Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Calling Upon The Muse

What is the function of “the muse”? 
Is it to amuse, confuse, use, or abuse? 
Or perhaps to discover what might be true or new? 
The word muse is implicit in words like “museum” (a house of knowledge), “music” and to “muse” or to ponder.

Historically, the Greeks and Romans referred to “Muses,” originally the nine daughters of mythological Zeus who were thought of as goddesses of the inspiration of literature, sciences and the arts.
The Romans believed that six were particularly pertinent to poetry: Calliope (epic poetry), Euterpe (flute and lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy and pastoral  poetry),  Melpomene (tragedy), Erato (love poetry), Polymnia (sacred poetry. Today we think of the muses as being three embodiments of grace and inspiration.
How curious that the muse of creativity is often referred to as external to oneself, and poets have often used personification in their conception of the Muse.

In “Three Small Songs for the Muse,” Kathleen Norris calls the Muse her oldest friend:

My oldest friend looks for me
on a dark road.
Nights I can’t sleep
we are lonely together
(Cries of the Spirit, pp. 292-293)

In her poem, “I Said to Poetry,” Alice Walker confronts a contentious Muse who tries to convince her to move beyond her resistance, and asks, “When you pray, what do you think you’ll see?”

Poetry had me 
There’s no paper in this room, I said.
And that new pen I bough
Makes a funny noise.

She concludes:
                                           “Bullshit,” said Poetry.
                                           “Bullshit” said I.
(Her Blue Body Everything We Know. New York: A Harvest Book, 1993) 

Denise Levertov imagines her muse as a dashing, gallant hero on a horse.

He turns in his saddle waving a plumed hat
Indecipherable clues to destiny. 

Writers  have imagined the muse as a rambunctious biker, a goddess, a hero, and have written interesting dialogues with the Muse (See Exercise #1).  The here-now-gone-tomorrow quality of creativity has fascinated and vexed artists through the ages.
Where  does our creativity come from? Perhaps it comes from within. It is as though some dormant part of ourselves claims a voices, grabs a pen and delivers a product. We are filled with awe. Where did that poem or that story come from? 
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According to Jung, “The creative urge lives and grows in him (a person) like a tree in the earth from which it draws its nourishment. We would do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche. In the language of analytical psychology this living thing is an autonomous complex. It is a split-off portion of the psyche, which leads a life of its own outside the hierarchy of consciousness.” 
No wonder we sometimes reel in amazement after producing a writing! 
Poet Gary Snyder refers to a great force field, when he writes about the indigenous people who invest great spiritual vitality in their surrounding landscapes. “Like inside a big mind, the animals and humans can all talk, and those who pass through here get power to heal and help” (Snyder, l990, p. 93). The encounter with this “big mind”  harvests spirituality, and is a creative gold mine. 
While  some of us claim writing is Divine inspiration, others lay claim to the creative power that lies within. Writing is an act of declaration, and insecurities only add to our resistance. As Sylvia Plath once said, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy of creativity is self doubt.” 

Poet Barbara McEnerney writes a brilliant poem that starts

And what if my words, 
My fledgling poems,
Were children, were toddlers
Trying first steps … 

As children do, they skin their knees, squeal, splash mud, and “make a mess while discovering themselves.” McEnerney’s apt metaphor is provocative and rings true. Would we hold our children at arm’s length, disown them, or hide them? She asks if we would habitually say of our poems “that after all, they really aren’t very good?” 
In her last verse,  she suggests that we permit our children free reign, to ramble along weedy paths and whisper their secrets and learn what it is they need from their parent. She concludes by asking if we can love our offspring just 

as they are 
give them room 
to grow, a chance 
to shine? 

Ah! If we could do this for our written offspring! They could play and tumble, fall and right themselves. We cannot protect our children or ourselves if we do not respect their abilities and choices to become who they evolve into, and to say what needs saying. 
Poet Charles Olsen, in his poem, “These Days”, tells us that whatever we do, we must leave the roots on and permit them to dangle, Claim your authentic voice and let it ring out with its own truth:

and leave the dirt 
Just to make clear
Where they come from.
                        (Collected Poetry of Charles Olsen) 
                        Ed. George Butterick, University of CA Press, 1987.

As a wise woman once said to me, “To know more is to be more.” 
To write is to muse, reflect, and inspire oneself with the consciousness of being fully alive. Writing enhances the connections between thoughts and feelings, external reality and internal world, body, mind, and soul. Write and celebrate you inky heart!

Dr.  Sherry

P.S. Note that I will be teaching a 3-day intensive in New York city at The Summit Expressive Arts Therapy Conference November 7, 8, and 10th.  
Face-to-face writing therapy is available for persons in the New York area. Writing therapy also takes place via phone and e-mail. For more information, contact Dr. Sherry at sherryreiter@yahoo.com

Exercises for Growth and Healing

1. Muses have been envisioned as goddesses, heroes, tricksters, and even as a disheveled biker crashing at someone’s pad for the night. If you were to personify the muse, what character and qualities would this person take on? What form? Write a dialogue that takes place between you and your Muse. 

2. See “Write Your Own Life” by David Berman at http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/2001/12/Write-Your-Own-Life.aspx  
Write about your response to this evocative poem. 

3. Langston Hughes wrote a poem about his early experience in writing class at college called “Theme From English B”. The teacher gave the instruction: 

Go home and write
a page tonight
And let that page come out of you—
That way it will be true. 

See the full poem at http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~keith/poems/English_B.html 
Follow the teacher’s instruction and write a page that comes out of you and that will be true.             

4. Read “The Great Poem” by Lawrence Raab. See the full poem at http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2009/06/13    
Now, using this poem as a template, write your own poem, starting with the first line of the second verse:

“What I’m writing now is not the great poem.” Later in the poem, Raab says, “the great poem will happen when I no longer care.” What will happen if you write as though you don’t care? 
5. After reading my seven principles of Creative Truths, create a mantra that will inspire you to be your most creative self:

Principles of Creative and Curative Power by Dr. Sherry Reiter 

1. Remember what the great psychologist, Abraham Maslow said: 
    "Creativity is essential for psychological health." 

2. "All of life is interconnected."
    That means you are never completely alone. There is always a tree, a pet,
 the sky at midnight.
3. "Creativity is innate."
   We are created in God’s image, and the Divine is a Creator. So are we. 

4. "Every moment is potentially creative and we are always in the process of becoming, falling apart, and re-creating ourselves." 

5. "When you connect your thoughts and emotions, there are times when sparks will go off."
 Note the energy. Celebrate the light! 

6. "When we open ourselves to be creative, we also open toward order, beauty, and a force that is greater than ourselves."

7. "Creativity helps us to balance ourselves."
 Because change is a constant in life, creativity is a tool to establish equilibrium. Creative “righting” occurs through writing, art, and every creative act.
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