Ten Poems To Change Your Life

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Friday, July 06, 2007
By Roger Housden

I picked this up on a whim while browsing an unfamiliar branch of the library. Usually seeing a title like this makes me think "Oh, really!?" (which is my polite visiting library version of OH, YEAH??? like when anyone tells me "this is the best book/movie/cd ever.") But, I pulled it off the shelf and flipped it open anyway, since that's my library/bookstore habit. The poem I landed on raised my temperature a few degrees so I decided to bring it home and give it a chance. It's been sitting around, waiting. I have so many other books waiting to be read. (in fact I just had to do a purge because I had almost SIXTY items out from the library -- about 12 of them were DVDs, but still...) Something about this one kept me from sending it back. That's disingenuous. What kept it around was the implied promise to change my life. As I've said recently (probably too many times), the past few months have been difficult. I'm trying to make big, positive changes for myself and it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. (Mostly it's the not knowing if any of this effort will make a bit of difference.) I've cried more at the drop of a hat in the past 6 months than I have in my entire life. I hate it because crying gives me headaches and I am not a dainty weeper. It gets snotty! (I realize this is extremely indulgent and that 80% of the world's population does not have the luxury of crying over stress that doesn't involve food or shelter.)

I must admit that I found many of these poems to be not only moving and wonderful in their own right, but just what I needed to read, just when I needed to read them. I would have never sought out a book about ecstatic poets on my own; in fact, if I had seen that written on the dust cover I probably would have put it back. I know some people roll their eyes at the idea of synchronicity or coincidence or whatever you want to call it, but it has happened too many times for me to dismiss it out of hand. Those crazy mystics are sometimes just the thing.

Each poem gets its own chapter, and Housden then takes them apart for analysis and a little modern spiritual spinning. More than anything the structure reminds me of Poetry Sermons with Housden at the pulpit examining THE WORD, but I don't mean that in a pejorative way. He takes the text, pulls out lines, and lets loose with his interpretations. Of course (IMHO) really great poetry leaves itself open for more than one interpretation so this is just his take on it. In my current state of Needing Reassurances, his takes are mostly comforting. (much of it boils down to: feeling crazy and out of control isn't necessarily a bad thing.) For this feelin' crazy individual, it was like someone smoothing my hair and saying it will be all right, although reminding me I may continue to feel crazy.

here are little excerpts from five of the poems:

From The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting
their bad advice---

From Last Night As I Was Sleeping, by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt---marvelous error!---
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

From Zero Circle, by Rumi

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

From The Time Before Death, by Kabir

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

So if you are feeling crazy (my friends and family are begging me to quit saying 'crazy' but 'completely neurotic' just doesn't have that zingy z zang that I get from 'crazy'), or if you are feeling like you want to read some ecstatic poets (remember, these are only excerpts and there are five others!), a little of both, or just want to read poems that have sentiments like these for reasons entirely your own, I can recommend this book.
2 comments on "Ten Poems To Change Your Life"
  1. Whoa! The bits your quote are really powerful. I can see how this book grabbed you and hung on. Or why you grabbed it and hung on.

    Maybe this:

    "I bet you'll have a series of
    epiphanies precisely because you're in an excellent mood, leading you to
    embark on a groundbreaking new phase of spiritual exploration."--Brezsny

    was prophetic?

    Hmmm. Maybe by "excellent" he means receptive?

  2. ha ha! Maybe!! I would prefer the more TRADITONAL definition of "excellent," however.


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