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Welcome to the Spiritual Poetry Portal

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"Wave Garden" themes (throughout the Poetry Portal) by Dafna Mordecai

hosted by Richard Schiffman

The Spiritual Poetry Portal

where inspiration is a click away!

 

Many of us were first introduced to the inner life of the Spirit by reading great poetry in school. We caught glimpses of a deeper truth in the words of writers like Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. But most people lose touch with poetry as they grow older. While almost everyone can still remember a line, a striking metaphor or image from a favorite poem, few turn to poetry for daily inspiration in their lives.  

That’s unfortunate, because poetry offers not just delight, but wisdom of a kind that is hard to come by in our sound bite culture. Yet poems also present us with difficulties of language and interpretation that may scare many readers off initially. Moreover, a lot of contemporary writing is obscure, overly intellectual, or frankly narcissistic, and has lost its deeper connections to the spiritual wellsprings which watered the roots of poetry in the past.  

But the good news is that great poems continue to be written. And many of them are just a click away on the internet. In these pages we’ll introduce you to some of these gems, and hopefully encourage you to write your own!

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Richard Schiffman

 

My name is Richard Schiffman. I am a spiritual author and a former journalist who started writing poetry a few years back. I’m glad that I did! For me writing and reading poetry has become a meditation, a way to become reacquainted with my own deeper self. In these pages I’ll share with you some of my own recent work, as well as my reflections on “the poetry of the Spirit.” Most of all I’ll offer links to some favorite contemporary poems and poets, places where you can begin your own exploration into this rich and exciting world.

REACH RICHARD:

For communication and dialogue about The Spiritual Poetry Portal you can reach me at richschiff@earthlink.net

 

Detail from"Wave Garden, theme A"  by Dafna Mordecai

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Poetry of the Spirit-- Some Reflections

Richard Schiffman

 

There are times when words seem inadequate to convey our deeper experiences in life. How do we speak about the hush of a snowy morning, the awe we under the stars at night, or the intimacy and tenderness of first love? How much less can we express the ecstasy of a mystical awakening in which time and space collapse into the limitless awareness of Divine Presence.  

Spiritual poetry is an effort to find words for the wordless. As such, it is bound, in one sense, to fail. But, paradoxically, the effort to express the inexpressible can serve as “a finger pointing toward the moon,” in the language of Zen. That is to say, at its best spiritual poetry brings us to the edge of the Great Mystery in which we live and move. 

Spirit-filled poets have lived in all nations and periods of human history. Yet their words feel timeless, because they speak to us of what most fundamentally we are. They remind us that we are not just a body of flesh and blood moving through a world of transience and death. We are not just mental beings flailing on the puppet strings of thought and emotion. Yes, of course we are that too! Still there is something within all of us that refuses to surrender to any limited condition. There is something that still re-members its connections to the larger life beyond our skins.  

Spiritual poetry is the voice of that remembrance. It reminds us of all that we are not finally conditioned creatures at the mercy of external circumstance, but inwardly “the master of all we survey” as the poet William Cowper wrote. We are children of the Most High, sparks of the creative fire which forged the universe! “In the faces of men and women I see God” wrote Walt Whitman in his immortal American spiritual classic, “Leaves of Grass.” 

Yet spiritual poetry does not content itself with stating abstract, universal truths. It revels in the momentary and the particular. It fully honors the actual sights, sounds, persons and events of life. Unlike pure philosophy or metaphysics, poetry never loses sight of the physical creation. It uses the language of the senses to root inner experience firmly in the real world of our experience.  

Mystical verse sees “Eternity in a grain of sand. And a heaven in a wildflower,” as William Blake so memorably expressed it. And it hears a frog jumping into a pond (in Basho’s famous haiku) as a call to Timeless Presence. It also brings God down from heaven to the earth. It conceives of the Everlasting, not as some metaphysically distant ruler, or bloodless divine essence, but as the personal Beloved of the soul, as in the ecstatic devotional poetry of Saint John of the Cross, Mirabhai, Kabir and so many others. 

When we think of spiritual poetry, we often think of the great writers of the past. Amazingly, the Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, is the bestselling poet in America today! It is no accident that this 13th century mystic speaks to many people more directly and powerfully than our own contemporaries! But the unique genius of a Rumi should not blind us to the fact that he speaks of experiences and states of at-one-ment that are equally available to us today. All of us are budding Rumi's who can write poems that flow from our own experience of Spirit.

The word “Spirit” is etymologically associated with the Latin root for breath. Poetry is also a spoken art attuned to the natural rhythms of the human breath, and the still deeper and more hidden breathings of the soul. It is the natural and fully spontaneous outbreathing of the Spirit within us.

In earlier times poets were widely regarded as prophets, bards and seers, who brought down the knowledge of the gods to the human world. The essentially spiritual nature of poetic speech was understood and highly valued. As the modern world became increasingly secular and skeptical of nonmaterial reality, however, poets increasingly used their art for personal psychological exploration, the so-called “confessional poetry” which dominated much of twentieth century verse. Others, the “language poets,” reflected on the inability of speech to convey universally valid meanings.  

In many circles, nature poetry, religious poetry, humorous verse, even love poetry were frowned upon as being sentimental or naive. While the skeptical temper of the times in the academic “literary establishment” has often discouraged overt spiritual expression, many poets continue to swim against the prevailing current and create works of great depth and mystical power.  

Fueled by the explosion of poetry in new venues like the internet, email and slam festivals, there has been a growing demand for a new nonacademic poetry that speaks directly to the heart. Poetry is also increasingly being performed together with other arts like music, dance and film. Inspired voices like Mary Oliver, Robert Bly, Naomi Shihab Nye and Coleman Barks attract large audiences from outside the traditional literary world. I regard these writers as the forerunners of a new poetry of the Spirit.

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to reach Richard Schiffman, email richschiff@earthlink.net

 

Water Detail from"Wave Garden, theme A"  by Dafna Mordecai

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Richard's Poems         --        Richard's Links

                 and links to Richard's poems                                                            to other poets

Here is a sampling of my poems and links to several which are available on the internet: 

 

 

Smart Cookie

(After Wallace Stevens)  

 

The fortune that you seek is in another cookie,

was my fortune. So I’ll be equally frank-- the wisdom

that you covet is in another poem. The life that you desire  

is in a different universe. The cookie you are craving

is in another jar. The jar is buried somewhere in Tennessee.

Don’t even think of searching for it. If you found that jar,

everything would go kerflooey for a thousand miles around.

It is the jar of your fate in an alternate reality. Don’t even

think of living that life. Don’t even think of eating that cookie.

Be a smart cookie-- eat what’s on  your plate, not in some jar

in Tennessee. That’s my wisdom for today, though I know

it’s not what you were looking for.

 

 

 

Alone 

 

To you who are lost today like a needle in a haystack,

reading this poem alone. Alone, brother island,

sister moon. The ocean is big, the sky is bigger,

but no one knows your measure--

no one can say where you end

and the world begins.

 

And why talk about the world, when you yourself

are the world that contains the world--

which is alone in you, not you in it.

Can you be tender with this homeless globe

rocking it in your cradle, enfolding it with your ocean?

It is the child that you were born to cherish. This swarm

of all and everything alone in all and everything.

Only you can soothe it.

 

Brother island, sister moon, the ocean is big,

the sky is bigger. But love dwarfs all--

as the thinker is greater than his thought,

the doer exceeds her deeds, the dreamer

wilder than the wildest dreams,

the giver the biggest gift of all.

 

Therefore, pour yourself as gift--

the world’s gift to itself. But do not tell us.

That’s the point, be nameless, like the wind,

the rain, swelling the shoreless ocean,

ripping the heart’s sky open.

Until nothing remains outside it.

Or within it.

 

The heart is not a needle

in a haystack. It is the haystack--

and it was never lost.

 

 

After the Opera 

 

The curtain parts one last time

and the ones who killed

and were killed,

who loved inordinately,

who went berserk, were flayed alive,

descended to Hades,

raged, wept, schemed--

victims and victimizers

smile and nod and graciously bow.

So glad it’s finally over,

they stride off

suddenly a bit ridiculous

in their overwrought costumes.

And the crowd-- still dark,

like God beyond the footlights of the world--

rises to its feet

and roars like the sea. 

_____________________ 

*Thanks to Southern Poetry Review, Rosebud, and Sojourners for permission to reprint these poems

 

____________________________________________

 

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Detail from "Wave Garden III" by Dafna Mordecai (see entire work below)

 

links to more poems by Richard Schiffman

 

Watching the Birdwatcher, Sunglasses

http://inpossereview.com/IPR_Schiffman.htm

 

Crows and Hawks

http://www.bloodorangereview.com/v4-1/schiffman_hawks.htm

 

Clever Stalk

www.thepedestalmagazine.com/gallery.php?item=2829

 

Bullet and Memorial Day Excursion

http://ravingdove.org/richardschiffmanfall09

 

Sermon to the Trash

http://42opus.com/v9n3/sermon-to-the-trash

 

A Poem After Rumi

http://damazine.com/archives/2009_fall/a_poem_after_rumi_richard_schiffman.html

 

Inter-Animal Dialogue, Quetzalcoatl, Cloud Nation

http://www.umbrellajournal.com/spring2009/wondrous_strange/RichardSchiffman.html

 

 

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Richard's links to other poets

Art by Dafna Mordecai

 

Here are some great sites for spiritual poetry:

 

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Wave Garden I

A group of poems on the theme of gratefulness from Brother David Stendl-Rast’s fine website.

http://www.gratefulness.org/poetry/index.htm

 

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Wave Garden II

Extensive collection of sacred poetry from around the world arranged according to themes.

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/Themes/

 

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Wave Garden III

A good site for exploring Zen and Buddhist-inspired poetry, with a nice collection of quotes on the subject of poetry itself.

http://www.gardendigest.com/poetry/index.htm

 

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 Wave Garden A (detail)

Numinous: Spiritual Poetry, a webzine out of New Zealand that publishes contemporary writing.

http://numinousmagazine.wordpress.com

 

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 Wave Garden A (detail)

A nice selection of old and new poems.

http://www.panhala.net/Archive/Index.html

 

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 Wave Garden B

A selection by the poet, Jane Hirshfield of 22 of her favorite spiritual poems on the Poetry Foundation website, one of the best resources for poetry on the internet.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=178390

 

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Wave Garden B (detail)

Bill Moyers has done wonderful books and broadcasts with a variety of spiritual poets. Click on “Enjoy poetry from our archives,” to hear interviews and readings by Coleman Barks and others.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/03062009/profile3.html

 

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"Soul Excavations" (details below) by Dafna Mordecai

 

Richard's personal favorites:

 

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One of the bestselling poets in America today, Mary Oliver is a nature mystic in the tradition of Wordsworth, Thoreau and Emerson. Her deceptively simple poems praise the world and its mysteries.

http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/oliver/online_poems.htm

 

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This is a compassionate masterpiece by the Buddhist meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, Please Call Me By My True Names

http://www.allspirit.co.uk/names.html

 

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A sampling of Tagore poems, not exactly a contemporary, but one of the great masters of the mystical lyric.

http://www.tagorepoetry.com

 

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One of my favorite Jane Hirshfield poems, read by the author. Also check out some of the other videos on this page.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/hirshfield.html

 

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To hear Naomi Shihab Nye speak is a thrilling experience. She writes poems dripping with empathy, humor and spiritual insight. Don’t miss her!

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/174

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/nye.html

 

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Linda Pastan writes luminous, generally short and accessible poems. Here is a one in response to one of my favorite Whitman poems.

http://washingtonart.com/beltway/pastan2.html

 

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Some contemporary translations of Rumi by Coleman Barks and others.

http://peacefulrivers.homestead.com/Rumilove.html

 

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Former poet laureate, Californian Robert Haas creates poetry that is both meditative and sensual. He is also one of the finest and most generous teachers and essayists on poetics alive today.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=2987

 

  ____________________________________

InterSpiritual Dialogue 'n Action (ISDnA, est. 2002) & Broadband Contemplative Alliances Network (bcan.ws, est. 2004) with Brother Wayne. Multiplex Maingate is www.isdna.org; Multiplex Visitors Center is multiplex.isdna.org.   All rights reserved for original materials first published here; thanks to many associates for linked and associated materials.  ISDnA's educational partner is One Spirit Interfaith (www.onespiritinterfaith.org), ISDnA is a founding member of The Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI www.ouni.org), World Council of Interfaith Congregations (WCIC, www.ouni.org), The Coalition for OneVoice (www.coalitionforonevoice.org) and the Universal Order of Sannyasa (originally envisioned by Bro. Wayne, www.orderofsannyasa.org).  Administrator Contact kurtjohnsonisd@yahoo.com

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