There is nothing more I want
Than to join you in the cocoon
To know the dreams
That grow wings
What is your
–“Transformation” by HawaH, The Poetry of Yoga, Vol. 1, 178
Today we celebrate a dream that grew wings – the year anniversary of The Poetry of Yoga, Volume 2: 12/12/12. (Volume 1 published 11/11/11.) These two books, really, one grand book, fulfilled the dreams of many people, including me. My poem “Union” is in Volume 2. But the great dreamer is HawaH – poet, artist, editor, educator, yoga teacher, and community activist – whose vision and energy summoned master yoga teachers and writers from around the world and inspired students, through his workshops, to explore their vulnerability, through poetry, as “a reflection of [their] deep-seated emotions, fears, and triumphs.”
Beginning in 2009, HawaH developed a three and one-half hour workshop called The Poetry of Yoga. He divided it into four parts: sequences of asana, creative writing inspired by the yoga practice, group sharing, and finally his spoken word performance, framing “service, love, peace, healing, suffering, sustainability, and freedom” (V. 1, xxviii). In 2010, he took this workshop on the road, stopping off at Kashi Atlanta, where he saw my poem, dedicated to Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati, hanging on the wall. He encouraged me to submit it to the project. By the time he finished asking living yoga masters to submit their poems and calling for on-line submissions, he had amassed over 2300 pages of poetry from 19 different countries. During the final week of submission in April 2011, he received on average 35 poems a day. And that was just the beginning.
But I’d rather you heard from HawaH himself.
CK: I read with interest the description of your poetry/ yoga workshops. I’m not sure how I would have functioned in such a “public” setting of writing, since, for me, writing is intensely private. How did the physicality of the yoga postures affect the students’ writing?
HawaH: One of the main goals of the workshops is to get you out of your comfort zone and push you into the growth that takes place when you are challenged to do something that is unusual, rare, and leaves you vulnerable. The workshops definitely create a powerful space to explore this vulnerability, and because often in yoga asana we are vulnerable, then our writing is a reflection of those deep-seated emotions, fears, and triumphs.
CK: To winnow the 2300 pages of submissions to 600 (two volumes) and to achieve diversity in both the poets and theme must have been a difficult task. Please comment on the challenges you faced and the processes you used to arrive at the final selections.
HawaH: The reading and reviewing process was long and arduous. Perhaps a piece of information that didn’t make the other articles written about this process was that each poem, although it did not have the author’s name, did have other important demographic information required with submission, including the author’s age and country. [In the prologue to V. 1, xxx, HawaH notes that he had to weigh poems that touched on the same theme. For example, nearly one third concerned breath. “I had to make some very hard choices…breathing…”]
Then of course, there were all the special invited contributors…people whom I had mailed letters asking them to contribute a poem for the anthology. Typically, whatever they sent me I included, although at times we had to go back and forth a lot to get the poem to publishing standards.
The final part of the process involved me working with many of the 300 yogi poets individually on edits and having their blessing on any revisions I made. For some there were simple tweaks for grammar; for others, it was a lot more drawn out. For example, there were multiple occasions when someone had submitted a 4-6 page poem. I only wanted to use 4 of 5 stanzas. In some cases, it was a complete rewrite, requiring me to pull and weave together stanzas from the beginning of the poem with the end. Then I would send it back to the poet to show what I did and explain why I did it. Often, it was because they hit an important theme in the longer version that the anthology lacked; however, I was working with tight space constraints and couldn’t give them 5 pages in the book… people were very accommodating and empathetic to the mammoth task I had in front of me…
Words resound in my soul like gongs
or the bells in the Buddhist temple
where the saffron clad boy monk
sidled close to me on the wooden bench
to see what I was sketching.
Words bounce like lottery balls
in a wire cage
wake me from a sound sleep
“Use me, use me!”
–“Words” (ll.1-10), by Lois Read, Volume 2, 48
And then there was the publishing, never easy for any book, but especially difficult for poetry. HawaH’s team at One Common Unity sent out over 50 book proposals before finally deciding to use a company called LULU, which then featured it as a holiday best buy. HawaH is sanguine about these struggles: “The books are still babies, so they are just getting their legs and still learning how to walk. I hope that over the years these books will prove to be more and more valuable to our yoga community.”
Looking for a last minute Christmas gift and want to do good at the same time? Consider that 50% of the proceeds from either volume of The Poetry of Yoga will go to One Common Unity, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. supporting “peace education and the building of a non-violent culture through music and art… arts-based health and wellness, conflict resolution and nonviolence education for inner-city youth” (Volume 1, xxxi).
Since today is its anniversary celebration, I devoted this post exclusively to the The Poetry of Yoga. Tomorrow I’ll focus more on HawaH himself – his poetry, his philosophy, and his upcoming projects. And I’ll include a few more poems from the two volumes. Hope to see you then.
Photography courtesy of everlutionary.net.
Till then, are you a yogi and a poet? Do you have a short poem you’d like to share?