Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Just Pay Attention": The Practice of Writing in Place

by Kathleen Staudt (Kathy), Adjunct in Religion and Literature -- more on this on her blog at poetproph

A kind of “core text” for my teaching about poetry and spirituality has become Mary Oliver’s poem “Praying,” included in her 2006 volume Thirst and now used widely, I've noticed, in workshops and classes where people are exploring what it means to pray, and how poetry might help with this. It’s a good place to start as I reflect on the role of poetry and contemplative in my own spiritual practice, both as a poet and as a spiritual guide and companion. Oliver’s poem begins

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together, , , , , ,

Here are two things that are important both in the life of prayer and in the writing life. It doesn't matter so much what we choose to write or pray about: often it's a matter of letting the world give itself to us: “Just//pay attention”: that’s the hardest part. To slow down long enough to let what is happening around us claim and deepen our attention. To “wake up” to life, as the Sufi poets invite us to do. And then to “patch/ a few words together,” not for self-promotion, but as a prayerful response to what we are noticing.
This can happen in a contemplative journal entry, or sometimes in a poem, where the white spaces on the page, and the shimmering of the words tell me something more about what I am seeing and experiencing. This kind of writing becomes for me a way of entering into dialogue with the place I am in.

Paying attention and patching words together. This can indeed become a spiritual practice, opening, as Oliver says later in her poem, “a doorway into thanks."

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