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Trust the Ones Who Burn: How Poetry Awakens Your Heart

January 24, 2018 By Jay Ramsay
Poetry - Fire in the Heart

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.


Poetry as Impassioned Response


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.


Write from Who You Are


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. 


Poetry - Opening the Heart



from GRAVIS – new morning meditations



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,

naïve nation.

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

half-sitting still

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

the flame

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.

Wait here

for the bus that never comes

if you have the time

Wait here

for all your senses to re-align

Wait inside the breath

inside your eyes.


  1. for C.

Unity you said in the dream

with the accent on ‘u’

and I in dialogue

where you tell me the word is

complete healing

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,

becoming whole—

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 ?


The Question


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.







(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
Whiteshill, Stroud

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