Covering two fault-lines,
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This review is from: The Meaning (Paperback)
Commenting on this I am conscious of being on two fault lines that this book straddles in me. I am training in transpersonal psychology to become a therapist, and also someone who frequents poetry circles. Transpersonal psychology is also where Steve Taylor comes from, and it is a psychology that includes (but is not exclusively about) spiritual and numinous experience. This book explores in various ways how they relate.
There is nothing new in psychologists exploring this area of experience. Jungian, James Hillman spoke of the "poetic basis of mind." Psychologists like Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls and RD Laing wrote poetry. Jung's The Red Book: A Reader's Edition (Philemon), journals of his dialogues with inner figures can also be read as poetic and visionary writings. Poets like Peter Redgrove, a poet less known outside poetry circles perhaps because he is considered "difficult," have been psychotherapists. American Robert Bly has written books with a Jungian element as well as editing an anthology of spiritual poems, Soul is Here for it'S Own Joy. What Steve Taylor offers here is a commentary on the place of spiritual experience in poetry. He does this in an essay at the end of the book. It's this I'll first turn to, then look at the poems.
Not all great poets necessarily have written about spiritual experience. But some very great ones have, and Taylor mentions a number of these here including Rumi, Blake, Whitman, DH Lawrence and Ted Hughes. My one complaint -though perhaps in the end this says more about me- is that he does not looks at ones outside the English Language traditions, some of which can be found in the Bly volume cited above. Also there are not many contemporary poets mentioned apart from the American Mary Oliver. I would have like to have heard mention of the likes of Gary Snyder, Jane Hirshfield, Bly himself who are also very approachable. One might also mention Don Paterson here and even the sainted Seamus Heaney. But there, the quality does count, for example Taylor mentions that the mystical element is something that is sometimes missing in appreciation of Lawrence. All in all this essay adds toward a definition, as far as possible, as to what visionary poetry is.
Now we come to to the poems. Taylor modestly states his works are not on the same level as the models he mentions. Few of us are! As a literary man, myself, I was interested to look at these from that viewpoint. At workshops and on courses, I have experienced poems being read from the likes of Oriah Mountain Dreamer in for example The Invitation which encourage participants to open themselves up. There have also been poems with impeccable literary credentials, Cavafy's "Ithica" being an example. All these show how such boundaries are artificial, and how they as much defined by taste as any value.
There are poems in this this selection that would fit into the category and be useful on a personal development worshop, the title one being a good example. The problem with such verses can be that in the attempt to go for the transcendental, and inspirational, the writers get ungrounded. I've sometimes listened to such poems droning on about the "infinite, ineffable, unknown" that are tedious. None of these does that. They are grounded in everyday experience. One of the things as a literary man I take pleasure from, in these poems, is also the language, beautifully honed to convey the experiences described. They have been endorsed by a literary academic also. Rightly so. Transpersonal psychology is not just about the transcendent, it is also about the ground. This is true also for poetry. They are both means to link each with the other where our lives play out. These poems do that for me. I have been carrying them around for weeks together with those of recognised poets. Plenty poets, and poetry lovers, could learn from here. But like all art, they should also be enjoyed in their own right.