Poet’s Corner: The answering music

An Act of Faith
this daily push to the frigid studio
turning on the heat, starting a fire in
the old iron square-boxed stove
veteran of uncounted winters
slow warming of the flesh and psyche
as waves of heat permeate to bone
by the time the largest logs have caught
I am almost ready to begin again
the hopeful exercise of the day
what some call child’s play, 
creation, or daily art practice
like a Rumi poem, the work spreads
before me and I take it up in the
spirit of the poet meeting his lover
a patient search for just the right touch
that will animate the common elements
of objects, paint and paper
searching, reaching, entering the deep
spirit of effort to transmute the dross
of everyday into what a friend called
art with a capital “A”
by dark, the fire has lost its spark
and I move to bank the coals
storing up some heat for the night ahead
both filled and emptied by hours of work
the spirit stretched and flexed
in unexpected ways
— B. Amore
(B. Amore is an artist, writer and Founder-Director Emerita of the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Vermont. She has won sculpture commissions in the U.S. and Japan. Her published books include “An Italian American Odyssey – Through Ellis Island and Beyond,” “Art by Mexican Farmworkers in Vermont,” and “Carving Out a Dream.” Her art reviews have been published in “Sculpture,” “Art New England” and her writing in various literary journals.)
With her skilled use of words and phrases like “flesh and psyche . . . waves of heat . . . elements . . . like a Rumi poem,” this poem by B. Amore captures some essence of the creative process, that hard to explain phenomenon that anyone who has ever created something truly original has experienced. It happens when an idea or feeling meets that mysterious other. I can only think of it as a spark, or an energy out of the ethers, for it certainly involves something of the invisible. Rollo May in his classic book “The Courage to Create” called it “an encounter with an objective reality,” something of “nonbeing” that we bring into being. We tend to think of this happening within art, poetry, dance and music, but it can of course happen in science, it can happen in mathematics, in a healer’s office, or in the garden. 
Ms. Amore’s poem helps us feel some of this process by describing the entering of the creative chamber, in this case her studio. It feels like a metaphor for the body, the vessel that holds the mixing of the elements and the stirring of the fires, and which is where the ultimate encounter happens. The speaker offers up some relevant words such as “entering the deep, transmuting the dross.” Isn’t this what we’re here for, whether we are artists of life or artists with clay, words, or scientific theory? To make now and then, out of the ordinary, something extraordinary.
An aspect of the creative encounter that I love is that it is not about will-power or about thinking. It is about emptying oneself of pre-conceived thought so to be fully open to what else might be wanting to come. May wrote “It requires a nimbleness, a fine-honed sensitivity in order to let one’s self be the vehicle of whatever vision may emerge.” He said this is, in fact, the very opposite of willpower. 
So I think of Einstein studying particles of light and letting his mind open to its endless acres of imagination. Of Emily Dickinson rising every night at 3 a.m. so as not to miss the energies that only darkness carries. Of Rodin who worked with a keen eye toward that spark he felt so necessary “before making a fire.” All of these figures knew the richness of the invisible world. It takes intensity of focus and attention, and a willingness, as the speaker in our poem writes, “to bank the coals storing up heat for the night ahead.” These words speak to the discipline necessary for honing one’s craft through serious practice, so when the moment comes, they are able to bring it into form. To coax it out of “nonbeing” and into “being.” We get a wonderful sense in Ms. Amore’s poem, of this very thing.
Call it an encounter with a capital E. Call it a hop and a skip along the mind’s neural pathways, or a spiritual or quantum leap. It is, in the words of the ancient Chinese poet Lu Chi, what we find when we “knock on silence for an answering music.” It is available to each of us on some level, if we choose to allow it. 
Susan Jefts is a poet and educator living in Cornwall, whose work has been published throughout the country. She is currently working on a book of poetry and will be offering workshops this spring using the poetry of Rumi and other ancient poets to explore our lives and what we feel called to. For more info, contact her at [email protected]. Her website is www.manyriverslifeguidance.com.

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