Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Lilija Valis, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!
We are strangers among strangers.
Even within our blood families, where we establish strong bonds, we have our secret thoughts, desires and deeds. We may use the same words, but we don’t speak the same language. We often consult some type of translator, today called therapist, to unravel our tangles. The first job of this translator is to explore what is embedded in the words we use to hide what we want.
“Love” means different things to the teenage girl and to her grandmother, as does “freedom” to the son and to his father.
Since ancient times, we have sought to discover what lies beyond what we see and hear. Long before we created a formal language with signs and rules, we had poetry as our spirit language.
It uses words to reach what we have no words for in order to reveal the hidden, the primary connections, bridging time and space.
Poetry releases love and expands family. My family now includes the Celtic people who since ancient times blessed everyday life; the numerous Chinese poets who for thousands of years have been sharing what they saw and felt, and the wisdom that grew out of their experience (Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching); the Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz for pouring “light into a cup” for us to drink; New England’s nineteenth century Emily Dickinson for detailing her soul; early twentieth century Anna Akhmatova for baring the gritty Russian soul (“It’s not Promised land….. Yes, for us it’s the grit between our teeth.”); to name just a few of my large family.
We know poetry is powerful because poets have been and continue to be imprisoned and executed for their life-changing words. They have been tortured, sent to slave labor camps to die, like Osip Mandelstam, whose words we still read today, when we can’t remember the names of his jailers.
As poets we take our bloody, pulsating hearts and pass them into the hands of others, putting our trust in this world of broken promises and betrayals, but also of love and beauty.
In spite of everything, or maybe because of it, poets are well known to be party people. We like to connect and celebrate. Even when we go off into the mountains to get away from our agitating societies, we still do things to connect and celebrate the life around us. Han Shan, or Cold Mountain if you prefer, couldn’t help chiseling his poems onto stones and trees in his chosen isolated mountain home for us to read, a thousand years later. We have named after him a local movement to save forest trees.
Currently in Vancouver, British Columbia, you can attend some poetry event almost every day – at times, five events the same day. We have numerous local groups, such as Poetic Justice, Twisted Poets Literary Salon, and Hogan’s Alley Open Readings. International organizations, like World Poetry, Poetry Around the World, and Writers International Network bring together poets from all cultures, India, Afghanistan and Latin America among them. We have Dead Poets societies to keep up our connections with deceased family members like Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and Robert Frost. We have links to painters and musicians and get together to celebrate each other’s art.
Anything that shifts our perceptions, enlarges our view, and increases our understanding and appreciation builds community. Poetry does these things. Candice James, the Poet Laureate of New Westminster, reminds me, “I am the architect of my own fall.” Margo Prentice’s view of death as returning to the Mother Nature she loves reconciles us to the inevitable. Gavin Hainsworth made me laugh as I recognized a truth about human nature in the title of his poem, “The Condemned Man Ate A Hearty Meal.”
In addition to local activity, we now have new technologies to enable us to connect easily with poets, as well as other sympathetic souls, all over the world, enlarging our sense of community and shrinking our alienation.
Yes, poetry creates links. It invites us into each other’s inner lives, to form a community unbroken by time and distance.
Han Yu (768-824):
if it rains
stop in for a visit.
Together we’ll listen
to the raindrops splash
on all the green leaves.
And Li Po (701-762):
Then let us pledge a friendship without human ties
And meet again at the far end of the Milky Way.
Lilija Valis, born in Lithuania, has lived on three continents during times of war and peace, riots and festivals. While pursuing education and working in cities across America—from Boston and New York to San Francisco—she participated in programs that help to liberate people from poverty and personal misery. Her poetry has been included in four anthologies and her book Freedom On the Fault Line was published in 2012.
Lilija’s poem, “Everyday Things,” is featured the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.