The animate sign

Hello readers, happy Imbolc. I write to you from a peninsula quiet late at night under a few inches of cherished snow, where cold water rests under a thin sheet of ice on the inland lakes, held for now from rising by that still hand. Wait. Wait till spring.

Last summer, as I was writing the poems and essays in Rising water / Palm to stone (my first pamphlet, which is available for pre-order), a certain image kept recurring in my imagination, although it took me some time to see it as recurrent. I would sit down to draft another poem, to capture an image as it buoyed first in the mind, and in coaxing it into focus finally recognized the image as that of rising water — the same one that had been arriving over and over since spring. It’s right there in the title of the pamphlet, and for those of you who have been reading these letters for a while, it is hardly anything new; rising water is the lively and willful metaphor around which we’ve long been circling.

Each poem and essay I wrote during that time came in its way back to the image, even when I thought I was writing about something else: a swelling marsh, say, or a tower pulled down by waves, bricks worn to sand; a great scorpion breaching the horizon, a dammed river, the void of a split boulder closing, a showering of arrows. Rising water, as I understand it, is the generous consequence of hubris, the price we pay for seeking to instrumentalize the human connection to the divine, for misapprehending that connection as possession rather than belonging. I’ll be writing more about hubris as such in the future (there’s certainly no avoiding it at this juncture), but for now the cycle of poems in the pamphlet points in the direction I’m looking.

I wonder though, if rising water is indeed an admonition against hubris, what does it invite us toward? Perhaps it invites us to embrace what Jung called ‘the symbolic life’, to converse with the living imagination and to look in the eye the images it delivers. David Mutschlecner, in his excellent book Poetic Faith, conceives of it as an invitation back toward metaphor as posture rather than tool:

In metaphor we find the active self-revelation of being, for metaphor is that power of relationality through which things reveal themselves, and it is through metaphor’s revelation that the mind knows itself.

Perhaps this knowing is a reorientation to divinity as something we belong to rather than possess, a glinting recognition of the recurrent image around which we each circle — that swelling, animate sign hidden at the flooded center.

A black and white close-up photo of small stream flowing from left to right. Stems of grass hang down from the banks and have acquired, layer by layer, pendulous orbs of ice at their tips.

I want to thank all of you who have already pre-ordered the pamphlet. Your support means so much to me. There are still two copies left of the first edition (which comes with a few undisclosed extras tucked between the pages), but there is also a second edition of twenty-five copies available for pre-order as well. The printer should have the pages ready in the next few days, and then it will just be a matter of illustrating the covers and binding the booklets, which I’m really looking forward to. I hope to be delivering and shipping them by next week.

Until next month, my friends, happy imagining.