‘The path up is the path down… The way back is the way onward… Black is white and white is black… The great secret is no secret… Come closer and I will tell you…’ * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * New poems and writings where being haunted is shorthand for the poetics of memories and feelings. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * “I’ve loved Toby Chown’s sparse poetry for some time. This small collection is a gem, full of woven myths and deep imaginings. He goes to dark places to find small flowers growing and shines moonlight on our evaporating civilisation. And the deathly line at the heart of it could stand as the admonition for our age: ‘Learn to become haunted.’” – Steve Thorp, author of Soul Meditations and editor, Unpsychology Magazine
“Learn to become Haunted” (“from Haunted Evaporation”)
The Retrieval of soul
Haunted Evaporations is a book of poems, but it also takes the form of a sequence of songs, a piece of therapeutic theatre, an open ended workshop. At it’s heart is the conviction that the process of art making is a process of coming to life, of finding a way through and of connecting deeper to other people and the world itself.
“Haunted Evaporations” is an invitation to retrieve the spark that animates words, myths, luminous moments and shadowed experiences. It’s equally present in the stillness of the trees at night, the psychogeography of an urban landscape. It is an invitation to be haunted by the small blue flame we always carry with us – the story of our own life.
Our Fractured World
We live in fractured times….
…Carl Jung wrote that modern man is in search of a soul. The modern world is often soulless – obligations of work, repetitions of daily life, depressing stories in the news. A soulless approach to education, to medicine and to the psyche dominates our lives – narrow, reductive and impersonal.
The endless neon corridors of social media encourage us to be the authors of our own identity, create ever new profiles and personas. Whilst creating opportunties, this has revealed the deep cracks in our culture. It reveals the lack of true meaning and connection.
At the centre of our reality, the ultimate consquence of our soullessness finds expression in climate change. Here the true cost of our lifestyle starts to be reckoned.
I work as a dramatherapist and a writer, a poet. To me these two actitivities are inextricably linked. What links them is the practice of poesis. Poesis means to create something new – the practice of creating a new piece of music, writing, theatre.
As a poet and as a therapist, I am always engaged in this poeisis – taking the raw materials of a life story and re-making it into something new – a re-storying, a re-shaping of the images hidden within experience.
We need to tend to our images, give them attention. In return, they invite us to follow a path through the tangled pathways, dark alleys and sunlit clearings of our lives.
The Healing Poetics of Symbolic Action
I work as a dramatherapist. Dramatherapists work from the premis that the dramatic act that can become therapeutic. Storymaking loosens the bonds of a fixed life script, allows a rehearsal of the possible. After all, the word “Drama” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to act or do, or take action.” But the action in theatre is always on a stage – it is symbolic and poetic. Drama is always symbolic action.
The word “therapy” comes from the ancient greek therapia, which means to heal, to care for, to tend to. So dramatherapy is a healing poetics of symbolic action – where the troubles of life can be worked through in the theatre of the psyche.
Taking symbolic action can help us to make decisive change in the “real” world – this is the ancient truth of ritual theatre, where myth and personal narrative blend to allow an archtypal background to everyday problems.
Haunted by absent Gods
“Orpheus, I missed you at the poetry reading” (From “Blue Flowers)
With this in mind, the poems in the collection are not about being haunted by ghosts but by gods.
‘The God’s have become diseases,’ wrote Jung – a darker vision of gods, not as fantasies but pathologies. What does this mean? It means that being haunted is a ways of imagining the return of the banished forces that interfere with our lives. It is as if banished gods haunt us with those aspects of our lives that we refuse to face. They haunt us with our compulsion to unconciously repeat the same patterns in our lives.
Inanna and the Descent into Images
A note: Gods do not offer solutions to problems, they offer the problems reimagined. This is not a call for a return to the worship of old gods. It is rather a call for a perceptual shift that allows their realm to be seen. This realm is the imaginal world that holds together soil to stone, root and branch, clould to sky. Between thought and world lies a perception of the heart that sees, feels and imagines.
Perhaps, as Martin Shaw says, myth is not meant to enchant us, but to wake us up, to remind us of what we have forgotten to call our attention to where:
from the crack
in a broken guitar” (from The Bridge)
Whether the denial is of death, of depression, of ecology, or the feminine, the gods continue to haunt us, existing in the mythic patterns enfolded in our mundane experiences.
They do this, because in each of our problems we can locate the
absence of a god – the absence of a numinous metaphor that
connects our problems to our culture. In the absence of the numinous, we may wait forever, like the mythic goddess Innana, suspended in the underworld, expectant of something to bring us to life:
“the taste of seed cake in her mouth,
the kisses memory
on her expectant lips”
(On A Hook (Re-membering Innana))
Gods, then may not be a matter of faith, they may not care if you believe in them.
They are away of seeing through to the archetypal dimensions
of the everyday, the patterns in the deep narrative. ‘The soul will fall sick again and again, until it gets what it needs,’ writes Hillman. In the same way, we find ourselves returning to the same haunts, and the same problems return in new ways, until we see through the details to the root of the issue, and discover what they really want to tell us.
So these poems act as markers of hauntings, things unseen that yet have power – the return of the gods through writing. They are metaphors for something half-known and half-felt, yet they are vital and filled with power to transform. Through this kind of writing we can learn to haunt ourselves,
“the flesh of a ghost
stiched into a heart” (from Retrieval)
These disowned forces can reclaim their birthright, both within the realm of our own haunted selves and the wider reality of our beautiful, haunted world.
As the title poem says
“in the ripe red heart,
in the green dance of ecstasy,
in the yellow moon of sorrow
learn to become haunted”