& Press, & an amazing visionary.
from Origin's Glow
by JenMarie Davis
In outer space, there’s a fabric
of sympathetic atoms some-
when. This is the homeward wander.
The whole cosmos contracts within
your insides. Consciousness twists towards
a phenomenal point. Unwind
it. The universe rests here, in you.
Your body begins to black hole.
I have been thrilled ever since learning from fellow Philadelphia poet Kim Gek Lin Short that JenMarie Davis & Travis Macdonald were moving to our fair city. In my opinion, these two stellar poets have it right on the mark with their amazing Fact-Simile Editions Magazine & Press. They have created a space for poetry of this millennium to shine & breathe. They continually feature some of the best poets writing today – thus, they contribute widely to contemporary poetry.
Beyond the magazine & press, they also create Poetry Trading cards, which are lovely, portable, hand-held objects depicting some of today’s most cherished poets. Recently, they created a trading card of one of my favorite living humans, CAConrad. These trading cards, along with their magazine & the beautiful chapbooks they create, make poetic art a lovely thing that one can hold in the hand, pass around, share, & admire.
Recently it has also come to my attention that the mind of JenMarie Davis seems to bear the hallmark of stellar genius. I think you will agree with me after you read this interview with her. I hope you enjoy it!!
Debrah: JenMarie, after reading your poem, from Origin's Glow, I am left with a moment of fantasizing about my own self's connection to the greater cosmos -- something I love to think about all day. Thank you for sharing this piece. My day will be better off today now that I've read it.
That this poem is entitled "from" Origin's Glow makes me surmise that this is a piece from a longer work. Is this the case? If so, what is your longer piece like? What does it do? What are your thoughts about it? I take from the title & much in the piece that it deals with metaphysical concerns -- origins -- is this the case? Do you have a particular notion about origins that you are imparting to us? This poem seems so full of vision. Do you believe in the visionary, &, if so, how do you use the process of vision in your writing of poems?
JenMarie: First, thank you so very much for including me in Starlight, Philadelphia. I'm delighted and honored and glad that you enjoyed the poem!
This piece is from a suite of poems that I began as an exercise to escape a recursive pattern I'd fallen into with a stuck manuscript. I decided to write one self-contained poem a day with eight lines and eight syllables per line. Why eight? Eight has always been an auspicious number for me--when I imagine this number, it's always pearlescent and seems to contain the entire universe within it--it's an infinity sign standing up. After re-reading the "self-contained" poems and seeing thematic resonance, I've recently decided to swell the suite into a full collection, but by changing the form slightly, from eight lines per poem to ten, which will result in 108 syllables.
This number will probably stick out for anyone with knowledge of Eastern philosophy, as 108 is considered a sacred number. Before I go on, I should admit that I work as the operations manager at an ashram. Although I mostly deal with the same kinds of projects and tasks with which most managers deal, mine come entrenched in a metaphysical atmosphere of ancient yogic tradition. That said, I am often in conversation with others about their metaphysical concerns and relationship of self/Self to the greater cosmos. At the same time, I am also fascinated by physical science and read a lot of science publications, listen to a lot of physics-based podcasts and watch a lot of documentaries about physics. So both of these cosmologies are part of my quotidian thinking and deeply influence my poetics, currently manifesting as these poems.
To be more specific, the collection is an investigation of the spaces where Eastern philosophy and theories and discoveries in physical science parallel, intersect or resonate. In my engagement with these sciences of yoga and physics, I began to notice that yogis can often find parallels to many physics theories and discoveries in the last hundred years in ancient yogic texts. In fact, the Indian government gave a statue of Nataraja, the embodiment of the Hindu god Shiva's cosmic dance of creation and destruction, to CERN, in recognition of the metaphor between Shiva's cosmic dance and the cosmic dance of subatomic particles, a parallel first attributed to physicist Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics, which has become a great source text for this project. The concept of origin and human preoccupation with it found its way organically into all the poems, too, as both sciences explore universal origin. The collection also investigates how language mediates the human relationship with out-of-scale objects--the super-small or super-large, the immaterial and phenomenal. As for the repetition of form? It is born from the necessity of repetition within both yogic tradition and physical science as a path to some revelation or a kind of "attainment" of origin: mantra repetition as a path to enlightenment and repetition of exact experiments to definitive universal truths.
I am drawn to your question of visionary and vision. But I must admit that I immediately think of David Bowie's song in which he sings "waiting for the gift of sound and vision." Every time I hear it, I think of poems, little gifts of sound and vision. This idea of poems as gifts made of these two components tends to stick with me when I write, too.
In short, I do believe in the visionary. Your phrase "process of vision" at once imparts mysticism and procedure, and "visionary" calls forth fancy, imagination, revelation and premonition. I would use all of these to describe my writing process and the atmosphere that I experience when I write. Vision extends beyond sight and into other sensations--as a detection and manifestation of both the phenomenal and immaterial realms, the immaterial realms being the supernatural, which is the immaterial but mentally "seen." Experiencing and being open to all these kinds of vision, for me, provides a richer world in which to translate into poems.
Debrah: I am definitely intrigued by the material of your piece/manuscript. I think poetry-writing along these lines is extremely important, so I am always happy to encounter a poet who works with things like numerology & investigations into the "spaces where Eastern Philosophy & theories/discoveries in physical science parallel." I love especially how this poem begins in outer space, & then ends with the body beginning to "black hole." How, would you say, does the body black hole? What are the connections between the cosmos & one's insides? What is the "homeward wander"?
JenMarie: Thanks so very much, Debrah. I love that you are attracted to the subversion of scale that happens within the poem and the paths of inquiry that manifest.
Why I chose to construct a functional shift with the line "Your body begins to black hole" is, one, to use language that straddles mystical and scientific, and so that the reader asks the question "how does my (the reader's) body black hole?" So, it's purposefully vague. Yet, there are markers here--"your," "body," and "black hole"--which suggest a phenomenal personal relationship with an extreme and relentless gravitational force that culminates in a supreme and perhaps terminal density. Any "how" that evokes such an effect is, then, how the body may "black hole." For me, my body/mind begins to "black hole" when I enter a very deep level of meditation. Some other experience may evoke that effect for another person.
The "homeward wander" is also somewhat purposefully vague so that its meaning can expand for each reader to develop his or her own path of inquiry. For me, any quests for origin, metaphysical or scientific, are "homeward wanders." Also, to reference the preceding line in the poem, there is a consciousness-theory that states there exists a "fabric of sympathetic atoms" in outer space to where a person's consciousness travels during death and near-death experiences. It's a really attractive idea, this one of a deep space consciousness vault, a kind of "home base" where consciousness waits for its next incarnation.
When relating to the lines beneath it, however, "homeward wander" points towards a speculated effect of understanding primordial universal laws or to enlightenment. What happens when you "arrive home" and realize the hidden truths of the universe, either through a metaphysical or scientific lens? What happens to your body and mind when you internalize that information? How are you different? How is the world around you different? I am interested in these questions because the only anticipated variable is knowledge and understanding. I say anticipated because of the shocking occurrences in physical science in which observation affects the nature of subatomic particles. But now I am getting off track...
The cosmos and your insides, on the subatomic level, are made from the exact same stuff, matter from which both are formed would have been compacted and exploded outward during the Big Bang. Your guts and stars are made from the exact same energy and particles and are just arranged differently, compressed to different densities, enacting different properties. The same energy flows through both, yet each expresses that energy differently. And in order to continue to maintain your body, you must take into it matter from the external world--water, air, energy--a process through which these things condense to form your body.
Debrah: I love that your language "straddles the mystic & scientific." My good friend, poet/writer Holly Jean Buck, visited me from Baltimore this past weekend, & she was speaking a lot about just this -- how the quest to make visible the invisible forces of the world ("homeward wanders") led to modern science as we now know it, & how many of the early scientists were like magicians -- identifying invisible things like the periodic table of elements -- how invisible are things like nitrogen & carbon! Yet how much they impact the daily lives of us all! & how we are composed of them!
After reading this wonderful poem & discussing with you so many angles of inquiry, I am very interested to know what you are reading that has perhaps inspired this straddling of science & mysticism in your writing. Do you have any particular inspirations of note? I am certainly interested in engaging with a reading list of this nature.
Also, I like your positing of "some-when." Sounds a bit like "somewhere" but also seems like a minute thingness attached to temporality. Tell me more about this very interesting "some-when."
JenMarie: What a gift your conversation with Holly Jean Buck must have been! Yes, the quest to make visible the invisible forces of human perception--isn't that what language is all about? I would love to study the evolution of language as it compares to the evolution of science, philosophy and religion (as these attempt to explain the invisibles). That will be the next round of books to read...
I'm reading or have recently read The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, The Science of Yoga by IK Taimni, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, The New Scientific Spirit by Gaston Bachelard, Yann Andrea Steiner by Marguerite Duras, A Cordiall Water by MFK Fisher and lots and lots of physics articles and websites (physics.org has a great database of physics web pages that it hand-picks for you based on your age and knowledge level). Also contemplation articles by Nirmalananda Saraswati (http://svaroopavidya.org/Contemplation_Articles.html). And I've been listening to lots of science podcasts.
I love your extrapolation of "some-when." It is mental concept used to evoke temporality and spacetime. I first heard the term used by Carl Sagan to discuss wormholes. There is something wistful in its sound to me that I love, a sorrow and longing to reach a specific place/time in spacetime that exists but is inaccessible to the human body and mind.
Debrah: JenMarie, thanks so much for participating in this interview for Starlight, Philadelphia. It has been a delight to speak with you about poems & process, science & imagination. Now for our last question... As this interview is, of course, for Starlight, Philadelphia, could you speak a bit about how you've found your experiences in the Philadelphia Poetry Community so far? It is so wonderful to have you here. I have also enjoyed frequenting the readings that you & Travis have put on so far in Philadelphia. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us here. Do you find the landscape of Philadelphia inspirational? If so, how? If not, what could be done to improve this?
JenMarie: Thank you so very much again for inviting me to participate in Starlight, Philadelphia, Debrah, and for your kind and loving words! It's been very sweet to engage with you and your marvelous questions! And on to the last one...
I loved the Philadelphia poetry community for a long time, before I even really knew it. When I lived in New Mexico, I would receive Facebook event invites for all these jaw-droppingly great readings, and nine times out of ten, they were in Philadelphia. Then, Travis and I decided to move to Philadelphia. While the actual move was still several months away, I received very thoughtful welcoming emails from you and many other Philadelphia poets. And once we did move, we continued to be very warmly welcomed and included.
It's this inclusivity that I really love about the poetry community here. And this inclusivity manifests as readings and literary journals and other projects: every member makes spaces for poetry and for one another, such as Starlight, Philadelphia. It's one of the most supportive and sustainable communities I've encountered. There are so many outstanding poets living and working here! Truly amazing, innovative and hard-working writers. I'm blessed to be in the right place at the right time.
While the writers here provide a massive supply of inspiration, the city inspires, too. All these rivers and bridges! There's a lot of connective tissue here, and circulation, which I appreciate. I journal and diagram a lot, and I think that I've begun to model the movement and architecture of these daily practices after such structures. I'm meditative and a natural lingerer; the city keeps me moving.
JenMarie Davis co-edits Fact-Simile Editions and builds books from recycled and reclaimed material. She is the author of Sometime Soon Ago (Shadow Mountain, 2009) and her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glitterpony, Court Green, Little Red Leaves, Interim and Gargoyle.