Poetry, A Flow of Psychic Energy
Guest Editorial by Noel Monahan, Celebrated Irish Poet
Poetry for me is a flow of psychic energy where chance ideas linger and demand to be written down. Ideas flow and wherever I am and whatever I perceive enters me. In “Diary Of A Town” a long poem from one of my collections, “Curve Of The Moon”, published in 2010, I gathered scattered memories of my childhood. Some of these images were full of fog and particles of rain. I wrapped them in clouds of imagined events and turned some of them on their back and let them chase the shadows of the night. Winking stars appear / Little windows to our souls in darkness / The town’s voice quietens into the night / Inner voices of the people sing to themselves in sleep. All of this playfulness is an example of the fun you can have writing poetry.
Poetry for me brings about transformation. It is a matter of tuning into the moment and waiting. I do not create my thoughts about a field or hill, a town or people. I have them given to me. I leave myself open to whatever chances to appear. In other words, I work at dethroning the everyday ego and allow my mind to go empty. It happens in a meaningful way and has a presence and a belonging like moss growing on a ditch. The common breathing in all of us gives my lines a sense of rhythm, a natural rhythm. I feel poetry is an attempt to discover some pre established harmony. The stones in the field and by the roadside are not dead and lifeless. I console myself that all of this is not madness. I rely a lot on modern discoveries in quantum physics and the universal principle that energy is constantly changing into something else and that the observer affects what is observed as Wolfgang Pauli has stated.
Once the initial charge of poetry has started, words pop in and out of lines to shape images and I am happy at what I love to call “ Wordfarming”, my way of gathering words into clusters and shaping them into the form of a poem to be. I call it “Wordfarming” because I am a farmer’s son and I treat language like a farmer might treat the soil. I listen for the melody and colour of words. Finding the right words and shape of a poem often happens by chance. How we acquire language and words in general has always been of interest to me. I like the ideas the American Linguist, Noam Chomsky puts forward. He generally states that language grows in us in much the same way as our limbs grow and we acquire the skill of walking. For me, Wordfarming plays a major part in writing poetry. First we have the stirring of a poem. Then we have some overall notion of the shape of the poem before we find the language. Finding the language is the wordfarming: We have roots of words … meaning of words … sound of words and words growing and words dying ….
Do words grow?
Must we water them daily?
Are they close to mother nature
Or do we spray them
Do words need us?
Like the leaves need the wind
To sing their song.
Can they bloom?
And if they bloom
Have we time
To admire their colours?
Do they have stems?
Can they stand alone
Or must they always sway in clusters?
Do they have roots
Tucked away in the history of clay?
And are some seed-words
Asleep in the dark clay below
Waiting for a proper time to grow?
Are words part of us?
Part of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter?
Do words die?
And if they die
Can they come back again?
Poetry opens inquiry for me. I realise I have grown tired of the empiricism of the education system and that Cartesian philosophy of total commitment to cause and effect, the cue hitting the billiard ball and the result. Over the last three hundred years, we have lost our sense of wholeness and our sense of the mythic world. We banished our gods into space and named the planets after them. We have become too scientific, too fond of proving everything, in a world as I have already stated, that is constantly changing. Poetry has to have a much more open sense of inquiry for me and a sense of self discovery. I love to break free of the conventional way of looking at things, I love to shake hands with ghosts, hear poltergeists hammering away in the bookcase and look out for the hidden secrets in things. It is that sort of attitude that lead recently to my work on the Medieval story of “ Buile Suibhne”, Mad Sweeney, a manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy. It is a story that has fascinated many Irish writers over the ages right down to Brian O’Nolan (“Myles na gCapaillín”) in his novel “ At Swim Two Birds” and of course Seamus Heaney’s “ Sweeney Astray”. According to the ancient legend, St. Ronan banished Sweeney to the trees to live as a wild bird and he now inhabits the In-Between Realm of his imagination, awaiting redemption. The story is full of psychic energy, that energy I referred to at the opening of this essay.
You must remember I came through the Irish Education system of the 1950s and early 60s. It was a formula, a dogma and there was no place for your own thinking and certainly your own creativity. You were caught in the collective wisdom of the parish. You thought and acted as everyone did. I felt trapped as a child. I felt a great urge to escape from the chapel of my childhood in Granard. I needed new tunings, transformation and a sense of self discovery. My trip to New York in 1970 to work as a student helped me on my way. It opened doors and windows as illustrated in the poem: From Granard To New York, (“ Opposite Walls”, Salmon Publishing, 1991).
Poetry is a border zone activity. It should be life changing for the writer and the reader. The fun with poetry now is my ability to delve into something new beyond the norm and accepted modes of learning. As a poet I want to be in communication with the unconscious, bringing messages up from deeply felt archetypal levels. Poetry gives you a licence to enter the apocalyptic world where cause and effect are not prevalent. It is a beyond place, hearing colours, tasting shapes, reading smoke from the fire. Poetry is a “Staying Alive” as Neil Astley has illustrated in that wonderful anthology published in 2002. Poetry prepares me to live in a world that has changed all too quickly for my liking.
When I finish a poem the world feels brighter, more vivid and alive for me. My thoughts walk slowly back to sleep. I feel transformed, with a sense of healing and discovery. Sometimes I feel I write poetry for the great sense of relief when the poem is finished and complete.
© Noel Monahan