasure in the misery of others, with the tacit implication that only by enjoying another’s suffering can one’s own be slightly mitigated.  His courage to acknowledge this all too true, all too prevalent internal experience gave us a clever, charming poem, and one, we might add, useful to have at one’s fingertips to cite in an analytic session.  This is the sort of emotional experience everyone shares, but not aloud.

Merle’s response to Gene kept up the “light touch” in exploring screaming pain, writing, “Okay, Gene, you got it.”

Life sucks.
Buncha fucks
Keep cheering me up
Whassup
With that?
Life ain’t phat.

–Merle Molofsky

And closed the e-mail message with “Life sucks.  Lotsa love.”

Les had the last word in this interchange:  “Damn, I was gonna volunteer to bring him down!”

The banter does not disguise the anxiety of an old year ending and a new year beginning, of psychoanalysts and poets, some of whom were encountering either their own health issues or the health issues of those beloved to them, pondering issues of aging and the many ills that flesh is heir to, feeling free enough to acknowledge the issues and to channel their anxiety into art.  And, in so doing, feeling free enough to be aggressive regarding their own discomfort.

Does channeling anxiety into art mean sublimation?  Is there unconscious process at work here?  Perhaps neither the anxiety nor the aggression was unconscious, and therefore, conscious guiding of impulse into craft is not sublimation.  Then what is it?

Karen, with her cultural frame of reference that includes being raised Roman Catholic and with a deep knowledge of Persian and Middle Eastern poetry and contemporary history (the turmoil in Iraq), both shook and soothed our savage breasts with this New Year “Gypsy Meditation”, gypsy being neither Persian nor Middle Eastern, but the poem evoking Persia nonetheless, with sand, gardens, and eroded city walls:

Gypsy Meditation

Through the doorway of your imagination
enter the green rectangular meditation.
Mother Christ, Pomegranate, Pelican,
move the sky around once more
inside your cosmic womb—
two turns west to east – shake loose
the guns surrounding Baghdad.

I’m just a gypsy poet who can’t soak enough
blood into sand to make one plastic bloom
as the desert bursts into flames.
Lapels remain unbloodied, without orange, paper poppies
that will never be worn for Baghdad.

Time, sand, erode city walls, as dictators do.
Keep these garden walls intact as satellite beams
or prayers that stream missiles to other’s houses—
shot through with mortal holes and mortal fire
around the world containing Baghdad.

Keep the paths straight inside my Gypsy garden,
and the pear trees blooming.
Keep one thorny stain at the center
by the wall still standing, by the well;
where we sit, mute and amazed as Lazarus
awakened from his dream of Hell.

Karen Morris

Karen took our dialogue and transposed it, took us to a new situation, not our own, and let us imagine trials and tribulations afar, let us empathize with those whose gardens were peaceful oases destroyed by the hell of war, and offered us an image of resurrection, that like Lazarus we can awaken from a dream of Hell.  Even in the depths of despair we discover hope and come back to life.

On New Year’s morning, Paul Cooper fed us:

New Year’s Morning
Fresh coffee;
Yesterday’s bread.

Paul is a master of haiku and waka, both Japanese forms, and maintained his own haiku web site for many years.  He and Karen have conducted waka countertransference processing workshops, including, as previously mentioned, at IFPE conferences.   In the dead of winter he offered us coffee and bread in the garden.  And in the tension between the freshness of morning coffee and the remainder that is yesterday’s bread, he integrated the sorrows which burden us with the potential of new awakening.  Wake up and smell the coffee!  And be sustained by bread.  We may not live by bread alone, but we feel alive in poetry.

Gene got hungry.  And shared his appetite, his gusto, his joy in life, with us:

full fridge

we start the year
with leftovers,
the fridge
full of last night’s dessert.

putting away
the silverware,
i’m already
debating:

chocolate cookies
or gingerbread?

–Gene Alexander

In this poem, Gene reminds us that yesterday’s leftovers make sweet eating, that we can savor the past, not knuckle under the pain of what’s gone before.  He acknowledges the debate is within and without and ongoing, with the colon at the end of the second verse inviting ongoing discussions – what is being debated?  Anything, everything….  The poems give value to the struggle.  And the choice between chocolate and gingerbread opens us to ongoing pleasure.

Karen responded with a poem with religious referents, religious overtones, “God at New Year’s 2010,” with a last verse that reads:

Is this what you meant?
What’s wrong with us?
Are we so confused, with too many choices?
Tell us, when it comes to you,
should we order
Gingerbread or Chocolate?

The “y” in “you” is not capitalized, but the “G” and “C” in “Gingerbread” and “Chocolate” is.  Karen offers us Eucharist, a mystical transformation straight out of Gene and Barbara’s leftovers in the fridge.

Merle felt compelled to strike an upbeat note, a defense against midwinter melancholy and New Year/Old Year intimations of mortality, by writing:

Choose Life

Snow settles like dust,
Dusk settles like winter coats,
Out of such cold, warmth.

Three thousand miles, so
Far from our snow-drifted cave,
Scent of gingerbread.

Tropical cacao
Growing bitter in sunlight—
Sweet warmth in winter.

Pray for something else
This way, that way, or my way,
Or not.  The world is still round.

Pass the cookies.  Yum.
Thank you.  Amen.  We are one.
Are poems round as the world?

–Merle Molofsky

Although Merle was riffing on food, she was riffing with a continuous series of verses each of which was in itself a haiku.

To which Paul responded with a series of haiku of his own.

Gone,
the thinning snow blanket:
up-heaved roots

Scent of gingerbread,
growing stronger, sweeter
with each step.

Sweet winter warmth
seeping through frost-etched panes:
waning sunlight.

Morning coffee:
the taste of cookies lingers
with the poet’s thoughts.

— Paul Cooper

His verses were written to be interspersed with Merle’s, truly call and response, truly a sharing of a perception of perceptions.

The call and response continued with e-mail commentary, such as this excerpt from an e-mail, sent to the group, addressing Karen:

Your response to Gene sent me back to this poem.  It is so you!  You touch on the richness of a whole world of religious tradition, in this poem and others.  You really address deity, and then you bring it so back to what matters, the us of us, who people are, what people do, back to chocolate and gingerbread, which in our secret language means friendship.  Alas that it is a language available only to us, those of us who know what Barbara and Gene had left over after an evening of friendship and communion a coast away.  But maybe not so secret, not so arcane, because chocolate and gingerbread are so emblematic of the sweet things in life, and they touch so on childhood delights.  Pass the hot chocolate while we chant, “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.”  What an emblem of safety!  The child-heart identifies with the swift gingerbread man, who is gleefully safe.  Chomp.

As the first few days of the New Year continued to unfold, and we exchanged more poetry and more commentary in our call and response pattern, Merle sent this e-mail comment:  “Gene, you have a God-sent reader in Karen.  Karen, you so get Gene.  But then again, you so get all of us.  Gene, you make us aware of how precious each moment, each event can be, if we are mindful.  And how necessary it is to be mindful.  Thank you for all your second glances.”

Being seen helps the newborn experience her/his own existence.  We are born into our existence as poets when we are read.  Yes, a mature self is aware that our core self is our center of being.  And yet — validation matters.

WHY EMBODIED?

“The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego.”  — Sigmund Freud

And the id is first and foremost a bodily id.

We learn about the essential aspects of life through our bodies, the five and more senses, the drives, our encounters with others as bodily presences with inner lives of their own.  Poetry does not have to exist on a page, as a tangible object that lasts as long as it can without moldering or burning.  Yet it can exist only as a momentary sound wave, performed, recited.  Yet someone has to see or hear the poem, or read it with fingertips as Braille.  The poem exists for a human body to perceive it.  The poem calls to our heart and soul through our bodies.  Thus in our sequence of New Year’s emails and poems, we spoke to each other from coast to coast, from varying geographical locations, from our secret gardens, to content ourselves with chocolate and gingerbread flavored with essences from foreign shores, flavoring our food and our poetry.

When Gene sent an e-mail describing an event he was at, a gathering of poets at an upscale restaurant, Paul responded with a poem,

The table is set and unsettled, food eaten,
wine drunked –burp—oops, serious discussion spilling out
meandering among magic words….oh, what fun…my envy rises,
get me to a Kleinian, fast…oh no, it’s the weekend.

— Paul Cooper

Winnicottianly playful with poetry, Paul transmuted his Kleinian envy, and all of us could share the envy and the delight.

The good breast of poetry is always full, even as the wine bottles empty.

We also are able to identify the psychosomatic foundation of our food fantasies and how they relate to our need for safety as we contemplate the wholeness of a world, a world with cacao and ginger, a world with wars.

As people in our 50’s and 60’s, we are acutely aware of signs of aging, physical changes, and physical challenges.  Much as the feminist handbook Our Bodies, Our Selves created a new self-awareness in women, aging creates an opportunity for new self-awareness in all of us.  Many of our Poetry Posse poems reflect an acute awareness of the struggles we have had, or our loved ones have had, with health issues, pain, and mobility.  And many of our poems celebrate what poets through the “ages” (block that pun!  Punt!)  consistently celebrate:  love and sexuality.

after our vision of the gods

supported by half a moon above our naked bodies,
i entered you, pleased with the knowledge
our union was blessed.

and after the vision of a thousand silver tears
flowing like the ganges down between your breasts,
i withdrew, shamed with the knowledge
that i had trespassed.

and after the vision of the hundred armed goddess
carrying the swords that cut illusion through
i lay myself down beneath the mower of souls
knowing that a sacrifice was due.

and after my blood had soaked the star filled sky
bristling with light and illuminating hearts,
i turned towards you with my last breath
and only said i’m sorry,

and after you rose and walked away
held together by the evening’s breeze
you turned back to take one last look
at what you deigned to leave behind.

— Gene Alexander

Merle says,

Imagining along with Gene a desolate, dying, and guilty soul, and the rueful sexuality embedded in the narrative, the fictional “I”, I craved an image of redemption, and offered a poem I wrote for a friend recovering from illness.  Drawing on Hindu mythology, I envisioned a sacred sexual dance with Shiva, deity of destruction and restoration.  Nataraja is a primal form of Shiva, or Shiva is an avatar of Nataraja.  Zohar means radiance in Hebrew.  Parvati is Nataraja’s consort.

Zohar Dancing the Eternal Cosmic Dance with Nataraja

Nataraja Dances for You, and You for Nataraja

Part I:  The Burning Ground

Dance the eternal dance on the burning ground,
walk on coals, discover your cool and silken feet
smiling their own rhythms as you safely cross unbound
by any dread.  The rhythm is eternal, and you keep the beat

Knowing that red hot coals, indeed, all fire
will burn away illusion, bringing sweet release
as you swirl and whirl and turn in your widening gyre
in touch with homeland earth, so clarity will increase.

Nataraja dances.  Energy in motion,
the stars, the cosmic dust, the spinning earth,
the tugging love of moon for surging ocean,
the ceaseless pulse of insight and rebirth.

Part II:  Nataraja’s Offering

Nataraja as Shiva embodies the dance,
Every step and gesture a gift to Zohar,
Abhaya-mudra, protection, do not fear,
Foot uplifted, release, your uplifting perfect chance

To beat the drum with Shiva, to create and recreate
eternal rhythms of the first pulse of becoming.
Your heartbeat, every breath, a magic thrumming
of your energy, your always emerging state

Of being held within the dance of being.
Nataraja points to earth with his lowered hand
and as you watch him point you understand
his gift of freedom, for it is refuge that you are seeking.

Part III:  The Perfect Union of Parvati and Shiva

When Shiva dances, everything becomes possible, because he imagines
the eternal flame.
The cosmos whirls with the infinite energy of the dance,
and in that flame Kali yields and cannot dance, and Parvati wins.
To dance with Shiva is liberation and romance.

Shiva lets his wild curls flow, crazy and free,
and Parvati too has hair just as free and wild.
Dance forever, dance with glee,
dance as you did when you were a child.

Shiva caught the Ganges in his hair
softening the impact as she fell,
so she could offer the waters of life, to share
with all who wished to drink.  We tell

These stories forever and anew,
of Shiva, destroyer and restorer,
so all could know the wonder that is you,
brilliant star, brilliant dancer, brilliant Zohar.

Shiva crushes the dwarf of ignorance beneath his foot,
releasing the wonder of knowledge, truth, grace,
reborn as you, sweet Zohar, are reborn at the root
as Parvati, yet still Zohar, all aglow,

Your face alive with wonder, loved by all
Who know your soul.

— Merle Molofsky

In animal awareness, Karen Morris celebrated the body electric:

Heart Again

Neither sweet nor vicious.
vicious nor sweet,
infant mind
awaits the whorl of senses–
tastes, tears down, discovers,
then implodes—
a worn look shot
to a deformed
personality,
arched or bent or bowed.

I sit,
then stand, teeter
into new first steps.
Heel rolls
in search of lost arches,
the balls in contact with earth again.
Tiny bones engage in
the spread of lowly toes
over tongue and groove–
tottering
headily,
at full steam tilt,
on-coming, on-coming,
through the crystalline air,
the sun-burst spikes,
the heart-felt heat,
that banishes cloth and skin,
to find my core.

I am alive.
I am so alive.

— Karen Morris

Paul commented,

Discovering and experiencing one’s aliveness is a beautiful and extraordinary experience.  You capture it here beautifully in the microcosm of each step in the minute awareness of sensations, as for instance, in the movement and sensations of your feet touching “tongue and groove”… as I as reader, “groove” as you speak in the “tongue” of your own heart.

Such commentary engages body to body, takes the metaphor embedded in the carpentry language of tongue and groove back into the body and the mind.  The reader responds to the bodily call of the poet’s translating sensation into imagery through language.  And the bodily ego sustains.

BODILY EGO PERSONA, REPRESENTATION OF EMOTIONAL STATES AND OBJECT REPRESENTATIONS  THROUGH THE METAPHOR OF BLINDNESS AND MUTENESS

Les Von Losberg had been working for quite some time on an extended poetry sequence, “The Blind Inamorato,” exploring the desperate gropings toward relationship of a lover  who is as emotionally blind as he is physically blind.  Les presents us with the agony of not seeing what one yearns to see.

Excerpts from “The Blind Inamorato” poem sequence:

The blind inamorato
searches for his heart’s
desire by feel, by
inference, by scent,
by intuition.  At the
rising of the sun, he
genuflects to luck;
at sunset, to persistence.

* * *

Like a criminal condemned
or a perpetually old man,
the blind inamorato
contemplates death, dying,
grief and bereavement
constantly, as if it were
the study of a novel or a play
that had a happy ending.

* * *

The blind inamorato enters
the blind maze as he emerges:
no wiser, no more skilled
or sure-foot in the dance.
Elegance eludes him, grace
as well.  He cannot tell:
his longing may belong
to heaven, may engender
hell.  All he knows surely
is that the beat goes on
and rings in his heart like
Hosanna!

* * *

The Blind Inamorato lives
in a black whole, which you
wouldn’t expect seeing him
perambulate in daylight,
hopping off curbs and cutting
corners like a kangaroo/kid
on-a-secret-mission pro;
even his aura won’t show
to what depths he’s sunk:
from his perspective, a chill
spelunker trapped in the
clammy, damp cavern of
himself with nothing but
the sound of an icy rill
to warm his wildly beating
heart and a steady drip, drip,
drip, drip as his life wears
away.

–Les Von Losberg

Les sent more than a dozen blind inamorato poems, and the Posse responded with full hearts.  Paul warmed to the second batch of poems Les sent, resonating more completely than he did at first:

Something about the emotions coming through here with more intensity…and I begin to feel the result of the ongoing build up as Blind Inamorato gradually becomes more real for me.  I think my failure to respond previously was somehow related to feeling that I was not able to make contact with Blind Inamorato, very elusive, perhaps.  But now exquisitely real and in contact, even in the depths of his dark whole [was this spelling intentional?].  Interesting paradox hole/whole.

Karen responded,

It’s very dangerous to enter these poems—even entering the reader is pulled in, drowned into his dreaming—gasping for escape from his world.  In answer to the question “what is it to be human”, I can say I feel it differently after reading these poems.  He is what it’s like to be human, this is what it’s like—and that.

Merle was moved by Les’s poems and Karen’s response, and remembered other poetry exchanges between Karen and Les.  And wrote:

Karen and Les, your readings of each other’s poems are poetry!  Your comments caused me to re-read each of the poems to follow along and discover what you discovered,…  Our Poetry Posse has led to so much treasure.  Sympathetic, resonant, affirming responses to poems we entrust to each other….  Wonderful poetry games as we bounce off each other’s poems….

But it was Gene who brought a whole new dimension of response to Les’s poetry, and reminded us of how truly interactive as poetry exchange could be.  Gene wrote:

dear les, started looking for a girl friend for the blind inamorato and came across this woman standing about on a street corner.  sorry to play match maker without his permission, or yours, but loneliness always gets me.  i probably didn’t do him a favor however because she’s a sort of dangerous type and he’s such a lost soul.  oh well, they don’t have to get it on if it doesn’t work out.

the mute ammorata

one.

the mute ammorata
is deftly thwarted
by the voice left
in the depth of her throat
you depend on her eyes
for truth and desire.
this woman whose song
won’t ever be heard.
she is only a moth
in the cave of dream.
you cock an ear
and she opens her mouth
where you hear only wind
crushing desire.
the longing of silence
in the tides of her breath.

two.

The mute ammorata
hates her silence, but of course
she loves it when she’s with you
no requirement
to quench your wanting.
no request to which she must assent.
all that she offers
is the quick of nothing,
the thrill of an absence
perverse and depraved,
the kill of nothing,
and deprivation,
the taste of her sex
and what’s not said.
and what you discover,
and what’s unspoken,
unspoken but felt instead,
a missing word
an unthought thought
like a butcher’s knife
inside your head.

–Gene Alexander

In that one e-mail Gene sent nine mute ammorata poems.  Karen responded:

Les and Gene—Finding a perfect match in real life should be so seamless—in this sense I find this pairing startling.  What a perfect match, a perfect love, I had so much hope for them except for that little problem of sensation and danger, or regression to the primitive, for lack of a better way.  The tongue in the ear as a rasp [editor’s note: referring to an image in a poem not reproduced here] is just amazing, incredible—right out of the psychotic metaphysic of the isolated infant’s world.  I don’t find her desire dangerous; it is the membrane encasing him that makes her so.  Her feminine desire is awesome-mythological, thereby vulnerable and destructive.  My mind began to unwind as I tried to follow possibilities for connection between these two.  It continually led me to black, no contact zones.  Gene, you are the port of aliveness in these places.  I don’t know how you did it.  Oh, not being a woman probably helps.

Gene’s answer brought us even closer to the shared experience of danger, of the tensions of desire and the repudiations of self in the symbolic blindness and muteness between these emblematic two, Man and Woman.  He wrote:

not being a woman, i imagine a kind of hunger no man can understand.  unlike a penis which sticks out and goes in, i imagine a vagina that gets filled and in the filling goes in itself and penetrates while being penetrated.  pretty different from being a manpenis.  but then, not being a woman, i have no real idea.  thus the mute ammorata.

Merle caught her breath and wrote, “Gene, I am startled into a new way of understanding Les’s poems because I am so startled by yours.  You both are exploring a dark terrifying aspect of love, a yearning to love and be loved and envisioning only the bleak lonely yearning.”

In a second e-mail she wrote:

And now for the main event, on not being and on being a woman.  Yeah, sure, right, hey, it’s different, kinda….  Hungry search is hungry search….  I imagine a penis saying embrace me, and a vagina seeking to embrace.  But both seek out of hunger, equally greedily.  And then, both penis and vagina are attached to a particular person, and any gender/any person can embrace and hold, can penetrate, can long, can give, can take, can plunder, can exploit, can nurture, can imagine the unfathomable other, the accessible obvious other.  Doncha think?  Where the wild things are, the rumpus is always beginning.

The intimacy of the poetic exchange fostered the intimacy of direct conversation, the willingness to address the nitty-gritty physical reality of sexuality.

THE RE-EMBODIED BODY – BODY AND SOUL, WE ARE BODIES

In another poetic exchange, Gene focused our attention on how we experience and address illness, pain and suffering, not flinching, not idealizing, not denying:

who did this?

who shaved this body made of light
down to hard white bone
and sinew, left to hobble,
filling essential space with pain?

who stole off with my dancing spirit
stored in joy within my limbs?
who left me counting, rock to rock,
across these rivers of wretched days?

unfair body!  didn’t you listen?
didn’t you hear the songs my breath embraced?
in dreams i skipped across the field
while gravity forgave me all my weight.

no blade of grass broke beneath me.
no wind that wasn’t at my back.
the sun returned me to my self,
lifting me up from a mass of years.

–Gene Alexander

Les, too, encounters what we all dread, as he imagines emotional pain associated with suffering and loss of a loved one to death:

jagged as glass, the best we can hope for

i

I want to make this hard,
to make it rasp you raw,
to hurt and gall until
it ripens like a hard,
young apple, tart
with loss, this love
I want to leave behind,
this legacy limned
anew in pain, in anguish.

ii

an easy death for me, my
selfish hope and dread—
to go first, go fast, totally
unconscious of what
transpires—while you remain,
halved in the aftermath,
hollow as a pitcher poured
out on sand, enriched—
such an awkward stone
to roll around reason—by
emptiness, by loss of hope.

iii

and if not you, then me.

–Les Von Losberg

On May, 11, 2009, Merle underwent surgery for a brain tumor that on being biopsied was diagnosed as a metastasis of lung cancer, which she had been treated for January through June 2007 (as of this writing, June 2010, she remains cancer free).  This period engendered a flurry of poetry interchanges, with commentary, which reveal the intensity of our personal connection with each other and the power to communicate deeply by turning to poetry.

We began on May 8, the day of Merle’s brain scan, just before her surgery, with a poem from Paul musing about the meaning of his daughter’s birthday, unrelated to Merle’s medical condition, of which he was not yet aware , yet serving as a springboard for an extended poetic communication.

Another Moon

Another moon rises
and with it a daughter’s birthday passes
catching me by surprise
and in the fullness of both, I realize
my emptiness.
Or, is it some sort of denial,
my neglect of passing time.

–Paul Cooper

Merle responded,

New Moon

Each new moon
is a baited hook to catch a human heart
each full moon a mirror in which we seek self knowledge
each dark moon is the rejecting gaze of a beloved.
We are moon haunted.
Perhaps the moon dreams of us.

–Merle Molofsky

Karen answered our calls,

Here I am playing
Hide and Seek
with the Moon again.
Last night she
played White Goddess—
then disappeared.
If there is a thing
to give I would give it
for one grain
from her bowl.

–Karen Morris

Paul danced with us beneath the many possible moons, riffing,

“the baited hook catches hearts,”
reflecting on midnight walls,
casting images of dancing curtains,
lovers’ shadows in the moments
between waxing and waning.

–Paul Cooper

And Gene, who resonates with darkness whether the darkness is his, or someone else’s, perhaps in this instance, Merle’s,

There’s nothing
like a
dead sphere
looking down
at
desperate humanity.

They are
making up stories
about her
just because
it’s Friday night
and
loneliness prevails.

–Gene Alexander

In many mystical and mythological traditions, perhaps revealing potentially an archetypal truth embedded in the human psyche, the moon symbolizes deep metaphysical knowing, a knowledge born of reverie and dream.  Were we linking unconsciously with our awareness of a crisis of life or death?  If we were linked in this way through a night-sky musing, we had an opportunity to be awakened into a rising sun of possibility.

On Sunday, after the Friday moon festival of the Poetry Posse, Paul celebrated the rising sun in a waka:

Slowly,
the dawn begins to rise
shrouded in mist—
perched in an unseen limb;
the songbird.

–Paul Cooper

Merle comments, “What cheered me in this poem was not only the dawn, the songbird, both harbingers of renewal and possibility, but that Paul saw not the songbird as unseen, but the limb.  There is an unseen support to count on as we greet each day in joy.”

Gene sent two new poems, one dark, one, in his e-mail subject heading, “happy”:

father

he is
a vehicle for shadows
tracing homeward
against the self serving wind.

his unsteady house
is a polio of fragile windows
and cracked shingles,
with a door lock
of stuttering mechanisms

–Gene Alexander

what makes me happy
despite the crazy gardener,
purple magnolia blossoms
cover the porch.

i give thanks
that his ladder
is too short
to reach
these high
and illustrious
branches.

–Gene Alexander

Merle’s e-mail response on Friday May 15 was a joyous response, because she identified  with the “high and illustrious branches,” feeling like death and the ravaging of brain cancer, represented by the crazy gardener, was “too short” to reach what was “high and illustrious” in her, that is, her brain, and hence, her mind.  Merle wrote, “May all happily growing purple magnolia blossoms stay safe from crazy gardeners.  Bless the exuberant blossoms, and bless Gene for seeing them and preserving them in words.  How inspiring.”  Reflecting on this now, Merle says,

I had the distinct sense, which I could call a fantasy or I could call truth, that Gene was mystically in touch with my body/soul experience, and his creativity enabled him to represent my blossoming back into health.  I assume all of this was unconscious process, not conscious.  And yet, this unconscious process was shared by all of us, and transmitted by the Muse or some such energy.

Karen’s e-mail response that same day seems to share a similar understanding as Merle’s, that is, an acknowledgment that somewhere in Dream Time we are communicating from powerful unconscious connecting forces.

She wrote, “This is a very mysterious poem!  I’m so grateful to enter the high fields of purple magnolia’s illustrious branches, coupled with shortness and insanity after a long night [of work].  May we all dream in Magnolia time.”

Gene wrote on Thursday, May 21, to Les, “I loved your poem and think of all of us writing as a kind of prayer woven about Merle and all of us as well.”  Below his message was a short poem:

the moon
back from behind the clouds
so much light.

–Gene Alexander

Friday, May 22, Merle wrote,

Winter’s buds tighten
in snowy gusts, in blizzard.

Green within, waiting,
the soul of leaf and flower
awaken yearly
in the light.

–Merle Molofsky

Paul responded,

only a fragment,
that stretches infinitely
flower and root—
beyond inside and outside
heart and sky….

–Paul Cooper

Gene responded,

a thousand dead blossoms at the foot of the cherry tree
next year sweet stone fruit

–Gene Alexander

Gene sings to all of us:

on receiving your poems

crowding
the magnolia branches
magenta blossoms.

i wake up
with your lipstick
covering my neck and face.

my envy
of the blooming tree

–Gene Alexander

This does not read as Kleinian envy.  This reads as deep soulful yearning for beauty and well-being to prevail, a yearning rooted in admiration of whatever delights the eye.

Ultimately, Les poured out his heart, his fear, his love, in a poem celebrating the mundane, because quotidian reality is life:

She sits propped up
In her hospital bed
Eating dinner with all
The oblivious
Concentration
Of a child set
Like a jewel in a
World still all right:
Consommé, a small
Green salad, an apple,
Apple juice, a roast
Beef sandwich that
I watch her slowly
And methodically
Devour.  Another
Of life’s impossible
Lessons: how a roast
Beef sandwich can
Break your heart.

–Les Von Losberg

When Merle returned home, during her convalescence she sorted through piles of papers and came up with several poems she had written during the first IFPE conference she had ever attended, the conference in Lago Mar that took place shortly after the traumatic 9/11 attack.  She comments,

Reading the poems, which I had thought of as “fragments,” not yet crafted, I remembered the shock and turmoil and agony of the attack, and the incredible feeling of security and acceptance created by the IFPE conference atmosphere.  I was grateful that the people with whom I had formed such affinities during that conference and subsequent IFPE conferences were so sensitive.  And I was grateful for the sustenance of the Poetry Posse during my immediate ordeal.

The day the gods returned remained unnoticed.
We lived mundanely; you know the details.
On the streets of commerce the dead walked among us
In our homes, golden light saturated our homely goods.
The known world pulsated with the heartbeat of the unknown.
Om rolled from the clouds to the bottom of the sea.
We bought and sold among the shadows of our great-grandmothers,
we cooked and ate drowning in the light of the divine.
We quarreled and waged war, we disdained, we tortured,
we gave birth, we taught, we made love, we  told stories,
we lived and died and Om pulsed from the ocean floor to the clouds,
and the day the gods returned was no different from the day they left,
or the days they lived among us.

–Merle Molofsky

Mirror-Gazing

Fixed and fluid images of you in your prime,
without the god-view,
the arc of your life,
the flame of your incandescent being
as beautiful in your dotage as in your dawn.

The tender ache of age spots, crumpled jowls
as elegant as when you danced the tango, age 27,
in your funny valentine briefs across the unmade bed.
Terrors of memory and of the mirror,

Unremembering mirror of the emphatic now,
sagging jaw line, wrinkled brow,
while eternal youth dreams in the roadhouse of an abandoned past.
Imagine a swimmer with a nose bleed.
Imagine sharks.

–Merle Molofsky

Cryptic message: do not translate unless instructed to do so.
Do not decode without faith.
Leaves falling, drifting past the tree of life.
Krishna playing the flute, melody breath floating the fallen leaf
back to life.

–Merle Molofsky

She tells us, “I recovered, cancer-free, sustained by love, friendship, poetry, and the depth of call and response arising from the Poetry Posse.”

Toward the middle of June, some of us found ourselves lamenting that we were in a dry period, not writing.  Merle sent poems she had written in the 1970’s, to affirm her sense of herself as still alive, a poet with something to say, and in response to what she calls “my somewhat desperate call,” Paul wrote, “I find it wonderful to be invited into your 1975 self and poetic voice.  You move in so many different directions between language, feelings, insights, questions, such a sense of wonder seems to pervade even the dark moments.”

Merle responded to Paul’s response,

What is so special about our affinity group is the depth of response.  Thank you so much.  I feel seen, heard, understood.  We share with those who don’t write poetry and who indeed may not have a mode of expression, the need to be known.  And also, because we do have a way to express ourselves, we want response not only to our deepest selves, but to the forms with which we express that deep self.”

So – please – friends – keep sending poetry, keep sharing, keep responding ….  An oasis of transitional space  in a world too often rigidly bounded by “fantasy” and “reality.”  Let us continue to stand at the water’s edge, watching the shifting outlines of sea and sand, of fantasy and reality, of “inner” self and self in the “world” and “laissez les bons temps roulez.”

Les bons temps rolled.  Gene called with a passionate, intense poem, and Karen responded.

desire, fallen to earth

this is the wanting that washes down the bone;
the eye of the owl, the deer’s great horn,
and I am dancing in a wheat filled field
my arms like willow branches in a storm,
my voice a rush in the fingered leaves.

which feather, which flight marks the place
where I have wanted,
which silent circle
above the field mice’s nest will bring a feast
to the starving heart?

i am dancing the red tail’s spiral, turning soles
to the dusty earth, head thrown back
to view the her rounding, she folds her wings
and i fall too
without a sound
upon this careless earth,
my wanting
coming up
empty
hard.

a woman to earth breaks into children,
a man, clay, stone, and shattered shale,
falls into a rushing stream.
some never rise again,
their souls too much this heavy earth,
they recede like flood waters,
brown muddy bodies,
dark, indistinguishable
from the river of men
who drown in turmoil
beside them.

in my years i am still young
and fall between
the earth and stream,
between the hawk
and sleeping bass,
between the cavern
and the cloud,
and down along my bones
desire
burns and weeps
and still goes on.

–Gene Alexander

Karen commented, “Gene, your poem ‘Desire’, particularly the trope at the end, “and down along my bones, desire…” is breathtakingly beautiful.  The sense of a fall, which is internal, is palpable and mythic.  So good to hear your voice again.”

“So good to hear your voice again” is the essence of the Poetry Posse experience.  We hear each other, we hear the essence of voice.

Plainsong

In lost season—
the twin behind
the Iron Curtain
did not hear the antiphon
of velvet antlers’ song.

What kind of beauty is this—
fails to recognize
the beauty opposite?

On the ant hill
in criss-crossed agon,
how comely-mundane
the sense of rapture—
just feeling along the way.

–Karen Morris

What is striking is that in our interwoven call and response each voice is so unique, so recognizable.  We have common concerns voiced each in our unique way, each with our own imagery, vocabulary, rhythmic sense, each with our own emphasis.  And we have individual concerns as well.  As we struggled with life and death issues, with surgeries and disabilities, with fear for ourselves and our loved ones, we comforted ourselves with each other’s resonances, and with the unending richness of language.  We reveled in our affinities with each other.  We played….

Paul calls,

How full of whiteness
this empty page at dawn,
between bird songs—
how full of possibility
the empty day ahead.

–Paul Cooper

Paul frequently writes upon arising, waka or other forms, so that dawn is frequently a Paulish  poetic trope.  His dawnings awaken dawnings in the reader, and response.

Merle’s response:

How empty the days feel
looming like blank pages
in a poorly written life.
Radiance of sunshine
awakens the hours
when Paul’s poem fills my heart.

–Merle Molofsky

Paul chirps on,

Emptiness, fullness
infinite spaces between
blank or written—
robins sing from dawn’s first edge,
sun light spreads from the cliff tops

–Paul Cooper

His zen sensibility evident in his exploration of, his identification of, emptiness and fullness, Paul gives the potential of dawn to all of us.

And we play….

We play, not without acknowledgment that bodies ache and minds sometimes totter and splutter.

yoga lesson

such stark recitals
along the bones
the lament
of muscle and joint
the definite protest
of ligaments
forced to stretch
to fit my image of this asana
as if
my body
was a cowering dog
instead of being
my master

–Gene Alexander

Paul, fully in empathy, writes, “Yikes…!   Those ligaments and bones.  I was just fitted for one of those boots you wear when you injure your foot.”  And continues, with a poem

I started a poem,
but changed my mind
muscles and joints scream for themselves
I wonder who hears them?
Not you, my friend, their cries
muffled by the screams of your own joints
…a little yoga?  Some relief?  Perhaps?
a bit of a stretch, as if to defy that imp of imps,
Impermanence.

–Paul Cooper

And since we all have achy breaky bodies, of course there would be more response:

Once I was human, then suddenly
a tumble of rubble, a collapse of stone,
a cairn overthrown,
broken to bits and kicked into a ditch.

(Footnote:  what a bitch.)

Once I could dance, leap, run, twist, walk.
Twist and shout.  Now it’s all talk.  Can’t get about.
Unless, of course, I fly.

Sky-mad hawk soars, rips through weeping rain clouds,
tears through weeping,
sinks talons into ecstasy of flight.

Sky-mad hawk has no ligaments or bones,
no flesh, no joints.  No delineation of shape,
no outline, no form.  The disembodied
scream
molds prey into ligament and bone,
launches an avalanche of stone
stretches like a yogini into a favorite rhyme
and screaming silently, defies time.

–Merle Molofsky

The reality of aging, of pain, of limitation, of injury, of a life-time of occasional or frequent mistreatment of Brother Ass, is acknowledged, and then defied, in the last two words of the poem, “defies time.”  Yes, it is the sky-mad hawk defying hawk, the sky-mad hawk that symbolizes the dangers and ravages of life itself, but if that sky-mad hawk can defy time , why not poets?  Why not all of us, at least sometimes?  How does the human spirit sustain itself in the face of what it knows, the inevitability of death, the knowledge of suffering?  We could practice Buddhism….

And we could play….

So we played:

Paul writes, “But you are ‘flying,’ soaring crane, just in a different realm.”  And sings,

riverside park,
the squeals of distant children,
skipping through clover.

–Paul Cooper

Gene sings,

a tumble of rubble

the trouble with rubble
and yesterday’s stubble
when you live on the bubble
is everything bursts

but a tumble from stumbling
although it is humbling
is better than mumbling
when everything’s cursed

–Gene Alexander

DEATH MEDITATIONS CONTINUE – WE PLAY WITH DEATH

What the Poetry Posse continued to provide for us was a community in which to play with death, to explore fantasies about death and dying without excessive “morbidity” or distracting fear.  We sang and danced with Death singing and dancing along with us.

Les wrote, “Hi, Crew, thought I’d pass these along out of the past couple of months,” the “past couple of months” referring to his abiding terror that his wife, Merle, would suffer and then die of her brain malignancy.  This awareness led to a focus on his own mortality.

The dance

The dance, like so many dances
Fraught with choice and dilemma;
Often and again, he thinks, what
are the chances?
What makes this sweet is just the fear
His only death is always near.

He thinks, why not, he would, he should,
And then again, not yet, he shouldn’t;
Learning the only lasting rule of breath
There is no disappointment left in death.

–Les Von Losberg

Hallelujah and Amen

Hallelujah!
I will not pass, pass
on, cross over, move
up, move on to a better
place, be gathered to
some bosom, get
promoted, graduate,
be raised up, or be
made one of the flock,
the saved, select,
anointed, chosen or
elect, embrace eternity,
enter into the mystery,
melt into the twilight, be
absorbed into the light,
be welcomed into any fold
or simply fade away—for
all and I will be beyond
me then.
Amen!

–Les Von Losberg

Paul responded, “Your dance with impermanence is right on!”  He cited the line, “What are the chances?”, saying, “You seem to make it clear, at least in my reading, that ultimately, there are no chances.”  The fact that Paul emphasized, “at least in my reading,” underscores the individuation involved in a call and response, and the respect for all possible readings, all possible responses.  He then quoted, “What makes this sweet is just the fear/His only death is always near,” and continued his commentary with, “This seeming paradox between sweetness and fear is beautifully expressed.  I find the zest for life, often a subject of Tibetan literature, a result of realizing that one’s death is always near!”  Paul concludes, “Lovely!  My only question: why the third person?”

Were this an analytic session, Paul would be addressing the needed defense of depersonalization in the face of contemplating one’s own death.  Yet he also would be acknowledging the immediacy of the analysand’s experience, the imaginative encounter with the unimaginable, the end of being.

Karen wrote,

Les, you have a knack for making the subject of death somehow delightful.  It’s like the Harry Potter movie when the kids learn how to make the potion gor “Living Death”—their energy lights up with new feelings of aliveness nd wonder.  These poems are really lively and funny.  Is it because they are experience distant in the third person?  I wonder what would happen if “Dance was in first person.  “What makes this sweet is just the fear/My only death is always near.”  I often wonder for me, if things are only funny, or real like death, when they happen to the other person.  ‘Hallelujah and Amen’ is perfect!  Did you work something through by dancing in the third?

Paul wrote back, “Good question, Karen, I’m wondering the same thing.”

Karen addresses Les as a poet, inviting him to tinker with the narrative voice of the poem.  And in so doing she addresses his feelings, his defensive structure, respectfully, playfully, non-intrusively.  Les’s answer is non-defensive, truthful, yet acknowledging Karen’s insight.  He writes, “I think all poetry aims for the same depth with the same unerring accuracy, and with the same intensity that the poetic ‘I’ engenders.”  He identifies the “I” of a poem as much as a construct, as much as a fiction, as any third person persona would be.  By writing about our deepest feelings, in symbolic form, we self-reveal and distance ourselves simultaneously.

We recognize in each other’s poetry that we are “working things through” ceaselessly, playfully, seriously playing with the most serious of life’s concerns.

A year later, returning from vacation, Karen sent us a long poem that embodies a profound sense of trauma:

Experiment 1882, Discovery of the Unconscious

In Nancy, France, it was raining.
I’d wished I’d had an umbrella,
I’d wished I’d had a clue about the will
And magic power.

In Nancy, France, it was not raining.
The doctors placed an umbrella on the table
And told me I was sleepy.
Feeling all wet,
I opened it up inside the auditorium
And with the red question mark
Of the parasol, covered my head.

Mother I’m hungry.  I am starving.
This green grass looks good to eat.
Mother, I am a goat.

Allow me to explain, it is not raining.
Herren Doktoren did not say why
I should open the umbrella,
But there is one on the table.
How I would love to open it
And pray for the shedding of this down-pour.
I love its canopy and the sheltered pocket,
Among all the wetness, no one seems to see.

II

The kindly face of God
Became the face of the huge
Gin-berry priest.
Let me tell you how he made Mother dance
And how he loved his beer for its piss.

“Open the umbrella”.  “Is it raining here?
How did those clothes get on the floor?”
“Open your mouth.”  He pours in another beer.

I will tell you his foul name
And the names of our churches
He celebrated in.
There is the university where he taught your sons.
I can show you each house where he buried the bones
Of the boys he tricked.
And how I sat down to table with him
And how I have hated every meal since.

In the name of the Father,
Here is my tongue, Amen.
I may even tell you his small shoe size.

I’m told he’s buried among brother Jesuits,
At peace in echoless palaces.
I would dig him up to kill him again.
I will drag him behind me, like a crazed, mourning Somalian,
Past the grave yard of my mother and father.

One last explanation, Herren Doktoren—
My name is not Nancy, it is Cassandra, prophetic daughter.
My eyes are reservoirs for pain.
I am not a goat.
I have lost Time’s flexibility—
Time, which invented me.
I live en garde, neatly insane.
As you leave the auditorium,
Please, turn off the rain.

Karen Morris

Les’s response to this poem of madness, trauma, and core of perceptive, realistic sanity, was rich and deep and detailed.  He began, “This is a very powerful poem and, with the number of interweaving threads, complex.  One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is the way you’ve used these elements to weave what I can’t characterize better on first reading but as the outline that alludes to what the poem is about.”  He questioned some of the imagery, particularly the use of Cassandra, saying, “Cassandra, the prophetic daughter of Priam…resonates with prophecy that goes unheeded.  My initial impression is not that this poem is about prophecy so much as about revelation.”  The distinction he makes is not merely a fine semantic delineation as it is about recognizing and valuing the internal state of thinking the unthought known, rediscovering the repressed, and needing to acknowledge the kernel of trauma and its’ aftermath.

Merle responded to Karen’s call by sending a short poem about Cassandra that Merle wrote years ago, and then entering the “body” of the poem through her own body.  Merle wrote,

To this woman’s ear, eye, body, sensibility, [the poem] has the impact of trauma to a female body.  Even though there is a story within the story of boys abused by

a priest, there also is a sense of something physically dangerous to the “I” who is remembering rain, and mother, and piss, and beer, and umbrellas, and boys, and gin-priest.

Karen heard the call in our response, and responded,

I appreciate every word you have shared in your responses.  I meant for the poem to utilize the “analytic invention”, or discovery via primary processes.  It was fun to use displacement, condensation, reversals, symbolization, etc., in the way an analysis works, to show the way trauma is reconstructed.  Merle, you read it just like an analysis—that’s really satisfying to me.

AGGRESSION AND PLAY

When psychoanalytically informed poets fight, the fighting makes for cheerful friendship and good poetic pickin’s.  During a somewhat innocuous exchange of poetry, Karen sent a poem called “Stop Being a Head,” clever, witty, playful, with the lines, “No one suggests that cooking these books/might be like some crooked wig/at the end of a party where you wake up/smiling a la Loren, smiling Lollabrigida–/which you ain’t.”

Paul wrote,

Be one of the eight million,
Saturday night at the movies,
lard-soaked popcorn, pop-rock, pop-zen,
chop wood, carry dog food.  Nothing special.
Friday night:
over weight women in pick-up trucks,
case of beer, carton of cigarettes,
one in each arm.
Fast food for the kids, stench of salt and french fries.
I’m good to go,
the neighbors do it.

–Paul Cooper

Merle, appreciating the joke, wrote, “Hello, neighbor, Tarnation, you know I only use the pick-up truck to transport hogs to their play dates with the other Harleys.  Eight million neighbors!  That would make some posse!”

Gene loaded his sawed-up shotgun and his sensayuma, and sent off a friendly – but loaded – diatribe “To The Coastal Denizens” from “The Redneck Institute of Beer Drinking Good Ol’ Boys (NIRNDGB)”

Dear Poetry Posse,

Although y’all will find this difficult to comprehend, we at the NIRBDGB are

sorely hurt by your characterization of us.  Not all our women are skinny little martini sippin’ pot smokin’ gals in skinny black dresses with a volume of Emily Dickinson under one arm and the commie manifesto under the other, but we do love and cherish them.  And even though our kids don’t go to after school ballet classes or sit cross legged and chant some ungodly worship to Hindu gods that carry swords and snakes and severed heads in their many hands, they do practice safe sex and football and not, as we imagine your children do, at the same time….  We do offer a diversity course for poets.  Please let us know if you would like to sign up at least 23 hours in advance (the 24th hour is reserved for six packs).

He signed his rant “Joe the Six-Pack Nebraska.”

Merle felt obligated to defend the moral righteousness of the east coast Posse members Joe the Six-Pack Nebraska was flagging as the martini-sipping east coast elite, and wrote a poem, knowing she wasn’t anywhere near skinny and was never going to wear a skinny black dress nor sip a martini:

Big leg gal writing poetry
Seems there’s something she’s trying to see
but she can’t see it yet.
Maybe she can get
a glimpse of heaven
searching in the scattered graven
images of words.
Or maybe she will see the birds
flocking in the nearest tree
then soaring off together in poetry.

Big leg gal wears black for mourning
Knows the skinny about the borning
of what comes next.  Ain’t no safe sex.
Ask Oedipus Rex.
Down, Rex.
Don’t bite the commies.
Some of them are daddies and mommies.
Some of them chant country songs—
With Harry Krishna you can’t go wrong,
ain’t I right, cowboy?
God is love message ain’t no toy.
God loves both the east and west
coasts.  Ain’t no best
coasts.  Only what we try to see
in poetry.

Merle Molofsky

Merle knew Gene was playing, and Merle felt Gene landed a hard playful punch.  And came out swingin’.  And amused Gene.  He wrote back, “figures.  I write some crap and you turn it into poetry!  sometimes the muse is an idiot who needs correction and not some lofty inspiring promise of enlightenment or love.  merle, you are a shit kicker par excellence.”  Gene is a high-flying, high-octane poet who loves lower case.

Gene reminded us that we were going to convene at the Seattle conference, to share a drink, saying, “Can’t wait to knock back a few with you.”  Merle responded, “We all practice alchemy, Gene, and knocking back a few will alchemize all of us in Seattle.  You keep talkin’ shit, darlin’, shit is its own poetry.  The Muse definitely appreciates a few laughs.”

The level of aggression fueled more love, more libido.  The poetry, and the poetry-allusive e-mail comments, epitomize the truth that libido must be stronger than aggression.  In this group of poets, there is a lot of available id impulse, a lot of aggression, tamed by powerful libido.

Paul, most likely recognizing the aggression might need a little love oil, wrote, “Anyway, here’s a traditional waka amidst all this contemporary talk….”

raindrops wet my path,
this sunless autumn morning,
or are they teardrops?
Who will know the difference
as this long deep chill sets in.

–Paul Cooper

Karen, Paul’s waka partner, waka-ized back,

who notes the difference
contemporary talk…
shit or shinola—
amidst the ceaseless, writhing,
thoughtless known, these wet leaves.

Karen Morris

Merle could not leave well enough alone.  Fired up and feisty, she wrote,

Now look what Gene hath wrought.  Karen is talking shit or shinola!  “The autumn leaves drift by my window, the autumn leaves of red and gold.”  ‘Tis the season to notice the season change.  Happy autumn equinox to all my eternally transforming friends.

Gene created a bridge:

contemporary raindrops
all decked out in ralph lauren
while the leaves, still wearing prada,
can’t deal with life’s inequities.

–Gene Alexander

Merle heeded the call:

The tracks of my tears
mingle with the leaves ground into the earth
by the frenzy of Motown dancers with no dearth
of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers.

–Merle Molofsky

And then, in a tribute to the pop music that subtly unites our sensibilities, Merle conceded that peace was possible:

Raindrops keep falling on my head
Woke up this morning with blues all in my bread.
Autumn leaves getting ready to fall
And all I can do is weep and bawl.
Let’s rake up the words and build us a fire
And when it stops raining we’ll all be much drier.
Break out the beer and grab yourself a pig’s foot
And drink a toast to anyone who can make this line scan while finding a rhyme for pig’s foot.

–Merle Molofsky

Well, maybe peace is not as alluring as fightin’ words wordplay.

Karen continued the fight:  “’And drink a toast to anyone who can make this line scan while finding a rhyme for pig’s foot.’  What relief to have been given a meaningful task for the day…thank you!…. Gene, it’s easy to mock Prada from the West Coast, but you clearly don’t understand!!!  What are they wearing there these days, “Feral Child”? – wait, I think that’s New York.”  And with the phrase beginning “Wait,” she kissed and made up.

Les took us to a whole other dimension:

Water of Life

Between shit and shinola
Hangs a row of raindrops,
Ovoid as a string of cultured
Pearls, some say; dewdrops,
Others; others still, tears shed
And yet to be shed: such is
The Invisibility of wisdom,
The transparency of truth.

Les Von Losberg

Perhaps the last word can come from the Israeli musician/composer/songwriter/keyboard player, Idan Raichel (2006), who founded the Idan Raichel project:  “Our ability to live in peace with each other depends first and foremost on our ability to accept all that is different between us.”

Poetry is one of many forces that enable us not only to accept what is different among us, but to celebrate the differences.  And psychoanalytic process is one of many forces that lead us to that insight as well.

NOTE:  The poets who contributed their poems to this article retain the rights to their own poems, including re-publishing rights.

REFERENCES

Raichel, Idan, liner notes, “The Idan Raichel Project”, Cumbancha L.L.C., Helicon Records, Helicon Ltd., November, 2006.


Merle Molofsky, psychoanalyst and poet, serves on the board of directors of IFPE, is chair of the IFPE Ethics Committee and co-editor of IFPE’s e-journal, Other/Wise. Editorial board, The Psychoanalytic Review. Advisory board, Harlem Family Institute. Member, NPAP, IEA, and HFI. Articles in Other/Wise, The Psychoanalytic Review, Journal of Religion and Health, and elsewhere. Her play, “Koolaid,” was produced at Lincoln Center.

Gene Alexander is a poet, playwright, and psychotherapist practicing (all three) in San Francisco, California. His plays have been read in Los Angeles and New York City and have also been presented at previous IFPE conferences. He is editor of the poetry journal Nine Times Down, Ten Times Up, a collection of poems written by students living in townships in South Africa. His poetry and plays can be found at Lulu.com.

Paul C. Cooper, L.P. has served as Dean of Training at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis where he is a senior member, training analyst, clinical supervisor and on the faculty. He is an award-winning author and poet. He serves on the IFPE Board of Directors and is chair of the Spirituality & Psyche Committee. His publications include: The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter (2010: Routeledge); Into the Mountain Stream: Psychotherapy and Buddhist Experience (2007: Jason Aronson) He maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Manhattan and in Westchester, NY.

Karen Morris is a NYS licensed psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan. Her paper ‘Torture and Attachment: Conscience and the Analyst’s World-Seeing Eye’, has been nominated for NAAP’s 2010 Gradiva Award for best published paper. An earlier version of this paper was read at IFPE’s 2008 conference held in Boston, MA.

Les Von Losberg has been a poet, songwriter and conceptual artist for more than 40 years. His poetry has been printed in small press publications and his artwork exhibited at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York. In October he will be making a presentation entitled “Not Your Daddy’s Murder Ballad,” in which he will both explore traditional murder ballads and sing a number of more modern (“psychoanalytically-influenced”) murder ballads of his own. Les has earned his living as an estate, business and retirement planning consultant for the past 29 years.

3 Responses to Embodied by Word-Music

  1. PAUL COOPER says:

    Merle,

    Beautifully done! Reading stirs up so many memories and new associations. So lovely to re-visit our process.

    Warm wishes

    ~P

  2. empleos en tuxtla gutierrez…

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