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This is an excerpt of a book review written by Gary Gach of Stephen Levine's book, Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace.
One Soul, We All Share It
In a prose introduction to the final section, Levine shares with us a credo, inviting us into the solitude in which his poetry occurs:
"A boundaryless aloneness, created perhaps when the One is cleaved into the many (or the Big Bang scatters our parts) leaves a strange and reminiscent aftertaste, the homesickness for our original Oneness. It reaches from superficial thought down to the substratum of the psyche. It knows us better than we know ourselves."
This is quite a different ars poetica than the First thought, best thought, that Allen Ginsberg espoused (via his teacher Chogyam Trungpa). It is, rather, the intuition, mentioned earlier, wherein we can confront such vital questions as Who am I? and How can I deal with my pain? Its precisely here we can awaken to our inner teacher. To that aim, Stephen Levines exemplary poetry inspires us to trust our own vision, hold it, make it whole.
To put a sharper point on that, this trust in intuitive vision isnt solitary, but has been honed by a 40-year-long road engaged with the brokenhearted and the dying. Speaking about this during one of his public readings of Breaking the Drought, he says:
"There is no time in which we have a higher opportunity of wisdom and freedom than in aging. We have perspective, a time to see things we have loved fallen away. We can protect nothing from death and impermanence. [Its] a place of surrender in which surrender is not defeat."
We dont even know we can do in the face of the Beloved. You dont talk in the face of the beloved, who hears you like a dog hears you. The beloved space inside you is so big it doesnt stop at your edges, and it permeates everyoneone soul, we all share itthe universal qualities beyond mine and thine, opening to 10,000 other beings in same state. We find a place where theres peace. We find a place where we are already out of the pain (even if we havent cured it). My pain and your pain separate us. Your love and my love connect us.
Poetry, Under the Radar
No rugged individualist, Levine acknowledges his debt to forebears (Rumi and Basho, Rexroth and Machado). Yet hes a trailblazer on the path where Contemplative Art (poetry, music, dance) and the Art of Contemplation (mindfulness, yoga, prayer) are as one. We owe the publisher great credit for the books generous helping of 81 poems. (Todays standard format for poetry is 40 to 60 pages.)
Yet we must also acknowledge that though his books of prose have found over a million readers, this newest book, a return to poetry, flies under the radar. Its interesting, in passing, to note three reasons why. One is the still-marginal place of poetry in American culture. True, weve sparked a now-global revival of spoken arts in the form of hip-hop and rap. But for book publishers, the poetry marketplace (a kind of oxymoron, since poetry operates largely outside the cash nexus), is largely fueled by writing programs in academia. True, Coleman Barks renditions of medieval Sufi poet Rumi captivated a national audience, for a spell. But Americas own living, devotional, mystic poets find a much smaller audience, and slip through the cracks of critical discourse; examples that come to mind include Jim Cohn, Patricia Donnegan, Rick Fields, Jonathan Greene, Susan Griffin, Latif Harris, Dan Leighton, Russell Leong, John Martone, giovanni singleton, Will Staple, Robert Sund, and Dorothy Walters.
the diverse lineage upon which Stephen Levine draws. While he was
a pioneer in bringing Theravada Buddhism to
Thirdly, while todays spiritual teachers are wont to tour in order to maintain their following, his health has, alas, precluded that option. Thus it is that you are reading the only review, to date, of this incomparably marvelous book, a treasury of good soul medicine.
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Read the whole review at
Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace, by Stephen Levine, may be ordered at:
Thanks to Eric Chaffee for sending this article.
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