Several poets whose work appeared in past issues of e*lix*ir were invited by the editor of the journal to form a poetry collective to generate work for the current issue of the journal. Beginning in March, six of us met remotely on the second Saturday of each month. We gathered from east and west, across transcontinental and transoceanic time zones. The collective included YoungIn Doe (South Korea), Harriett Fishman (New York), Andreana Lefton (Tennessee), Imelda Maguire (Ireland), myself (California), and Sandra Lynn Hutchison, who convened the meeting from her home in Maine. Each month we would read new work and receive feedback on it.
As a result of our careful readings of each other’s work, we got to know one another surprisingly well over the course of only a few months. We even had a chance to celebrate the marriage of one of our members and a new home for another! Reading one another’s poetry was a marvelous way to become acquainted, and, in the process, we had many probing conversations about the purpose of language, its power and beauty.
We began our artistic explorations by discussing how we might best achieve the goal of our collective endeavor: to write poems that celebrated God’s creation. We acknowledged the challenge of doing so in an age of unrelenting environmental and social crises. How do we write the “happy endings” embodied in the Bahá’í vision even as we acknowledge the ardors of the present moment, the danger to which our earth is being subjected? How to write about these grave environmental concerns without being didactic? How to marry the language of science with the richly metaphorical language of poetry in accurate as well as moving descriptions of our earth as we know it now?
Our diverse practices and perspectives prompted many insights. We felt the shaping force of place in our poems: the Celtic influence and the voices of the south, southwest, and northeast of the United States and of southwestern Ontario in Canada. And in the work of one of our members, we became aware of the influence of the rich tradition of Korean poetry. We grew wary of the danger of being too prescriptive: “didacticism is the enemy of poetry” was how Sandra put it. We explored both the limitations and the remarkable possibilities of the haiku form; and we asked ourselves how and when traditional forms such as this one might be needed? We challenged one other to find more powerful verbs to move our poems further in the right direction.
Perhaps most important, we struggled to discover fresher, more penetrating ways to describe what we were seeing in the creation — “deep seeing,” as Sandra called it. We saw that even the most insignificant elements of nature — the earthworm, for example — could be celebrated in poetry, that a description of the symbiotic relationships among trees could be technically accurate and still poetic, and that imagery drawn from the world of technology could be skillfully integrated into a pastoral poem. We considered how, when, and also if texts from the Bahá’í Writings should be included in a poem.
Writing in a poetry collective whose shared goal was to produce work on a chosen theme, was a new experience for me. Before writing this brief account of my experience, I re-read the poems we wrote and revised, and I recalled our rich and engaging discussions as we weighed words, lines, phrases, and stanzas on the scales of clarity and lyricism. My poems were better for this scrutiny. As for the process, I felt warmth, comradery and a sense of shared purpose.
Perhaps poetry is the language of the future? A powerful poem can speak to us at a deeper level than can ordinary speech. Through it, we can experience life in a way we might not otherwise. Through the poem, a new reality is generated: a vision shared by poet and reader. Humility, respect, and awareness of the rich possibilities of language — these were the hallmarks of our collective experience; and these are, I believe, the very qualities writers must cultivate if they are to generate art that uplifts the human spirit and transforms the world.