Celebrating the Bigness of Small Poems – # 1 in a Series – Jelaluddin Rumi

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

Listen to presences inside poems.
Let them take you where they will.

Follow these private hints
and never leave the premises.

Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), from Unseen Rain, trans. Coleman Barks and John Moyne,  Shambhala, 1986

Another National Poetry Month. And a tsunami of poems everywhere I look! So I want to be careful how I add to the tsunami and not become more poetry clutter in an inbox! So I will devote this month to small poems; poems the American poet Jane Hirschfield calls Pebbles! I may include some haiku, such a famous form of small poems, but will not focus there!

Rumi, the Sufi mystic poet, who died more than eight hundred years ago in Konya, Turkey, needs little introduction for a North American audience! He has become almost a household name now in the English-speaking world thanks to the proliferation of English translations of his poems in the past forty years. Of course, in the Middle East he has been a household name for centuries.

As I meditate on Rumi’s quatrain I am struck by its reminder of how much listening goes into writing a poem. Listen to the presence inside poems./ Let them take you where they will. So reminiscent of Jack Spicer’s famous quote in the 1960’s that a poet is a catcher not a pitcher.

Seamus Heaney address this as well in his essay Feeling Into Words when he connects the image of a water diviner to poetry:

The diviner resembles the poet in his function of making contact with what lies hidden, and in his ability to make palpable what was sensed or raised…The crucial action is pre-verbal, to be able to allow the first alertness or come-hither, sensed in a blurred or incomplete way, to dilate and approach as a thought or a theme or a phrase.

What a lineage we poets come from. Here is Rumi, a poet from more than eight hundred years ago, reminding me of what I have learned to be true. At its heart poetry is a learned listening. And an act of trust in that listening. To give up control so, as Mary Oliver says in her poem Praying, another voice may speak.

For those of us writing poems this month may we enjoy productive listening!

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