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Posts Tagged ‘Keith Peterson’

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire . . .

Loud rush of wind.  Tongues of fire.  We have to resort to metaphor because inspiration is an experience that transcends language.  A tremor of the soul.  The evidence of our senses no longer holds.  We don’t know why or how, but we know it is true.

I deal in truth.  Come on, so do you.  Well, OK, a lot of the time the depth of truth I’m dealing in is which item on the Thai menu is best or whether it’s time for a new computer.  But most days I’m also looking for truth that makes a difference: selecting the ideal diagnostic test or best treatment course for a patient; figuring out how to respond to my Grandson’s shenanigans; choosing just the right words in time of crisis.  Different truths seem to beg for different methods:

The Consumer Reports Method: You look at various tests and evaluations, you compare the different options, weigh the characteristics of each, and you decide which suits you best.

The Angie’s List Method: You trust other people to give you an honest opinion, you take their word for it and follow their recommendations.

The Scientific Method: You start with a null hypothesis, you formulate an alternative hypothesis, you perform experiments that can prove or disprove your hypothesis, AND other researchers performing the same experiments get the same results, so that your truth is reproducible.

The Spiritual Method: You get touched, breathed into, shaken and blown away by God.  In other words, inspired.

So how did I get here?  Part of the answer is in Keith Peterson’s poem How Long Did It Take?  When he tries to identify the inspiration for a poem the search connects him to something he read a few hours ago, then to memories and events of the past 40 years.  To his whole life.  To forever.  That is literary inspiration.

I would say literary inspiration is just a subset of all creative inspiration, which is a subset of everything that inspires us to awareness.  Inspiration is what connects us to this universe we inhabit.  I call it God.  You probably know some other names.  It may transcend language, but what I do know is that sometimes I have suddenly become speechless in the presence of an overwhelming sense of love and presence.  A sense in that moment that everything is right.  I imagine God, being everything – inside, outside, all – and being in essence and totality love, is continually in the act of wooing each complex molecule and synapse and electodynamic of my person to enter more perfectly into that love.

How did I get here?  Inspiration. The breath of spirit that enters and makes alive.  Ongoing, continual, never beginning nor ending. Not some sudden apocalyptic storm of electrons in gray matter, not some mystical visitation of otherness. Just that perfect enticement, subtle and often unnoticed.  Just forever.

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little mouse
(evidence)

Listen, it’s there again,
bone tremor like a footfall
on deep moss after midnight,
not my ears that hear, my heart
feels it.  Not my eyes,

they’re closed, but light enters
like sun filtered through miles of leaves
to find earth’s one white
petal.  You want to see
a footprint, count the round toes, claws

flexed or full extension.  You would sniff
the imprint, scribble genus . . . species,
publish your theories and turn up
your nose at mine.  Can you write me
an equation for hope?  A hand

hovers above my shoulder lightly (un-)
touching.  In the domain of mice
all large things are death.  Why
am I convinced my life depends
on the one thing I can’t prove?

© 2011 Bill Griffin, little mouse, Main Street Rag Publishing

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part 2 of 2
(part 1 posted 5/26/2012)

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Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire . . .

Keith Peterson is alive for me today.  I’ve just listened to him read one of my favorite poems.  It’s just possible that I sat in the same room with him within the year before his death in 2001 – he was a well-loved member of the NC Poetry Society.  Could he have been present at the first meeting I attended at Weymouth Center around 1999?  That was before I had read this poem or ever heard his name, but since then I’ve re-read it a dozen times and wondered about its author.

I hear Keith’s voice today, his introduction, his intonation of the lines.  I picture him furiously scribbling, as he describes, in a dim cold bedroom. I feel his “4.8 on the Richter Scale,” and I suddenly imagine every writer I know experiencing that same clutch and urgency.

Experiencing that inspiration.  You know you’ve felt it yourself.  To be filled with breath, to be created new, to be made alive. When it strikes, you must write, or draw, or sing, or dance.  To do otherwise and you would cease to live.

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How Long Did It Take?

I wrote a poem once
about something I’d just read
and I recited it to a guy
who liked it a lot but asked me,
How long did it take?  And I shrugged:
Coupl’ hours, I said.

I didn’t tell him, Yeah,
two hours of standing there
freezing in my pyjamas,
leaning over the chest of drawers
in a small circle of lamplight
scribbling almost faster than I could think
before the tremor faded, only 4.8
on the Richter Scale, but strong enough
to drive me out of my house of bedclothes
into the streets to run till it stopped
which it started to do
when the first draft shaped itself,

no, it took the whole night
that began with the reading,
the pages that turned inward,
into the heat of the cauldron,
the pressure of the plates on each other,
the deliberate counting of sheep,
one hundred and twelve, one hundred
and thirteen, the two bright blanks
of the backs of my eyelids,
the wreck of the covers, the roar of the
clock racing toward daylight and,

no, it took forty years.
What the poem was about
were earlier dawns and midnights
the reading had rediscovered,
the rocks it turned over: a job,
a joke, a burial, tears of laughter
at a kitchen table, tears of relief
in a hospital bedroom, a football game
in a downpour, one telephone call
that ate fatigue, the sweet silence
of a sunrise once in the mountains,

like the first morning.  No,
it took forever.

Keith Peterson

[from Pembroke Magazine, 1966.  Collected in Word and Witness, 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Sally Buckner, editor.  Carolina Academic Press, 1999.]

Hear Keith read this poem as part of the Community United Church of Christ media series.

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part 1 of 2

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