The next four posts will be taken from the preface of “Opening Prayer,” my third book of poetry. I’ll be explaining what I’ve been trying to write over the past four decades as a poet and how the three books follow, for better or worse, the development of a spiritual career.
Over the years, two themes have emerged in my writing. The first is how we make a living — money, work, business, corporations, and everything we mean by “trade.” The second is the inner life, which in my case has included poetry, painting and a religious conversion. Their ongoing development, including their complex, uneven marriage with one another, is much of what this present book is about.
I wrote my first book, The Glass Children, when I was trying to lead the ideal writer’s life, at least my notion of what that was. I lived on day jobs and little grants, delving inward to escape relationships or any responsibilities whatsoever beyond a dedication to the page.
When I stand at the brilliant edge of the roof,
There is always the man who continues forward
Without hesitation, slipping smoothly out of my skin
And I’m lost, watching the back of his head,
His strong arms spreading open as he steps
Soundlessly over the edge.
That seemed like a kind of courage at the time, but I was trying to make a religion out of art. Why not? Like so many young writers, I wanted to astonish. Beyond that, I felt there was something at the very core of things that I could reach if I only wrote well enough. At times, transcendence made a brief appearance. The book’s last poem, “In New York the Women Are Dreaming,” served, I thought, as a grand prelude, a kind of announcement of a new life, but the poem’s energy, a feminine energy, was all the greater from being checked, contained and forced inward. The book began with an image of limestone caves and ended with an emergence not yet achieved. Art was a beautiful shell. I was listening to music I couldn’t hear.