Writers Are Magick

The subtitle of The Poet and the Mind-Brian is:

Science, Philosophy, and Magick, with a k.

When I use the word magick, with a K at the end, I’m not identifying with Aleister Crowley, who coined the term, and has been called the most evil man in the world.

And he was pretty evil, and vile.

For a quick, enjoyable read of his life and significance to witchcraft, read Gary Lachman’s Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World.

He did some evil, messed up stuff, and he was incredibly misogynist and racist.

But he also had intense moments of focus, flashes of genius, wherein he was so absorbed into metaphysics that he was able to create his own religion, Thelema, whose concepts remain influential even today in esoteric communities.

His influence is rooted in many traditions of witchcraft, including Gerald Gardener’s version of Wicca.

I put a K at the end of the word magick to distinguish between the practice of magic, that is witchcraft, sorcery, esoteric practice, and magic the way we use the word colloquially.

If I say, My day was magic! –My visit to Mexico City was magic !–

My date night with my wife was magic!– I don’t mean someone cast a spell.

Magic can means many things, but when I use the word magick, it means one thing:

The practice of directing energy from one source or many into manifesting some goal in the material world, the practice of channeling energy, an action is rooted in a basic concept of reality, which has traditionally been articulated As above, so below.

Magick uses and manipulates energies (sprits, quantum fields, faith and prayer) to achieve material goals. Magick is the ability to focus.

That’s what I mean by magick.

It doesn’t necessarily mean witchcraft.

It is the act of manipulating and using energy, often without our conscious awareness that we are doing it.

That’s what writers do.

That’s what mystics do.

When Saint Teresa allowed her body to seep into ecstasy, wherein her flesh trembled and she felt as if she were corporally connected to God, that was channeling energy.

That is what I mean by magick.

Every good work of art starts with Energy, Desire, Will –with unformed energy that does not yet have image or meaning. Pure energy.

That’s what I mean by magick.

POETS ARE AMBULANCE CHASERS

The poet is the original ambulance chaser.

Not the lawyer.

The term ambulance chaser culturally indicates a lawyer who is looking for somebody that was injured, so they could file a lawsuit, especially if the victim is someone who falls at a Walmart, or any big company that can be sued.

Poets are ambulance chasers too, but on a metaphorical, abstract and much more positive level.

We chase the possibility of death, we pursue the stories and voices of the dead, because even if we are not consciously aware of it, when the possibility of death is present, there too, like Lorca says, you will find the Duende, the dark spirit of art that gives tension and depth to our stories and poems. 

We chase dead, and when there is a possibility of death, we run at it like a lawyer chases an ambulance.

It could be a story about someone getting on a plane in Los Gatos, being deported back to Mexico by immigration, and we know where the plane will end up. It could be a poem that creates tension out of simple observation, such, as

The fly in the lampshade putters sporadically
around the bulb, bumping a small body over & over
into rounded plastic

That fly contains the possibility of death. So we watch it. We are fascinated.

Obviously, I mean this metaphorically.

Poets travel back and forth between multiple realities, including one of the most basic dualities, the world of the dead and the world of the living.

EVERY GOOD POEM CREATES AN ANGEL

Almost every day, at least several times a week, I ask myself large, trite questions like a stoned teenager discovering philosophy for the first time.  I ask myself, Why are we here?

Do I have an eternal soul?

These are questions which mystics and physicists explore, and it is an exhilarating activity that often leads you to the Thinker’s High .

In The God Particle, Lederman writes about the moments all physicists experience when they explore the big questions, but in the quote below, I took out the word “physicist” and replaced it with poet, but in italics, so you know that it’s me.

The life of a poet is filled with anxiety, pain, hardship, tension, attacks of hopelessness, depression, and discouragement. But these are punctuated by flashes of exhilaration, laughter, joy, and exultation. These epiphanies come at unpredictable times. Often they are generated simply by the sudden understanding of something new and important, something beautiful, that no one else has revealed.

Asking these large questions, as silly as it may seem, is something great writers do consciously or unconsciously, and their poems and stories are like elegant equations.

Like scientists, writers want to express reality.

We want to write a haiku so intense that it will transform the reader like Borges’ Aleph into all points of space and time at once. You will get a glimpse.

I love what haikus can do to you, transform you to another space and time. They bring you there –for a flash!–then bring you back.

In my opinion, below are the two most elegant Haikus ever written:

In the ancient pond

A frog jumps into

The sound of water

And:

E=MC2

Imagine a haiku that brings you everywhere in space-time at once, all places and moments .

The more Reality there is in a work, that is, the ability to transcend space-time, the more beautiful the experience of the poem.

As waste of the time it may seem, asking big questions may help a writer in moments of creativity to enter into other realms of the imagination.

And imagination is an entrance into other universes. Imagination is our wormhole into places not rooted in our experience in time and space, but which may very well allow us to glimpse the thoughts of God. 

The Talmud says every good deed creates an angel.

I believe every good poem creates an angel, too, because its elegant use of language releases intense spiritual, intellectual, and emotional energy into the mind of the reader.

But beware, because if every good poem creates an angel, does every bad poem create a demon?

Probably every good poem makes an angel and a demon, and the fight they have is reflected in the work as tension.

Every good poem comes from questions that cannot be reconciled.

Why are we here?

What is the meaning of life?

I think it’s important to understand that if a writer sets out to write a poem about the meaning of life, it won’t be a very good poem. The poem most likely won’t create any demons; rather it’ll make mischievous little imps who will irritate the person reading the poem.

Do I contradict myself?

No.

I’m not saying a writer should set out to write a poem about the big questions, but I am saying that everything we experience on a visceral, emotional, and intellectual level has its roots in questions that can never be answered but that we cannot live without pondering. And it would be well for the writer to take time just to think about the big things, the corny questions, What is my purpose? Who created us? Who has the best burritos in El Paso ?

These questions, pondered and played with while you’re taking a walk, while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store with your device firmly shoved into your pocket or purse, are fun questions to imagine. They can lead your mind away from ordinary thinking.

And like a stoned teenager asking himself the big questions, the answers you imagine might even make you giggle.

Other people in line at the grocery store might look at you funny, but who cares?

A Poet, A Neuroscientist, and a Witch Walks Into Bar. . .

Bartender puts down a single napkin and asks her, What can I get you?

Get it?

The title isn’t a grammatical error, the subject and verb agree, because the poet who walks into the bar  –I picture someone badass like Natalie Scenters-Zapico, confident, meeting up with other poets for dinner and drinks during AWP—is also the scientist and the witch. 

Maybe in some ways, or like the poet Andrés Montoya used to tease me for saying, on some levels all poets are scientists and practice magick (why a k?). 

Poets are like scientists (on some level they are scientists) because they have a curiosity about how things work, especially the brain-mind, what motivates people, how they feel, see, taste and connect ideas in meaningful ways. The best poets seem to soak their feet into the intellectual waters of sundry subjects. Toni Morrison dipped into the Nag Hammadi, which are beautifully creative texts reinforcing the gnostic point of view of God and Reality. Poe studied physics. Borges studied Kabbalah. Pizarnik studied philosophy.

Poets are neuroscientists.

Poets are witches.

But first, let me define what I mean by “Poet.”

I remember having a conversation with my colleague, the poet and translator Rosa Alcalá. 

She told me it irritates her when people write emails addressing “poets and writers.”  

Rosa is a working-class Latina from Paterson, New Jersey, and when she’s defending a position she sometimes switches into street mode, the don’t-fuck-with-me nod of the head. 

She tells me, Are they saying I’m not a writer? How are poets not writers?

I agree, and ever since our conversation I rarely make the distinction between poets and writers.

We are one.

By poet I don’t mean only those who write verse. I mean all creative writers.

Everyone knows that there was a time in our human story when narratives were told only in verse, and verse was used only to tell stories, but somewhere along the plot-line of humanity, what God had put together –the storyteller and the poet — were torn asunder. 

It was not a natural or inevitable split, so it makes sense that by poets we can mean all creative writers, poets, fiction writers, memoirists.

We’re all poets. All creative writers, all genres. Poets.

(By the way, what is the collective noun for poets?? You have a murder of crows, an army of ants, perhaps a star of poets?)

So a poet is a writer. 

The term neuroscientist, as it appears in the joke, refers to scientists in general, to the methods and the value system, especially those sciences involved in the quest to unite all of reality, such as physics and studies of the mind-brain duality. 

Scientists seek to unite, to offer one elegant equation about reality, the universe, the way things work.  

They say that the holy grail of physics is how Quantum mechanics, the study of the subatomic world of electrons and strange quarks can have the same laws as the theories of relativity, spacetime and the planets and the universe. 

The two areas of science don’t agree, and if someone can come up with a ToE, something Einstein tried but failed at most of his adult life, they will know the thoughts of god.

That’s one of the most famous quotes in all physics, Einstein saying, I want to know the thoughts of God. Everything else is detail.

The scientist who walks into this bar, who is also a poet, is the kind of scientist that believes reality can be explained through math, i.e. language, using the most elegant equation. A haiku of reality such as

E=MC2

Ever since Galileo math has been the language of science, and if it cannot be expressed in math, it is not science, it’s philosophy, metaphysics. What makes neuroscience fun to follow is how math is being used to explain consciousness, our behavior, our unpredictability, the mystery of our experiences. 

A book I highly recommend, readable for nonscientists like me is The Forgetting Machine by Rodrigo Quian Quíroga. 

He created a mathematical model of neuronal activity and can pinpoint with precision how neurons fire when a concept is brought up in the mind, like Jennifer Aniston. 

He found that there is a Jennifer Aniston neuron in your brain, and it serves only to represent her and what she means to you, and every time it fires, he can chart — again with mathematical precision — what other neurons will fire as a result. 

He’s from Argentina, Buenos Aires, having studied physics, but like a lot of neuroscientists today, he became interested in the brain. 

Since his emphasis is memory, he has found a connection with Borges and has written a book about him and memory, which I’ve yet to read, but I’ve ordered it and will get back to you on what I think.

So a poet is a neuroscientist.

What about the witch?

Why are poets witches?

In a nutshell:

When we follow language into imaginary places and possibilities, we travel outside of our bodies, like soul travel. We often enter into the zone, where matter and spacetime disappear. This is well known among writers. 

In other language, we enter into the astral plain, where we’re met with guides (voices) and demons (rhythms and incantation) and we are shown entirely new worlds in which anything can happen.  

Poets travel the various levels of reality in our imagination, and the more we are willing to allow language to lead us into alternate universes, the more we are able to see beyond the ordinary. This is why some fundamental Christian sects claim that free writing is evil, because you’re channeling demons, or more accurately daemons. Muses. Duende.

Do you know how long it could take practitioners of esoteric knowledge to enter into some of the realms that poets have visited?

Poets are witches.

The Geometry of Meditation

When you try box breathing, your feet firmly planted on the floor, sitting up with good posture, your eyes closed, you breathe in and hold it for as long as you just breathed in; and then you breathe out and hold it for as long as you just breathed out; and repeat. . . breathe like a box. 

If your eyes are closed and you are consciously practicing box breathing you are going to imagine a box, so in the center of your imagination, which is like a circle in the middle of your body, there is a square.  

The square doesn’t exist. You can’t pick it up or smell it, unless of course your imagination is greater than most, so the square that you have inside of you, the one that you imagine, is not significant for its material properties, but for its encoded meaning. What does the square mean?

Whatever it is, underlining all meanings are energies, and you now have the energy of that symbol within you.

I think the military uses this breathing technique not only for the mindfullness it encourages, but also because a square is like protective walls, four walls that keep whatever is inside, which is you or your team, safe.

There are four walls surrounding you, inhale, silence, exhale, silence.  

There are other more powerful meanings to a Square as well. 

I’m sure I could Google them and find many, structure, balance, law and order, the body. The point is in that in your imagination you hold a square and it has properties, particular meanings embedded into the image, whether or not the observer is conscious of them.

So if you could do box breaking as square in your imagination, can you practice the same technique with other geometry, like a diamond?

Breathe in at the bottom point, hold, breathe out, hold. Or can you imagine the breaths making a triangle?

 And what are the possible meaning of the diamond and the triangle? 

If you become really disciplined at this breathing technique, you could even make a star, a pentagram and a hexagram, or however many sides you want, and now that energy is also within you. Or if you are rooted in Christian tradition you could breathe a cross, and in imagining that cross built by your own breaths, you hold it within you, the power of it. You are the temple.

How many of these geometric shapes can you have spinning around in your imagination at once? Are they useful?

It may not be easy to access the power of geometry, because box breathing is a meditation practice, and unless you meditate often, it is difficult to not think, and so easy to leave the moment to think about the past or the future. 

But if you could get good at focusing on the Now and tweak the practice to include other shapes, you could have a whole range of geometry inside of you, not to rule you, not to tell you what to do, but to be part of your connection to All.