My most consistent spiritual practice this Golden Gap year (or years) has been very early rising and around an hour of free writing — for the past several months consistently Haiku. Or sometimes my own contemporary improvisation: double or triple Haiku, the classical 5-7-5 strung together in connected verses.
By early, I mean 4 or 4:30, which means if you call me after 8 p.m., you will catch me in a doze state, that is, lying about on the blue living room sofa in front of the television, losing five minutes for every 20 of whatever Law and Order Special Victims Unit endless re-run or binge series is on.
In exchange, I have gained the pre-dawn: dogs settling down after their first feeding of the day, mockingbird and woodpecker as background noise. I take my vitamins, I put on a small pot of coffee, I take out a marbled composition book labeled with the name of whatever reading I am currently doing in the arena of connecting life with language or the creative habit. I arrange my pen, a highlighter, and a large paper clip with which to hold any stray musings.
And inevitably there are words on the page. I am on my third fully filled up notebook since August.
Natalie Goldberg in The True Secret of Writing talks about an eighth-century Chinese poet Wang Wei, whose work she describes as so simple, you almost miss it. He just laid down one image after another, she tells us, not trying to be poetic. She urges us to try his way: don’t get too fancy. It is Zen writing: spare, black and white. Not the lush, twisted vine Southern kind.
One of my most recent starts of the day Haiku noticed and condemned this in my own poems:
Simply nouns and verbs
The metaphors are all gone
My voice has grown old.
Lately I have been bemoaning this state of my writing. In verse especially I only come up with nouns and verbs, present tense at that. My syntax, which has always been direct, even plain; my language, which was always stripped down; is all the more so as I age. My fingers stiffened, my hand cramped, my focus fragile.
Nothing fancy, the poet/master shows us as his life and work remind us of a time and a culture where every occasion called for, even required, a poem, most especially impending death. Each day, but not for long: greet the dawn, respect the words as they show themselves, and just write.
The way we write tells a story of where we come from, what surrounds us. I spent much of my childhood in West Coast drought country. Last week, early, the first forest fires, flames searing the hillsides, leaping the canyons.
It was an arid, borrowed landscape, quick to turn on humans: those who dared believe that roads were required, houses right-sized, fury spent. My words now match that place, never lush or pretty or really mine.
Nothing fancy at all.