April 12, 2016

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rumi for Writers

There are times, as writers, when we feel stuck.

That's one of the reasons why National Novel Writing Month is such a good exercise. Focusing on a daily word count, rather than dreaming of book deals and prizes, means we're willing to explore wild tangents, follow characters who appear out of nowhere -- anything to get more words on the page.

I've been feeling stuck this week. A poem for my daughter, "Pomegranate," is in the pre-thinking stage. I'm not ready to write, but can't explain why not.

An old PBS program on the Sufi poet Rumi sent me searching my shelves for my copy of The Essential Rumi (Castle Books, 1995), with poems translated by Coleman Barks.

This afternoon, I let the book open in my hands, to see what might appear. Here is a gift, indeed, for anyone who is feeling stuck.

The Gift of Water

Translation by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne

Someone who doesn't know the Tigris River exists
brings the caliph who lives near the river
a jar of fresh water. The caliph accepts, thanks him,
and gives in return a jar filled with gold coins.

"Since this man has come through the desert,

he should return by water." Taken out by another door,
the man steps into a waiting boat
and sees the wide freshwater of the Tigris.
He bows his head, "What wonderful kindness 
that he took my gift."

Every object and being in the universe is
a jar overfilled with wisdom and beauty,
a drop of the Tigris that cannot be contained
by any skin. Every jarful spills and makes the earth
more shining, as though covered in satin.
If the man had seen even a tributary
of the great river, he would not have brought
the innocence of his gift.

You knock at the door of reality,
shake your thought-wings, loosen
your shoulders,
                        and open.

This version of the poem is not available online -- at least not with Barks' permission -- so I've excerpted it here. You can find the entire poem in The Essential Rumi.
We are told so often to write what we know. What I love in "The Gift of Water" is this: what we don't know is a gift. Not knowing helps us shake those thought-wings loose.

If you'd like more guidance on getting past feeling "stuck," Pema Chodron has an audio lecture on the topic.


Lisa said...

Bookmarking the lecture you linked to so I can listen to it later!

Author Amok said...

Enjoy it, Lisa. I have it on audiobook.