On Poetic Faith

"Burning Bush (Manzanita)," Arnold (CA) 2011

"Burning Bush (Manzanita)," Arnold (CA) 2011

The very notion that you are sustained at each moment by an infinite plenitude of all that is contingent means that this life that you call yours has value beyond finite conceiving; it means that every other life is subject to the same terms of wonder. This is real; this is really happening. I am here by amazing grace and marrow music. The same mind that brought you to nothingness teems with sublime community.
— David Mutschlecner

Dear Friends,

The above quote is from the first chapter of David Mutschlecner's soul-shaking Poetic Faith (No. 19 in The Lune series). As the title suggests, Poetic Faith is a testament—in awe-stirring, ever-blooming philosophical particulars—to the loving mystery of our communicative existence on this planet. The poet Elizabeth Robinson has authored a wonderful introduction to the work (read the complete text here), and you will find excerpts from each of the book's twenty-two sections below. For my part, the following is a brief intro-retrospective that I hope might shine a small and personal light on Mutschlecner's unique gift and, as a consequence, on the energy that underlies spiritual testimony, [what] is ultimately work of timeless compassion and living love.

David first shared Poetic Faith with me almost exactly one year ago; it was then called "A Journal of Theopoetics," and it is that, concretely. For a few months I took it with me everywhere I went. This was necessary for a number of largely ineffable reasons. For one (an attempt), the text throbs with sincerity, which begets what Joseph Campbell might call a serendipitous adventure—a trip for which one is intrinsically prepared, "a manifestation of [one's] character"—with David as guide. In other words, reading matters of poetic faith is like walking with a friend or loved one. The nuanced companionship of the author—specifically, David, universally, the poet—is something Elizabeth Robinson represents eloquently in her introduction:

“The word ‘genius' comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘to beget' and was originally a word that meant ‘tutelary spirit attendant on a person.' In Poetic Faith, David Mutschlecner becomes our genius, a tutelary spirit that guides us into the plenitude of poetry."

With a poet by one's side, poetry is a plenitude, the abundance of life itself. Or should I say: With a human by one's side, humanity is a plenitude, something that exudes meaning, aliveness. In those initial months of taking Poetic Faith with me everywhere, each time I retrieved the document from its manilla habit I would read two or three sentences and sit there, wherever I was, feeling the depth and purity of each thought, all thoughts. Again—as in her own poetry—Robinson says it best:

“Suddenly, the reader finds herself in the midst of a universe that peels back its skin to reveal its living core."

It feels the way friendship feels, like life is special (because it is relative); it works the way our bodies work in speech: the tongue taps, the lips part, the throat hums: we froth and unfurl. In any event, I do not mean to advertise Poetic Faith; I'm searching for the right words by which to breathe in celebration of a singular effort, an affirmation of life. Poetic Faith truly belongs in the company of Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm, Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island, St. John of the Cross's Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ, Clarice Lispecter's Agua Viva, Thomas Keating's Open Mind, Open Heart... It is prayerful, which is to say it is refulgent with humility, the sense of pure service that stems from contemplation.

In so resolutely celebrating language, Mutschlecner has authored an open door for poetry, welcoming us into the ecstatic heart of the poetic mode. As you read the following excerpts, please do not hesitate to get in touch with questions and comments.

from Poetic Faith

When we experience a radically new work of art, perhaps we have received a fleck of light from infinite beauty, and we cannot process it. Beauty draws all things, hence the reason it is so difficult, often, to understand, let alone define. Beauty is the breathing completion thought alone cannot complete.
— Ch. 2, "Beauty"
This is a wish for poetry to confer its magic upon the world. From the well of words, as from a myriad of mouths, let the signified shine with new life. I do not leave theology behind so much as release it to become another thing. (In some way, words always wait for us to do this.) The theologian as theologian cannot do this. Where meaning is freed, meaning is at risk of loosing the parameters of dogma.
— Ch. 3, "Sign/Signified"
Every essence of every creature we can define is a mote of starlight awash in the great pouring plenum of existence, a plenum endless as Aristotle’s sea of potentiality, but with this difference: existence, for Aquinas, is radiant with intelligence. This intelligence is a kind of light within light, a vision within every vision, an uncreated current beneath each creature.
— Ch. 4, "The Existential Plenum"
Metaphor is not only a pairing of images, a smart overlapping of forms, it is rather a first cry that rises through the overlapping, for the first cry is like the curve of light, already turned toward unity. The communal cry is sexual and is unifying and is transcendent. You are swept up in the power of metaphor when, after a long day indoors, you go outside to see the vault of stars across the arc of darkness, and your vision soars upward to become one with the stars.
— Ch. 5, "Metaphor"
Surely, when we say with Pound, “Make it new,” we are also saying: make it where it was first made. Make love where love was first made. Give yourself over to the energies of the poetic plenum. The Poem moves like a vast tide, rocking back and forth. Form is never more than a series of extensions of oceanic motion, crossing all time. Let these energies create you anew, let these powers write you.
— Ch. 6, "The Post-Historical Present"
The poet lingers, not so much to produce a detailed description—this I believe is a misconstrued conception of poetry’s function, a residue of some parsimonious analysis of substance. No: stay with something in order to see that whatever the signified may be, it pulses beneath a living sign.
— Ch. 7, "Linger Awhile"
The saint’s will is to be simple, but is it the poet’s will as well? I don’t know. The poet is beaten in the waves, the poet churns in the crazy mix, and yet all along she is aware of the halo—a pale blue light. The first and last poem are completely simple, and entirely free.
— Ch. 8, "Simplicity and Complexity"
Which comes first, substance or relationship? One cannot simply say substance, because everything seems predicated upon prior relationship. Even in some imagined initiatory state, we cannot ever separate being from relationship. Being grows from a ground of ceaseless interconnectedness, and this interconnectedness is logos itself, dreaming its own root and bloom.
— Ch. 9, "Relationship"
Indeed, what is it to be fully anything? The window closes, and we sense that interior density again, that opacity: a place or anti-place beyond all communication.
— Ch. 10, "What Is A Poet, If There Is Any"
Numinous experience is hardly dead—it remains utterly endemic to the human person. We can color holy dread with sarcasm, we can deny that holy awe has any objective place, but such responses are shown for everyone, at one time or another, to be false. The world is full of gods, and the gods belie direct treatment unless direct treatment admits the full mysterious experience of being human.
— Ch. 11, "A Felt Architectonics of the Numinous"
What is poetry? It is a grace of bewilderment where subjective and objective calls become a sometime cacophony. What do we see and hear? The answer becomes a complex of awe-full contradictions where object logic fails us.
— Ch. 12, "A Theopoetics for Nishida Kitaro"
No creature can say: I simply am and always have been and always will be—I rely solely and strictly upon my own vitality. I lift myself up by my own bootstraps. Because nothing can say this definitively, everything is in radical embrace with everything else. The mystery of vitality is the mystery of community is the mystery of commonality is the mystery of poetry.
— Ch. 13, "Toward a Redefinition of Metaphysical Poetry"
Words are the poem’s sun-source. Words both carry and create a cosmology. The sun is the wheeling story.
— Ch. 14, "Poetic Language"
Sound must find the idea hiding in the secret ocean of its shell-like ear. Sound must delight in the idea, and curl about it like a tongue. I have a markedly incomplete idea of how this works, but the mystery of poetic faith claims that it does indeed work. Music-magic gives birth to meaning-magic.
— Ch. 15, "Listening"
Doesn’t contemporary poetry still need the Fire in the fire, the unchanging I AM in the burning desert of our lives? Isn’t this ancient alchemical work of turning the existential and the Platonic into each other, of coming, in the turning, to a new epiphany, still our work?
— Ch. 16, "The Existential Angel"
Emptiness is the principal of unity—the wave nature of matter itself, slipping through every thought, through every attempted formal delineation.
— Ch. 17, "Striding"
The inception of philosophy is wonder, a “wonder- struck beholding,” as Hannah Arendt so beautifully puts it. Wonder curves as a rainbow of overriding consequence—a light that connects earth and sky. Wonder is always close to something like a theophany, an awe filled thanksgiving, kindred both to fear and praise.
— Ch. 18, "Thanksgiving"
Poetry is relentlessly transcendent and passionately inclusive. The transcendence I write of is not a leaving behind of anything, but an intensification of everything. Passionate inclusion occurs through this very intensification. This is the fiery vision I need.
— Ch. 19, "The Child of the Universe"
A person is not sacred because he swells with accomplishment, a person is sacred because he is a person. Any homeless man might be Oedipus at Colonus, blind and seeing and feeling the earth, the temple being present where ever he walks or rests. Contrary to this, any powerful political figure might be Oedipus Rex, ready to be brought down through his own heavy hubris.
— Ch. 20, "The Copula"
When the poet calls forth such an allusion as Lethe, or such mythical gods as, say, Venus or Athena, he is calling forth, and consequently experiencing, real presences, real powers we have, in the course of poetry’s history, ascribed with multiple names. These names are mouths wherethrough real presences arise into the poem.
— Ch. 21, "Robert Duncan"
When a poem lives and breathes in an act of inclusive transcendence—when, in whatever manner, the offering up includes us—the poem has indeed been made for a holy purpose.
— Ch. 22, "The Icon"

I should mention that the book can be purchased in our virtual bookshop. We extend our profound gratitude Elizabeth Robinson, not only for her introduction but for her ongoing, inspiring work in poetry and community. Art director Indigo Deany's beautiful portrait of David graces the book's cover. We'll have more in the manner of communal dreams, thought-experiments, and lunar poetics to share in the coming winter weeks. 

Yours in the ancient arms of the elements,