Relax, Release, Haiku

Standard

What do you do to let off a little steam?

My day job is that of a breast oncology nurse.  No, no, it’s not depressing, not usually anyway.  While there is a ton of heartache involved, I see far more people who go on to survive and live good lives, than people who do not.  I love my work despite the challenges, and oh boy, are there lots of them.

Nursing, I like to tell people, is often more psych counseling, bolstering and cheerleading than it is actual critical clinical care.  Believe me when I tell you, it’s easy to drown in the ocean of someone else’s internal turmoil and the toll can be your own sense of inner peace…or sanity.

We nurses do all sorts of things to blow off steam.  We vent to each other when no one else can hear, cry, take long and frequent vacations (not really), threaten to never come back (before we get back up and do just that), we crack stupid jokes, pray.

Writing is my second life (or maybe my first?) and it is a great release for me.  I am surprised though, that more of my colleagues don’t have an alternate life, something that shields them from the difficulties of the job.  I don’t know the statistics, but I do know that there is a high rate of depression among nurses.

Several months ago, my clinical team took on a new, young, and frightened patient, who was desperate to control the uncontrollable, and understandably frightened about the prospect of chemotherapy.  Her anxiety was infectious and even I started to feel overwhelmed.  Helping her consumed so much time that I could hardly get to my other patients.

On one particularly challenging day, I emailed the doctor whose clinic I support.  I gave report in the form of a haiku.  This made the both of us laugh.  It’s been seven months now, and we are still haiku-ing away and we’re still getting a kick out of it.

I recognize that neither of us are producing great literary masterpieces, but we are creating and we are having fun.  The next time you’re annoyed or tired or want to vent or want to rejoice why not scratch down a haiku (or any form of poetry) and get a laugh out of it?  From time to time, I’ll be posting haiku, just for fun over at my Facebook page.  Hope you’ll check it out sometime.

Check out these two articles:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/why-poetry-should-be-more-playful/254188/

http://www.howdesign.com/how-magazine/how-may-2012/unstuck/

Divergent Artist: Interview With Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore (Part 2)

Standard

Continued from April 4th…

I stumbled upon Brother Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore’s website a couple of months ago. I watched a video of this serene man reading from a children’s book he wrote called Abdallah Jones and the Disappearing-Dust Caper.  I went on to download several samples of his poetry and watch him in an interview. I was immediately impressed by him. Both religious and spiritual, his art has such deeply moving, all-encompassing significance.  I feel compelled to share him with you all.

Through Rose Colored Glasses

4. Your poetry has an ethereal resonant quality and yet the images are concrete and grounding.  How would you describe or categorize your poetry?

Although I’d prefer to leave the categorization to others, I would love to say it is universal, connects to the hearts of all humankind, and is something of everyone’s deepest experience of living. My “mission statement,” I think, says it best, and has held up over the years when it first came to me:

For me the province of poetry is a private ecstasy made public, and the social role of the poet is to display moments of shared universal epiphanies capable of healing our sense of mortal estrangement — from ourselves, from each other, from our source, from our destiny, from The Divine.

5. Which poets/authors do you most admire and why?  Name, if possible, the artistic qualities that you have a particular affinity for.

I have always held that as poets or writers we should be globally savvy, reading everything we can get ahold of with open hungers, while also paying close attention to what has been and is being written in one’s own natural language. So if I were to list favorite poets, including such giants as Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, Rimbaud, Vallejo, Mandelstam, Blake, Dickinson, Bishop, French Symbolist Saint-Pol-Roux, Mexican master Marco Antonio Montes de Oca, and the list would go on and on, I think what matters is the heart of poetry laid bare, language at its highest, and most challenging, vision at its most musical and clear.

But I have wide, wide tastes, and always counsel young Muslim writers and poets, who might feel uncomfortably constrained (thinking it haram for example) and biased against “non-Muslim” attitudes in literature to go for the use of language and conceptual imagination in all works, and break out of simply pious or purely “devotional” literature, to reach out and be a bridge to everyone in a fresh but natural diction, taking “real life” experience as a basis, unless, of course, they particularly wish to dedicate themselves exclusively to the Muslim community, with specifically pious devotional works. I have a broad belief that everyone who uses language sensitively is somehow representing at least a facet of Allah’s Truth, as language itself, consciousness itself, is a gift from God to our souls, and when it is then gifted in beautiful works to others it is a remembrance, or dhikr of that divine origin.

Psalms for the Brokenhearted

6. My artistic and literary tastes are eclectic.  I find there is so much that is good about the many contemporary art forms.  In my opinion however, there is bit of degeneration.  As regards the written word, I think that quality is often replaced by vulgarity and immorality, so much so that it’s not only accepted but it seems to have become an expectation.  What are your opinions about this new norm? 

There has always been high and low everything, thought, foods, journeys, and of course high and low art as well. It all depends on the soul and initial intention of its practitioners. If we do things for Allah, in the most conscientious way, our resultant expression should be high. If we do things only for our nafs, our lusts, or for commercial success, then that will be the telltale and clear result of our intentions.

I have a kind of aesthetic theory, well, not a theory, but a kind of working maxim: Min Allah, Lillah, which means: From Allah, to Allah. This came to me during a recent journey to Fez, Morocco, where I read some of my poems at a Maliki Conference there, and it seems to encapsulate a Way of working… an abiding strategy. We find our origin in Allah and sing our works to Allah. And we try as much as possible to make ourselves zeros in between the divine beginning and the divine goal, both of which are Allah, as honestly as possible, largely by listening to our hearts during composition. But at the same time we must be honing and expanding and deepening our techniques to become a technician of the sacred (to use the title of a classic anthology of world spiritual texts by Jerome Rothenberg) to irradiate our words. This takes some training, to be ready at the moment of inspiration to turn totally toward the work at hand, and to go for deep listening to move along its stream.

7. Your body of work appears to be immense, if I am to judge by what I saw on our website and in your catalogue.  Is there an overall message that you consciously try to convey through your poetry?  If yes, tell me about it.

I once read a writer who was wondering what James Joyce was thinking when he wrote Finnegan’s Wake, and I could only surmise that what he was thinking was what he was writing.

The message is part and parcel of the writing itself, and to really convey it would be to write another poem. Look for Allah in everything we do, try to hear and listen for signs in ourselves and on the horizon, as the Qur’an says. Repeat the prayer of the Prophet until it is natural to us, for he, peace be upon him, is the only dhikr that Allah ta’ala also does, and is the primordial consciousness of all mankind.

AT THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

At the House of the Lord of Creation

no one is served just bread or just wine

in goblets the shape of our lives on taller

stems

No one is divided in two

but we are all invested with the

power of song and the words are

given to us in silver ewers and the

melodies are served to us by silver tongs

and they come effortlessly together

and create rolling hills of windowsills in

whose frames we see all lives as

our own and our own as

nothing but anonymous forward motion

in shades of green

At the House of the Lord of Creation

we pass the night and go instead

into crystalline areas where we

see voices as ferns in

various stages of unfurling growth

and the highest boyish voices are

the darkest while the deepest bassos

are sparkling moist elocutions of light

At the House of the Generous Host we’re

asked to want anything and

everyone is baffled

And that bafflement is His gift to us

direct

And the bread is stampeding herds in snow in

all directions and the wine is our

goblets in the Prophet’s moonlight shed on

the hills where the stampede takes place

And no one is dissatisfied with such an

outcome

And no one asks if things could be

explained any more clearly

__________________________________________________
(from In The Realm of Neither, The Ecstatic Exchange, 2008)

 

Divergent Artist: Interview With Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore (Part 1)

Standard

I stumbled upon Brother Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore’s website a couple of months ago. I watched a video of this serene man reading from a children’s book he wrote called Abdallah Jones and the Disappearing-Dust Caper.  I went on to download several samples of his poetry and watch him in an interview. I was immediately impressed by him. Both religious and spiritual, his poetry has such deeply moving, all-encompassing significance.  I feel compelled to share him with you all.

1. According to your bio, you accepted Islam in 1970 when you were in your early thirties.  What was the particular appeal?  What drew you to Islam, and Sufism in particular?

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

CHOOSING ISLAM – ONE MAN’S TALE

by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

I became a Muslim when it seemed I had already accepted Islam in my bones, as if beyond choice, and I only had to make a leap to embrace it formally. Outwardly I was content; inwardly I was coasting. My three year old theatre company was disbanded after a hilariously chaotic production for a Tim Leary Benefit at the Family Dog in San Francisco, circa ’68 – naturally, the orange juice everyone had passed around was spiked, so that the chorus members were doing the final scene in the first ten minutes – and for six months I had been typing out poetry manuscripts in my attic in Berkeley preparatory to a big publishing push.

I considered myself a Zen Buddhist, but I was other things as well. My normal routine was to get up, sit zazen, smoke a joint, do half an hour of yoga, then read the Mathnawi of Rumi, the long mystical poem of that great Persian Sufi of the thirteenth century.

Then I met the man who was to be my guide to our teacher in Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, may Allah be pleased with him. At first, the meeting was simply remarkable, and my guide a simply remarkable man. But soon our encounter was to become extraordinary, leading to a revolution in my life from which I have never recovered, and never hope to.

The man looked like an eccentric Englishman. He too had only recently come out of the English version of the Hippie Wave. He was older, refined in his manners, spectacularly witty and intellectual, but of that kind prevalent then who had hobnobbed with the Beatles and knew the Tantric Art collection of Brian Jones firsthand. He had been on all the classic drug quests – peyote in the Yucatan, mescaline with Laura Huxley – but with the kif quest in Morocco, he had stumbled on Islam, and then the Sufis, and the game was up. A profound change had taken place in his life that went far beyond the psychedelic experience.

For the three days following our meeting, two other Americans and I listened in awe as this magnificent storyteller unfolded the picture of Islam, of the perfection of the Prophet Muhammad, and of the 100 year old plus Shaykh, sitting under a great fig tree in a garden with his disciples, singing praises of Allah. It was everything I’d always dreamed of. It was poetry come alive. It was the visionary experience made part of daily life, with the Prophet a perfectly balanced master of wisdom and simplicity, an historically accessible Buddha, with a mixture of the earthiness of Moses, the otherworldliness of Jesus, and a light all his own.

The prophetic knowledge our guide talked about was a kind of spiritual existentialism. It was a matter of how you enter a room, which foot you entered with, that you sipped water but gulped milk, that you said “bismillah” (In the name of Allah) before eating or drinking, and “alhamdulillah” (Praise be to Allah) afterwards, and so on. But rather than seeing this as a burden of hundreds of “how-to’s”, it was more like what the LSD experience taught us, that there is a “right” way to do things that has, if you will, a cosmic resonance. It is a constant awareness of courtesy to the Creator and His creation that in itself ensures an almost visionary intensity.

It is hard to put forward any kind of explanation of Islam, to try to suggest the beauty of its totality, through the medium of words. The light of Islam, since it is transformational and alchemical in nature, almost always comes via a human messenger who is a transmitter of the picture by his very being.

Face to face with our guide, what struck us most was his impeccable, noble behavior. He seemed to be living what he was saying. Finally, the moment came, as a surprise, when he confronted me with my life. “Well,” he said one morning after three full days of rapturous agreement that what he was bringing us was the best thing we’d ever heard. “What do you think? Do you want to become a Muslim?”

I hedged. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard about so far. After all my Zen Buddhism, all my yoga, Tibetan Buddhism and Hindu gurus, this is certainly it! But I think I would like to travel a little, see the world, go to Afghanistan (then unoccupied), maybe meet my Shaykh in a mountain village far off somewhere.”

“That’s not good enough. You have to decide now. Yes or no. If it’s yes, then we start on a great adventure. If it’s no, then no blame, I’ve done my duty. I’ll just say goodbye and go on my way. But you have to decide now. I’ll go downstairs and read a magazine and wait. Take your time.”

When he had left the room I saw there was no choice. My whole being had already acquiesced. All my years up to that moment simply rolled away. I was face-to-face with worship of Allah, wholly and purely, with the Path before me well-trodden, heavily sign posted, with a guide to a Master plunk in front of me. Or I could reject all of this for a totally self-invented and uncertain future.

It was the day of my birthday, just to make it that much more dramatic. I chose Islam.

______________________________________________

Reprinted from Whole Earth Review, No. 49 Winter 1985

Cooked Oranges: Poems

2. After your conversion you stopped writing poetry for about ten years.  Why did you stop and what caused you to begin again after ten years?

When one has committed oneself to a teacher, or his or her preceptor or guide, submission (within one’s personal limits) is necessary to advance along that chosen Path. I did so with (now) Shaykh Dr. Abdal-Qadir as-Sufi, when he was the muqaddem (deputy) for the beloved Qutb shaykh in Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, raheemullah.

At the time of my embracing Islam I had some success with a first book of poems, Dawn Visions, and another that I wrote around that time, Burnt Heart/Ode to the War Dead, both published by City Lights Books, and my theater company of three years. I continued writing poetry according to my practice, perhaps somewhat obsessively, and at some point the muqaddem, himself Scottish and very savvy in the literary world, said I should desist from writing altogether, as well as reading all kinds of books other than the Qur’an and the Diwan, or song collection, of our shaykh.

This hiatus did last about ten years, but during that time I traveled, lived in Morocco, Nigeria, Spain, working with our growing Sufi community, and also, on the literary side, served as the English editor of a Qur’an translation done by the very renowned translator, Aisha Tarjuman, and her husband, now Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley. They, knowing Arabic, provided our work sheets, and I helped choose appropriate English lines for the verses. So in fact I honed and sharpened my literary sensibility with the highest of revealed texts, something that entered my heart and my viscera in a very deep and real way, Alhamdulillah.

After this period, still then Muqaddem Abdal-Qadir, asked me to write a novel of two parallel lives, Muslim and non-Muslim, and call it Ped-Xing, (or Pedestrian Crossing). While in Nigeria I wrote the first draft, which he then edited, and which remains in manuscript form, perhaps never to be published. A bit later I began writing poetry again, more or less because the dam broke, and out it flowed, and has been more or less regularly flowing ever since, by God’s Grace.

In the Realm of Neither : Poems

3. You published two books of poetry prior to your conversion to Islam and travels to Africa and Europe.  I imagine that time and experience and your travels greatly informed your writing.  This is natural.  As we develop and grow, so too does our art.  Specifically how did Islam inform your poetry?  Did it change your artistic focus?  In what way?

There are so many skeins that come together in the weave of a sensibility, and when a poetic project is at the center, in the widest sense of a meaningful cosmic perception of the life we live in the universe we’re in, then everything contributes to its texture. But if at the heart of us is a true submission or “turning” (or conversion if you will) to a prophetic teaching as embodied and articulated in a living saint, then things get that much deeper and richer.

Always a student of poetry, from the Beats to the French and Spanish and Latin American Surrealists, with actual friendship with many of the modern practitioners of the art, even unconsciously as it were, I seem to sieve in what’s going on around (and then inside) me.

I’ve always particularly resonated with poetry that has a spiritual core, Saint John of the Cross, William Blake, Walt Whitman, and so many of the modern poets of the San Francisco Renaissance Literary Movement, my own geographical locale, that I naturally took in with greater interest any with the tone of wisdom and enlightenment, honing my own literary self in the process. So when we first visited our shaykh in Meknes, Morocco, and heard his diwan of poetry of the Shadhili-Habibiyya Sufic Tariqa being sung night and day by his disciples, poems of spiritual counsel as well as of direct experience, based not on a literary ego but rather a long wisdom tradition of travelers, I was very affected by it as a standard and model for my own poetic path, if Allah willed that any of that truth might manifest in it, without presumption. During the time of my hiatus from actual writing, mentioned above, when I worked with translators on the Qur’an, I was given a holy gift of spending intellectual time with the revelation to mankind through the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, every day for years at various intervals, and this took hold of sensible aspects of my heart that have never left me. I can only hope that some of that light is emitted by my poetry and sensed by readers or listeners of it in its variety and totality.

Interview to be continued on April 11th.