Thursday 26 April 2012

The Poet as Shaman

Marks on wood work like magic symbols, signs of an essential communion with the natural world. This week I was among the trees and all the living things that continue to exist despite my lack of care for them. I came across some marks on trees and felt myself join with the energy these marks created. I began to think of the changes they made in me and how these changes might relate to the mark-maker/poet as unwitting

The shaman enters into the world of birds, of insects, of tiny beasts, into the field of collective human suffering where an individual’s pain might have its root, connecting with it through songs and chants and symbols, adjusting patterns and removing obstacles in order to bring back healing.

When my friend Geof Huth performed a poemsong at the Text Festival in Bury exactly a year ago this weekend, I thought he was a shaman. He sang into the collective energy of the room and, somehow, altered it. How this works at an atomic or subatomic level is beyond me, but I do know how it affected my body, and, more than that, how his song reached beyond my body’s physicality to a more subtle level of being where I might have found myself interacting with the memories of the room and everyone in it. His song transformed the room, altered the mind of each individual, and by extension, the families and communities those individuals belonged to.

This adjustment, this ability to heal and transform makes every poet potentially a shaman, particularly I think sound and visual poets, whose work frequently steps outside meaning into areas of pure sign, pure sound. What matters most is the loving intention he or she brings to their marks and utterances, and how that communicated intention can alter the reader/hearer’s state of being.


All of which makes nonsense of poetry wars and poetic rivalries. When a poet sings, he sings for all the poets, for a whole community of poets; similarly, when one of us suffers, we all suffer, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The principle reaches into every community beyond the poetry world and is precisely why these communities need poets - as shaman, as healers, even if the community at large remains totally oblivious to their role as such. Words work their magic below the surface, they resonate in a secret space where everything is interconnected. The poet has access to this secret space.

So when we sing or write we should think on the transformations we affect at the very core of being, where body and mind are indistinguishable, and how sound and symbol can re-pattern unconscious mind. Think on how an individual exists within a group or community, and how that community exists within an individual, and how the poet is the unacknowledged healer in that dynamic. Then enter the world of poet as shaman, and see what happens.


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