I. First I Smelled Poetry
I had not written poetry for more than eleven years. This is strange. I wrote the first poem when I was six being amazed with the quartz crystals and stones you could find around my grandparents summer Cape Stone House in Istria, Premantura, Croatia. There, in the wilderness of Cape Stone I spent most of Summers and Falls of my childhood. This, dreamlike preschool childhood meant so much to me, but it couldn’t last forever. One day I was folded into the school notebooks, strict rules, long instruction hours, and placed in the little room in the city, close to the tall street wall, shadowed with the giant stone medieval cathedral, whose peaks I couldn’t see, but only hear the loud bells that would terrify birds while nesting their chirping on the cement-chained cherry three that would flavor the spring musk before my small window view despite the invisible, noisy, smoky, and meaty grill-bar to the right. Behind the tree you could see the streets mazes perforated by nervous car beeps, at sunset time you could wait for a city man on a bicycle to light the old, kerosene sneaky, flickering lanterns, and at the far corner, women in the red high-heel shoes, short, short skirts waiting for the unknown drivers.
In the lonely city room with the multiple, rendering, and daunting perspectives, I was often thinking about my grandfather’s comment to my first poem: “Too many shiny words.” As his profession trained him he wanted a surgical perfection between the lines, strong metaphors, he was upset with repetitive words and nursery rhymes. I remember smoothing with grandfather poem’s sharp edges, seeding crystals in new dimensions, and polishing them from draft to draft to clear a message channel, and transform wordiness of verses into vivid images. I often asked myself had I disappointed my grandfather, but the weary worries turned to be totally wrong. After I spent a half of year in the shadow of the Cathedral new claustrophobic living place in the old building, one day my grandfather appeared with the truck load full of his world literature library and gave all of the valuable books to me. It was way too early for me to begin reading poets such as W. B. Yeats , W. Blake, R. M. Rilke, E.A. Poe, T. S. Eliot, P. Neruda, F. G. Lorca, M. Krleža, and many others.
My mother was somewhat upset, because there was no space for so many books. The debate proceeded and it was decided to store all the world literature books it in the pantry room. The effect of the pantry library was synesthetic.
Before I could understand, I smelled and tasted poetry…. The books were stored between the lines of the bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, olives, green tomatoes, caned anchovies, bottles of young grandfather’s wine, vinegar, cherry syrup, clover honey, and dried chamomile. All poetry smelled good like a plum jam, a yummy raspberries preserve and all winter homemade sanctuary baskets of Dalmatian goodies–oranges, mandarins, almonds, dried figs sparked with bay leaves and powdered with vanilla sugar. The best was the symphony of rhymes coupled with the Christmas topping that sweetly teased my palate with povitica—the poppy and walnut swirl breads that would crisscross with the poetry canon. I sneaked in the pantry library every night grabbing off-and-on a few treats from the secret room, forced myself to memorize everything that rhymed. Honestly, at that time nothing made sense too much, but it was a secret ritual for me, a connection with the world of Summer freedom time, the endless bounteous wild nature that I missed in this small room so much.
II. Early Dark Poetry
On a long run, memorizing poems had worked in a mysterious way. I remember the school teacher from my fourth grade “Poetry Forum, ” calling my mother and asking the following: “Rayka is writing the dark poetry, she comes with all of the poems about death, black roses, dark sun, etc. and I wonder if she is OK?” My poor, young mother blamed those books in the pantry room to be responsible for my oddity. Soon I was denied access to the majority of my favorite pantry library swirled bread poets. I still remember finally being able to stroll alone to the public library at the Flower Square and ask for some of the writers such as F. Nietzsche and E. von Däniken. I will never forget the librarian’s raised eye-browse wrapped around judgmental comment: “Those books are downstairs, in the adult section, are you sure you want those books?” I was so surprised to this reaction, because I tried to wear my mother’s business close and look like an adult student, but obviously the trick didn’t work and, thinking more clearly today, it couldn’t! Of course, the librarian accessed the identification library card and new my age.
III. Having Fun with Poetry
Many Summers later, as a student in Comparative Literature and Philosophy at Zagreb University, I couldn’t just study specialized courses in literature without writing poems, which I had done throughout my student years. As you could see, I regularly wrote poetry, but in another country, another circumstances, and in another language.
One of the most energetic times in my life was the year of teaching at the I. Gymnasium, the specialized high school for Humanities. Interestingly, I attended this school as a student before I became a full-time teacher there, where, oddly, I found my old professors as new colleagues. During that year of teaching, my students and I published the Book of Poetry with all our work. I didn’t teach the creative writing class officially, but students spontaneously offered to me their poetry, and we developed a group, and had great support—from the principle, school administrations, to the grants, and a larger intellectual community that I was able to pool into our project. Looking back to this experience, nothing in life works so well as serendipities and spontaneous happenings. Even today, the most precious possession I have with me is this little book with all my students’ signatures and their special thanks.
I came to the USA for a Ph.D. program in Comparative Religion, the third great filed of my study. Being busy with finishing the Ph.D. program, creating a new family, and extensive teaching I lost touch with poetry writing.
Just before Thanksgiving Day break last year I was feeling as though I had to begin writing again, but I was scared that I would not be able to express poetry in a foreign language. Besides, I discovered that I couldn’t any longer write in my native language, not using it for a long time except when talking with my family on the phone. This was a great leap for me—forgetting my native language and feeling slippery icy with the English language. No language to write poetry in inhibited in me a great fear, a shadow surrounding any attempt to even try to sit and write a poem.
IV. Earthpulse and the Shrekian Cabin in the Woods
The Road not Taken says “way leads on to way.” As usual for a busy teacher, I was researching for my philosophy class topics in new discoveries related to the artificial intelligence and problems associated with modern technology. I came across Dr. Nick Begich’s research—HAARP, mind control, brain entrainment, and his earlier book Towards a New Alchemy, that opened a craving for connecting alchemical symbolism with challenges of post-modern science. In all frenzy research, one thing that deeply struck me was Dr. Begich’s clear statement—presented in his books, and in his interviews–that when we are able to achieve the best focus similar to the state of meditation, or to fall into a creative zone mode, we correspond to the Schumman’s resonance, 7.83 Earthpulse. This curious and somewhat “mystical” fact hit me straight to the head. The years of my studies in various areas just have blended together, I have been feeling as, yes this is it—I can actually write a poem and express everything I want if I just let go of fear, and yes it makes sense to connect writing with the Earthpulse resonance. The speechless seal of timeless bonds has become clear and obvious to me. As a child I was reading and writing poetry to reclaim nature, the Summer Stone Cape wilderness, I was longing for a new upcoming Summer all the time while in the wintery and busy city. I’ve seen, it is time now to open nature to walk into my new language poetry. . .
Oddly enough, the idea of reclaiming Earth through poetry would not be possible without one more event. We, asa family, decided to buy (more like to invest little bit of edgy money for we were modest in buying a home in the city where we work) five acres in Michigan before two years ago in the remote area of the Huron-Manistee National forest, not too far from Lake Michigan, which I perceive as a fair substitute for the lost Adriatic sea. The effect of this property immersed in wild nature along with the cute, Shrekian froggy pond with a swampy area, and a tiny cabin surrounded by wild life affected our family greatly. Besides fighting the stubborn porcupine who was eating the porch steps almost to the bone, last year we spent a few months working every day hard to bring this cabin and acreage in our dream home of freedom and true life. No television for more than two months and being only in touch with nature rejuvenated all of us.
The poetic world opened the door inviting me to write… From December on, I was writing one, sometimes two poems in a week, and this was something that just poured out of me. Due to my training in the Classical, Renaissance, Modern, and Avant-garde arts/poetry, systematic philosophies, and Comparative Religion studies lots of my associations in poems are connected with those perspectives.
I am a child of a post-modern writing era, so are my poems, for which I hope will have life on their own, and would find the ways to inspire various interpretations independent of my motivations. Poems are expressions of life freedom, where the most private, personal, and almost, remote emotions are transformed through suggestive language, rhythm, images, and magic connections into a new world that has an universal semantic potential for others to participate and make out of this fabric his/her own experiences and interpretations.
V. Learning from Students: Descartes’ Scissors by Chris
Finally, some more magic tricks instigated the great change in me. Chris Leet, a student who attended last Fall my Philosophy class inspired me greatly to move on. He was one of the students who was actively participating in the class fully embracing the topic on the mind and body dynamics that thoroughly investigates all aspects of the identity construction. Chris asked me one day if he could bring his painting to the class as a part of his class presentation, warning me at the same time that the painting is huge. I will never, ever forget the moment when Chris walked in the classroom with a huge painting he named Descartes’ Scissors, which was barely able to make it through the classroom’s large door. We, as the class, spent more than an hour analyzing and interpreting the painting, finally, the whole class signed the painting because Chris stated that this painting was an image of all our discussions throughout the class. This experience was precious to me—the painting was actually all of us and our voices were speaking through his art work.
In conversations with Chris I learned that he attended this class from the local homeless shelter and that he was in the recovery drug addiction program. Thankfully, the service learning director, Ruti, a wonderful physician and a humanitarian, was able to supply Chris and other artists involved with all needs for their further art creation. Last year the Medical School service learning area was able to organize in the public library conjoint Chris’ and Jeremiah’s exhibition. Chris was at time attending my second class The Art of Being Human, and, again, the whole class participated in this amazing event that jelled the classmates together and where we were able to see the world through the prism of art–as Yury Lotman would say—“the language of life.”
Recently I reconnected with Chris and Ruti, the service learning director of the area best known Medical school, and I decided to join Chris, who now leads a project for the artist recovery program, where many of these artists are also homeless persons. I shall continue writing poems not only in a vacuum of my lonely mind-room, but with a vibrant group of people who are trying to find their way, whose sincerity matters, and harshness of their life experiences will spark an original creative expressions with meaningful reflections.
One of the segments of this blog is reserved for the poet voices coming from the recovery artist group. Some members do not have computers, but only poems and verses written in notebooks or pieces of paper. Recently I met Terry, who showed to me 187 pages of his poetry, all written with the pencil, and he has never used a computer. Those silent artists can always find a warm place here, in the Pathless Streams of Freedom Presence.
The class ringing bell rose with a new ethereal dimension the day when Chris brought his painting to our class. This was the same day when my grandfather died back in Croatia. He died in the old building, in the shadow of the cathedral towers; the pigeons fluttered from their roost. On his night stand, on a special place, stood my poem carved deep in the Stone Cape house cords, which I was able to send him a few weeks earlier. I still go back to the pantry library looming verses and crisscrossed lines of meanings while trespassing the borders of distant times and spaces. There, the feverish coughing night steps in the dark, staring at the startled lightening blast that opens the window wide. Fear clenches the scream in the throat, but your etheric oily hands on my forehead, the drop of a calm balsam on the chest, little bit of camphor mist, and a swallow of the old fashion cough syrup brings me back to sleep throughout the stormy, stone night.
Exhibition: “Finding a Voice,” 2011:
Chris Leet, “Finding a Voice” exhibit.
Finding a Voice, Omaha, NE 2012