Through our imaginations, we extend and expand the possibilities of ideas and decisions. Having a creative practice can lead to a life that is unafraid of looking for what needs to be changed, and then changing it. When Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," he was asking us to understand how bringing new ideas we create for the world is more crucial than finding ways to sustain life under the decay of old templates.
I come from factory workers, people who work long, exhausting days. The factories disturbed me as a child because everyone seemed unhappy, and I wanted another kind of life as a writer. Very early, I observed how my family became extensions of machinery at their jobs for most of their waking hours, and the toll that took on their physical, spiritual and emotional lives.
As a teenager in the 1980s, I ran away to the city of Philadelphia to be a poet. For years I was writing, just as I had wanted to do, but there was something wrong, something I did not fully understand until 2005. At first, I thought that because I had begun my young adult life in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, I had become easily distracted and unable to focus my attention. So much of our time had been devoted to helping friends with basic things like delivering food and helping with doctor appointments. Then, of course, many visits to different hospitals, and then there were the funerals. I went to so many funerals I often conflate them in my mind. Maybe it is PTSD that robs me of my days, I told myself, but yet I had been working very hard in therapy on memories of trauma lodged in my mind and body.
My problem, it turned out, was learned and absorbed as a child by the factory workers who raised me. To cope with being extensions of machinery all day at work, they developed a technique of turning off the present, keeping their minds in the past or the future. The problem with such a mechanism is that they cannot easily switch it off after going home. When raised by people who have lost the present, it may take a long time to recognize what has happened, and then when we do we will need more time to discover a way of recovering the present, and for me, that is where (Soma)tic poetry rituals come in. When I listen to my family, they tell me of things that depress them about the past, or of what makes them fearful of the future. These rituals, as it turns out, do not just help me remain in the present to write poems, they also give me newly mindful days for investigating the world around me, wherever I find myself.
You, of course, do not have to be raised by factory workers to lose the present. As we increase efficiency, we increase brutality, and that vibration leaves no one untouched. We can reinvent our response to a given space, clearing the way for extraordinary access to the libraries of color, temperature, and time inside language. No matter who you are, if you fall into a ritual of art or writing for a week, that is all the time you need to realize there are brilliant parts of yourself waiting to be opened, released.
Creating a poem is more important to me than having written poems. From 1975 to 2005, I wrote poems through the old fashioned method of being inspired. There was no shortage of awe, and I found that the more I wrote, the more fantastic the world revealed itself to be, channeling constant inspiration into me. In 2005 I finally discovered this coping mechanism I had learned from my factory working family, a device that tended to make me as depressed and anxious as they are. Realizing the loss of the present was a crisis. It took nearly a month to develop the idea of (Soma)tic poetry rituals to anchor me in what I call an "extreme present," meaning I cannot think about anything except the ritual when I am writing inside it. The ease and simplicity of the solution gave me all I needed to realize there is creative viability in everything around me at all times.
(Soma)tics attune the mind through a steady supply of physical application, driving the language toward the Soma inside the Somatic. The rituals where the writing occurs are capable of connecting us to all consciously enacted ritualistic behavior from the past and future. To me it is the opposite of time travel, it is the halting of time, it is the collapsing of the walls separating us from where we have been, where we are going, and beyond. And this is in the best sense of the word "ritual," the ritual to find the energy lines under our feet and fire rituals to acknowledge the mysterious and fastened 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit inside every human being no matter where we live.
For the first ritual in 2005 I ate a single color of food for 7 days, and I also wore the color. At the end of the first day after eating only red food and wearing a long red wig with the right side in curls, and the left side straight, I reflected on how my attention and writing had been kept present, unlike anything I had previously experienced. I also realized that without the ritual, I would have never written that poem at any other time for any other reason. (Soma)tic rituals orchestrate the space of the writing, which has an extraordinary effect on how the language constructs itself into the resulting architecture. Any additional ingredient in the ritual, or shift of an existing ingredient will also alter the poem.
It is through our connection to ritual where the experience is horizontal, where we can imbibe with everyone living and dead and with people yet to be. The poet Robert Desnos has a line, "the living and the dead give in and wave to me." This is a place where poetry is capable of taking us, a real place where all of time is suddenly present. Rituals can reconnect us to one another and the natural cycles of life and help put an end to our alienation from the planet. Rituals for creating poems have the power to change us in ways we have yet to fully explore. I completely believe in the strength of poetry!