‘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
Soulnessness and the haunted world
“Learn to become Haunted” (“from Haunted Evaporation”)
We live in fractured times….
…Carl Jung once wrote that modern man is in search of a soul – and indeed often our world seems soullless – obligations of work, repetitions of daily life, depressing stories in the news. A soulless approach to education, to medicine and to the psyche seems to dominate – 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. This, whilst creating opportunties, has revealed the deep cracks in our culture, and seems to leave us lacking true meaning and connection.
At the centre of our moment, the ultimate consquence of the soullessness of our society finds expression in climate change, the process where the true cost of our lifestyle starts to be reckoned.
Haunted evaporations is a search for soulful images. It is an invitation to be haunted by the presences that animate 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.
It is a book of poems, 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.
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.
Haunted Evaporations holds out an invitation.
We need to tend to them 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. That it can loosen the bonds of a fixed life script, allow a rehearsal of the possible, embody a different way of being. “Drama” means “to act or do, or take action.” But the action in theatre is always on a stage – it is symbolic and poetic. It is 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 persoal 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)
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, as ways of imagining the return of banished forces that interfere with our own desires, and which we have no place for in our lives. This seems a lot like being haunted, this way of imagining the gods. They haunt us with those aspects of our lives that we refuse to face. They haunt us both our compulsion to unconciously repeat, to replay the same story or to avoid the implications of a different one. They haunt our avoidances of the meeting place, between life and death, of depressions.
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, the imaginal world that holds together soil to stone, root and branch, clould to sky. A perception of the heart that sees feels and imagines.
They’re a way of seeing pathologies reformed as mythic, of healing the split between the individual and the collective through the medicine of culture, where culture is the act of imagination completed. They depersonalise problems, linking the individual to the psyche and to nature it comes from.
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. We wait it instead like 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.
Here then is the title poem of haunted evaporations, one that seeks to clear this ground and give space for a whispering voice that longs for the return of soul, the seek it in “the ripe red heart, the green dance of ecstasy, the yellow moon of sorrow”. The voice that whispers, “learn to become haunted”