In a world that is becoming increasingly unpredictable and unstable, what we need is to awaken to our own inner guidance, authenticity and courage. Although we live in an age where a journalistic mentality prevails, I believe that there is a much better way to open our hearts to our inner fire: poetry.
That is what it did for me as a mildly depressed and rather troubled teen who wasn’t at all sure what he was doing here or what he’d signed up for beyond a vague sense of duty and sustainability. Reading Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ changed all that. Few poems so effectively capture the energy of poetry, which we have perhaps lost sight of in our journalistic age: poetry as an elemental force, also of becoming in our own souls.
As Malcolm Lowry, the novelist, said many years later: ‘Trust the ones who burn’. As Neil Young more recently echoed: ‘It’s better to burn out/than to rust’. That can be a young man’s credo, too (as I’m sure he’d agree) but actually if the poem is real that fire is always there, even as we mature and age. I wrote recently about the Grenfell Tower tragedy which was all flame. The fire remains, evolving and refining increasingly into light.
It’s better to burn out/than to rust
For me poetry over the years while I have continued to complete various residencies and commissions has become increasingly spontaneous. It is what Romantic poets like Coleridge called a ‘spontaneous effusion’. Today we might say it is an ‘impassioned response’. Regardless of time or place – and our brief life-spans – poetry goes on being what it always was, just as fire is fire.
What I’ve learned is that we can write best from ‘where we are’. The difference between ordinary consciousness and poetry is that we become that much more aware of where we are by stopping and listening, looking, interacting (with news media), and remembering dreams.
Meanwhile the passion is measured in interacting with and being expressed through language, and the skill we learn in using language. Poetry is also ‘composed’ musically rather than emotionally, by awareness of its metric and rhythmic components.
it is that extra intensity of being, perception and response that makes us know we are alive
This blend of fire and words is the poem. That’s why I call it Fire in the Heart: it is that extra intensity of being, perception and response that makes us know we are alive—and this is why poetry has the profound ability, as I have seen many times in my workshops since the early 90’s, of bringing people to feel more fully alive.
Many of Jay Ramsay’s more political poems can be found here. He believed strongly that while poetry is personal in its inception, poetry in our time needs to move beyond narcissism into a real engagement with the story of our time and what it means to ‘rewrite that story’. He believed in transformation.
The thing about a charade is
that it’s a nice day
but not in this universe.
Everyone’s playing at something,
some of us do serious work
some of it seriously misguided.
A divided nation is a diverse truth:
what are we listening to ?
Things we want to be true
that are an illusion.
Naive faces lapping up rhetoric,
A needle stuck in its groove.
How do we break out into salvation ?
Clarify the argument we must refuse:
me first is my damnation.
Me first has everything to lose.
There are moments when nothing
on earth supports your activity.
You just have to sit still.
The whole ground drawing you
the tree, the spring
three notes from a jackdaw
the totality of yin
here in a winter valley
in a great house
while the world burns
in the morning rush hour.
All these drivers
wishing they could just stop the car
and get out and sing.
The tree older than the house,
the spring older than the tree
have stopped time
three times over.
Everywhere there is a navel
you can feel it. It is drawing you in,
in its silken dark vortex
to the Queendom of Yin.
All that matters to me
is you come alive
as you truly are.
Your ecstasy is your own,
it belongs to no one.
Show me the mystery
under our skin
then we will see the light
we are marrying in.
What does faithful mean ?
In this church of lovers
it is to this, and Him
and the love that leads us on
is our only freedom,
I mean the love where we know
we own no one,
the love that is
the heaven it does.
In a Zen Garden
Twenty years later, nothing changes
it is still this moment:
brown wood pavilion stained in white droppings,
grey raked gravel beyond, like a sea in lines
of tiny shallow breakers arriving in;
stones, rocks, perennials surrounding
bordered by a stone wall, and a concrete wall
roughly painted in whitewash like clouds…
The wind is the sea is the birdsong,
and the wind rising
everything has stopped here, and then your mind
this moment has not passed
and it never will—
only the light changes, brightening
like the transience of an occasional visitor
materializing and then passing on
in a cloud-cloak of atoms…
Twenty years nothing
not even a grain of sand
in the palm.
for the bus that never comes
if you have the time
for all your senses to re-align
Wait inside the breath
inside your eyes.
Unity you said in the dream
with the accent on ‘u’
and I in dialogue
where you tell me the word is
of body and mind
beyond the machine
with its trillion working parts
(beyond the dream of Descartes)
and the atheist’s illusion
that is his delusion
of reductive grandeur,
this ghost: divine order
from the eight to the sixty-four
re-opening the door
to the invisible world’s descending
luminous, numinous: witness
to a destiny and choice
forever in our making
that we don’t know we know
until we choose it—
(as we will, again).
Beyond all the parts we are,
sun, moon and stars
the love, and the rhythm of grass.
We do ethical compromise
under the guise
that it’s good for Britain
note the priorities
trade first, human rights last
turning a blind eye
as long as we ‘engage’
the Saudis get away with it
the Yemenis crucified
No wonder the rage
lives hurled against steel
achieving only negation
Lip service is in red
stand up and be counted ?
Only the great in the dream
who risked everything—
the death we will all die
into the same one question
How much did I compromise ?
That will shut you up, won’t it ?
I mean apart from the standard rhetoric
about our way of life—our precious democracy,
daily being tweaked by the elite.
Do we really have a voice ?
What does it take ?
Who is that dirty bastard with a knife
really ? A murderer, by default
by why ? He’s the rejected shadow
that won’t be denied, the hated hater
never invited by love
who will go on hating till we deign to speak to him,
and cast out his demons with our own.
And what he gave his life for ?
The silenced who have no hope, and no belonging
because we have disowned them
the people who have no vote—no life but No
and its fantasized transcendence
their Allah like heroin
where they can never be hurt again.
This is the wound raging against the light;
our only brightness is to see it
our only Christ. Until then
the Son of Man will never be satisfied.
Who is that dirty bastard with a knife ?
He’s Judas, our awakener
to a stuck polarity we can’t sustain
to an Age Unborn.
FOR JO BERRY
(and Patrick McGee)
The world will be saved by women in the West
—H.H. The Dalai Lama
He killed your father, but you forgave him.
How did you do that ? How could he do that ?
The question searing like the bomb-blast wreckage
all your inner life gathering to this moment—
these days of sleepless wondering.
You wondered, but you did not judge.
Strange days in your broken heart held you
and so you stand in front of us now
in the higher self of your beauty and your being.
You wanted to kill him, you wanted to meet him.
How did he come to be like this
a teenage lover of Martin Luther King ?
You kept wondering. No one was listening.
And in the cold shoulder of no one listening
the heart closes, the demon enters in:
peace becomes violence, people cease to exist.
The moment hangs
—the shock-wave still suspended—
you knew you had to meet him. Him, the other
as we have to meet them the world over.
There is no other way but wondering
what is it like to be you, Patrick McGee ?
The rage of not being listened to and seen,
Grenfell Tower erupting.
So finally you met him: you talked three hours,
changing him as you both changed by degrees:
a photo of you side by side, unsmiling by a breeze-block wall
dissolving in the daylight and the dark
in your heart’s deep fire and water.
Friends now; the miracle that happened still happening
and in front of us as we listen in rows
only the illusion of our difference
that is the severance in our heads.
Greater things than this shall ye also do…
he said it, you did it: our tears prove it.
Lover of truth, no other way
too late for anything less—we know—
than the heart’s own revolution.
24-26 th Sept. 2017