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Poetry of Nature | Mid-Summer | Geoff Oelsner

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Geoff’s Giftings for July 2023

Dear PON Friends,

This day is a gift.

The mission statement of the Institute for Poetic Medicine is:

“To awaken soulfulness in the human voice.”

This awakening is indeed a kind of medicine, in that most psychological issues involve some element of repressed expression of things that needed to be said but which one was afraid or even prohibited to say. As the writer Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:

“Poetry really is the cure. When we stop jabbering long enough to listen to what is going on around, among, and inside us—and we have someone to help us put that into the fewest, truest words available to us—the air clears and the aliveness flows through all the spaces in between.”

Well…there are certainly many possible cures for our emotional ills, not all of them verbal, and we may not always need help finding the right words. When we do, it may not always be the fewest words that need to be said—it may be a torrent of words!—but freeing one’s voice to speak one’s truth can frequently bring emotional relief and healing. The air clears.

Summer flowerscape in Nova Scotia

As a prompt for poetry or simply for pondering, this poem by Mary Oliver relates to the process of finding and freeing one’s own authentic voice, beyond the limits of mimicry:

The Mockingbird

All summer

the mocking bird

in his pearl-gray coat

and his white-windowed wings


from the hedge to the top of the pine

and begins to sing, but it’s neither

lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sounds–

whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges

plus all the songs

of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,

he sings with humor and bravado

so I have to wait a long time

for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins

by giving up all his usual flutter

and setting down on the pine’s forelock

then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;

then he slaps each wing against his breast,

where his heart is,

and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it

as though it was not half so easy

as rollicking,

as though his subject now

was his true self,

which of course was as dark and secret,

as anyone else’s

and it was too hard—

perhaps you understand—

to speak or to sing it

to anything or anyone

but the sky.

~ Mary Oliver

I sent Mary Oliver’s poem to my friend, Donna Stjerna Mulhollan, by far the most prolific and generative singer/songwriter and visual artist/“craftivist” (an environmental activist through her arts and crafts) I know. Donna is of Finnish ancestry, a descendent of peoples of the ancient indigenous Sami culture. She’s been searching for her own authentic version of a certain voice she can feel deep inside, a voice that has its ancestral origins in “joiking,” a traditional form of song of the Sami people in northern Europe.

Each joik is said to evoke a person, animal, or place. Joiking bears some resemblance to the shamanistic chants of Siberia. Its origins are undocumented, but oral traditions assert that the fairies and elves of the arctic regions first gifted joiks to the Sámi People. It is among the oldest musical traditions in Europe, and is practiced to this day.

An accomplished folk and bluegrass fiddler, Donna has recently been developing skill in playing the viola while singing and chanting. She’s been on a determined search for certain tones or voicings, both on the viola and in her accompanying vocals. After reading the above poem she wrote me back:

The poem by Mary Oliver about the Mockingbird blew me away because I am working on a new viola poem that is based on two Hafiz poems and I'm weaving them together with my own is loosely about Joiking to the Stars and singing to the SKY (last line in Mary's poem). BUT IT IS MORE about me trying to find my own STRANGE voice with the viola and it is taking me a long time to find it. When I sit in the quiet I have revelations and can hear my own voice a little and it is trying hard to come through but all the conditioning about HOW IT SHOULD BE holds me back when I try to share. That poem really opened something up a little more.

On receiving that message, I wrote back to Donna, “I too am trying to bring forth certain elusive voices I can feel inside me and can occasionally hear in my own speech and singing. The search is absorbing, sometimes frustrating. It does lead to further expressiveness and embodiment, or what English poet John Keats called ‘soul making.’”

The late American poet Robert Duncan wrote: “And this poetry, the ever forming of bodies in language in which breath moves, is a field of ensouling. Each line, intensely, a soul thing, a contribution; a locality of the living.”

Golden field of summer in Arkansas

As a possible prompt to elicit expression, embodiment and empowerment, I ask: as the summer season continues, what in you needs to be brought forth from silence and dormancy to be spoken, sobbed, shouted, sung or written? What words or sounds lurk within your true self awaiting expression, liberation? What voices cry for freedom of speech? What words might meet their needs?

See if any words, phrases, lines, images or feelings in “The Mockingbird” evoke your own poem or song. You may wish to write something completely different from what I am suggesting here. Always let your own inner promptings lead the way!

May this summer bring ripening blessings to you.

Please Touch the Earth with Love,

Geoff Oelsner

Summer sky and clouds at Beaver Lake, Arkansas


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