after sei shōnagon
solar flares on the surface of skin | how a candle flame dances with shadow
sails of a brigantine | wings of a moth | snake skin that is shedding me
we can all go up in flames as the wind catches just right | wrong
moonlight pools on water dreaming| sunlight dapples feet here-and-now
smooth enamel of the bath | sediment at the bottom of the ocean
either can be a throne, either can swallow a woman whole
feel of brush strokes on canvas |scratch of a pen on paper |
fingers trace where flesh curves bone
i don’t think we're supposed to know
if the taste of tears varies according to their mood
everything will be ok, as told by the touch of a hand or a look in the eyes,
i will take either right now
letting go and giving up are not to be compared
nor with walking away
grief cannot be greater or less than the sum of each human experience
finding out the truth and looking for lies are different
yet both result in a life before and a life after
i think only time can stop us from comparing things
by emma blas
My eternal gratitude to poet Amy Kay, who introduced me to Sei Shōnagon's pillow book, and the incredibly contemporary 1,000 year old list poems and poetic prose within it. Sei Shōnagon was a lady serving the Empress Teishi at court in Japan, around the year 1000 and she documented daily life in her 'journal'. She lists beautiful and petty, witty and intelligent observations from courtly life, against titles such as:
'Things that make the heart lurch with anxiety'
'Things that create the appearance of deep emotion'
'Things that make your heart beat fast'
'Things that lose by being painted'
It's remarkable to me how relevant and relatable these 1000 year old lists are and the titles are poetically inspiring to gather observations against or to stimulate other titles. Read more about this book on Goodreads.
i begin as everything,
and before you decide
whether you should like me,
i should probably tell you
that whilst it was durga i took
for my deity,
all goodness, pure and kind,
it was because i couldn’t admit,
even to myself,
it was kali who stalked
the inside of my all;
though i was drawn to shiva,
it took me a long time to see
the beauty of birth,
in his razing destruction,
it took me a long time to stop
trying to make sense of chaos;
i made my way here
in a meteor shower,
clinging to a phoenix’s tail feather.
before you ask yourself,
but where is here?
i will tell you that,
here is a place of burning,
yet also a time,
honouring the chaos that turns me,
it is how a person might craft medals
from open and old wounds,
it is the beginning and end,
of the whole.
by emma blas
This poem was written in response to "what's in a name", a series of reflective prompts for January hosted by 'M is for Marigold' and Lauren, 'Sweetbriar June'. It seems, whilst I crave simplicity, I am a complicated person and this poem explores my journey to now, back to my birth name with the addition of a pen (sur) name, by way of three other names. What's in a name? Like everything, a name needs a starting place to unravel from, to return back to. It needs a journey through continents, through time, through its own awareness. It needs a place to hide and grow, where it will become its own warrior and when its ready, come home.
If that is too much of a riddle, I will tell you, that Emma has its origins in Germany, where it means whole, universal. I will tell you that I was given a spiritual name in an ashram in India that will always remind me that I am my fullest potentiality, even if i often fall into forgetting that. When I first began to share my writing publicly and was wary about sharing too much of myself in social media, I wrote under the pen name Phoenix Rises Poetry. I remain wary, I value authenticity, above achievements, awards or medals, yet people are not always who or how they claim to be. Having adopted Northern Spain as my home, I took the surname Blas symbolically to recognise the importance of Spain in being the inspiration of much of my writing. A Spanish navy officer Blas de Lezo, sustained many injuries in his battles and despite losing a hand, an eye and a leg, he saw his physical limitations and wounds as a medal. Whilst I am a pacifist and do not glorify the act of war, I find his approach to authenticity and honouring all the parts of his experience to the here and now, refreshing. Isn't that what we do when we write poetry? Bring awareness to our limitations and wounds and turn them into medals we wear in words?
'Somewhere' by Emma Blas
in the grip of our youth,
we rush through seasons,
scrabbling down paths
on the side of a mountain,
slipping on scree and scuffing up knees,
in our impatience,
to get to the top, or the bottom,
as long as it is s o m e w h e r e;
we leap autumn to spring,
a harvest of experiences in between;
until our patience starts to lengthen,
and our biggest desires
are to pause time;
when we come to the realisation
that life will always run at a gallop,
and the greatest gift
we can ever receive,
is when another takes a moment
to walk beside us,
under the hurrying clouds,
honouring our human seasons,
we bend the arc of time.
Do we have human seasons? Do they run in order, along with the seasons of the earth or do they have their own syncopated rhythm? Does it change with the passage of time? Do the names Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter fit those human seasons?
Her Heart Poetry https://herheartpoetry.com is a community platform seeking to support and inspire new and existing poets; their poetry challenges go from educating on poetic forms, introducing the community to celebrated poets and poetry to inspiring with word, visual and conceptual prompts.
The prompt, 'The Human Seasons' by John Keats, a British Romantic poet born in 1795, is more poignantly read, when we consider that he died at the age of 25. He left behind just fifty-four, published poems, but is considered one of the world's greatest poets. He trained as a surgeon, to fulfil his ambition of "doing the world some good", yet it is his poetic legacy that has inspired the world, beyond measure (how do you measure more than two centuries of students, readers, artists and poets who have been inspired by his poems?).
'The Human Seasons' by John Keats
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring's honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.
This poem is timeless in how it captures the human life, boiled down into four phases, to march with the four seasons of nature (that would be flipped for the southern hemisphere) and are echo'd in the four 'ashramas' of spiritual (yogic) life:
As these four ashramas are not linear (we can renunciate at any age, return to be a student), I feel in this age, neither are the 'human season's. We can have our 'lusty spring' later in life, or feel drawn into a winter of 'pale misfeature' at any time or age; yet what continues to evolve and match the seasons of the northern hemisphere (where winter is a time of sinking into our own introspection) is our perception of time and the patience to be within its boundaries.
The constant within those four 'human seasons' are the people that accompany us on the journey, their value growing in our perception, as it slows to really see and appreciate that kinship as a filter for viewing and experiencing life.
I'd love to hear your reflections on this interpretation and your own.
we have hands
and we were born pure
to this world, maiden;
but we are not handmaids,
vessels to be filled,
at another’s will;
it may be that we have the gift
to carry life into the world,
but the weight of a life can weigh heavy,
can force a back to break and crack;
we need both those hands
to grip, to fill and to empty
our own cup, before it cleaves in two;
if those hands are tied
behind our backs,
who will catch us
when pushed to fall?
we have seen how this world
likes to snatch and grab,
it doesn’t listen when out we call,
it has deafened even our sisters
to our cries,
and we fall, broken to the floor.
you cannot take our hands,
they are ours not yours,
it would be like cutting off your feet,
so you cannot walk behind us
late at night, or creep into our room,
so you cannot stand in front of us
grasping at our flesh
thinking you have a right to it,
because we are soft
and were born with a womb.
how would you like it
if you were made to always crawl?
by emma blas
Last week in Alabama, USA, a law was passed making the providing of an abortion a felony, punishable by prison. 25 white men voted in the law. This poem is not about abortion. It is about a white male majority making decisions about that affect all women.
“Though women make up 51% of Alabama's population, its lawmakers are 85% male. There are only four women in the 35-seat Alabama Senate, and they are all Democrats.” (bbc news)