Monday, January 17, 2011

Poetic Profile: Crystal Bacon

1)How would you describe your poetry?

My poetry is rooted in the lyrical tradition of creating a snapshot of a moment. Typically, I’m not drawn to writing about large public topics. Most of my poems start with something personal, an experience, an insight, a question that I’m dealing with. I’m usually interested in seeing what these small moments can say about the human experience. How our individual moments of experience link us to each other and to nature.

Nature plays a large role in my creative imagination. Even though I live in the city and have done so for many years, I still see trees, which I love as a class of beings with a great passion, as essential to our human-nature. I can find a meditation on nature just looking out my window at the large dogwood tree in my front yard. Sound is also very important to me. All my life, words have played around in my mind, my inner ear, ringing off each other. Usually, poems come to me in this way. I’ll see or feel something, and then I’ll say a few words about it. I work on making the words memorable, since I’m not writing them down at this point, I’m just storing them in my mind. The words become a few lines, and the lines will hold together usually because of the sound or rhythm, and this is when I get ready to actually “write” them at the computer.

2)How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

I spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. I start each day with a spiritual practice that includes chanting and meditation. This appeals to my sense of devotion and the role of sound, metaphor and image in devotion. Chanting Sanskrit or Pali mantra is good for my ear and my heart, which we could argue are the same, meeting in what the Buddha called the Chitta, the heart-mind. I always love to read poetry, but I read it sparingly these days. I’ll keep a book by my bed and read a little of it every night before I go to sleep. Every couple of semesters, I teach a poetry writing class at the Community College of Philadelphia, and this brings poetry into my day to day life with more regularity. So it sort of comes and goes. There’s a wave of poetry that runs through each day, sometimes a big uplifting one, and sometimes small gentle ones that just tickle my senses.

3) What poets and authors inspire you?

Personal favorites are Elizabeth Bishop, who was very important to me while I was really finding my voice during my MFA days, Jane Hirshfield, CA Conrad, who is a great friend and an amazing poet, totally unlike me in style, which is always good. Mary Oliver is always a pleasure to read. Rilke, Hopkins. My former teachers Larry Levis, who was an amazing poet, and Debra Allbery, who was also his student, and whose new book just won the Grub Street National Book Prize. I nearly memorized her first book, Walking Distance. I enjoy Robert Pinsky, who I think is a genius. I’m pretty eclectic. Stein, O’Hara, Lux. If the poems are well crafted and bring out a clear sensation in my body when I read them, then that is what inspires me. I also read deeply in the spiritual traditions of the East. I’ve been reading lots and lots of Buddhism for the last year: Chodron, Bikku Bodhi, Ajahn Cha, Thich Nhat Hanh. All of these books have shaped my aesthetic as well.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be far from civilization and close to nature, so being in Philadelphia has sometimes been challenging for me. That said, the trees and woods of Mount Airy populate my poems. I don’t write much about people in general, so there’s no concrete connection that way. But I’m a ferocious home body. My home is my sanctuary, and I’ve found great comfort in the neighborhood where I live now, in East Mount Airy. It’s safe and friendly, good for dog walking. I like the extended community, “downtown” Mount Airy, the Marble, the High Point, the Co-op. Last winter, I went through a deep personal shift in my life, and this community, that little intersection of Greene and Carpenter, fed me and gave me an anchor. Overtime, I’ve become more and more at peace in the inner community. As the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. And this is where I am now, so here I am.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

The last book I read was Be Love Now, by Ram Dass. I’ve been living a yogic lifestyle for about the last five years pretty seriously, and I’ve always found Ram Dass’ teachings very heart opening and inspiring. He’s very funny and humble. The book is about his experience with the great Indian sage, Neem Karoli Baba and how these great realized beings like Babaji help us to open to love. Babaji told him early in their relationship as teacher and student, “Ram Dass, love everybody.” This was not surprisingly a difficult assignment. But Ram Dass has made it his life’s work to move more and more into love and away from the ego-based mind. The book has many wonderful stories about their time together in India and also includes a short “year-book” of other great Indian sages and teachers all of whom offer the same basic instruction: get out of the mind and into the heart. As this is my personal goal for this lifetime, I found this book deeply inspiring and useful.

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