Madhuri reviews Priya Huffman’s recently published poetry book.
I’m holding the book in my hands. It’s slim but weighty, 6 inches wide and 9 tall. The cover is a photo, sepia and olive and lichen and stone colours, and conveys a feeling of texture: tree bark is depicted, and a big slab of the bone of some animal, smoother than the bark but still you could feel you’d rub it with your fingers and it would have tiny hills and valleys in it. The design makes it seem as if the bone is part of the tree; as if humans, and beasts, and all else that lives on the Earth are not different. As if, though we are the ones who witness and make commentary, still we are functionally merged with all the rest, its living and its dying.
As Rilke is quoted at the beginning:
…All that we
can achieve here, is to recognize ourselves completely
in what can be seen on earth.
And then in her preface Priya talks about how death is “…encoded into the fabric of life, into everything that is alive…”
And yes, we who read Osho News online know that our friends and our fellows leave us – one by one they leave us – mysteriously, surely. And we look at ourselves, and cannot know when.
I have a sense as I enter this book that I might not have much to say here, because the poet has said it all…
…tell me, how else can we open our eyes
but by knowing that soon enough
they will close.
That’s from the first poem, Practice.
In the next poem, Dive, she harks back to a scuba experience of that deep water just off a continental shelf:
you could go down
and down, there was
no end to the down
to the progressive
cold, the darkening…
And I think of two things: Osho saying “Go inwards, that is your earth”; how he said that people’s experience, in dying, of a tunnel with light at the end, is true: but it’s actually inside. And I think of how at the beginning of any session I give, I close my eyes and invite a deep dive – an inward, downward endlessness – “like outer space, but it’s inner space,” say I to the client and myself both; and that is the quickest way I know to come home, so that then I’m ready for the session. Maybe that home, that death, in a way; is the bridge: life/death, death/life? Maybe there is a bridge?
I’m barely at the beginning of the book and I know quite certainly that I’m in the hands of a master: someone who dares to speak, who must speak, about being human…I go to the inside back cover and am gratified to see there is an author photo. (And, in searching for it I’ve also found that the back cover shows branches and tree-trunks and they are green and brown and strong-looking. This somehow wakes me up all over again – so many opposites; there are probably as many opposites or seeming opposites as one could want, here in this world.) The picture is stunning and impressive: a beautiful woman, really gorgeous, age sitting on her very well, strong cheekbones, strong white teeth, grace and presence and poise all there. And a list of credentials under the picture: a degree from Trinity College, Dublin. Psychotherapist, potter, group leader, orchard cultivator; as well as the string of jobs we commune-workers can many of us claim: house cleaner, construction site supervisor…
And so I go on with the book.
There are so many ways
to feel loss inside of love…
That’s from Heron. Now I am over my head, already, inside Priya’s poems, drenched in meaningness, which depends for its very breath on a huge permission for meaninglessness….
There are so many moments in these poems that I can stick to, relate to – they might be different than the ones you’ll find, but I’ll bet there will be such moments – for this woman is compassion incarnate…and has been so many places I’ve been.
in San Francisco
the earth shook
I trembled too
as I saw tall glass buildings
lean in intimate
– She shapes her poems, quite literally – so that Leaf is in a leaf-shape (about falling with grace…)
And in Under the Blueberry Bushes:
…The banana slug’s ridged
back flattened by stretch
gathered by contraction
its rhythm measured
its poem ancient.
For I, too, have seen banana slugs as poems, as many of us must have!
I’m halfway through the book now – my body is woken – energies traverse me like dew on bending spider-webs – new alivenesses wink and flicker – I somehow seem to feel the natural world out there better: leaf-mulch, puddles, early evening at not quite 2 pm here; damp and rest and detail, bark and root – I plan to go walk out there, very soon. I can smell it already – and it is in Priya’s poems here too, under my nose, under my eyes, my hands – and I understand the gift poetry confers, of bringing us more to our own life – and I am given a needed boost, for I tend to disconsolately denigrate the role of poets here – put it aside as useless…. But in Priya’s poems I see it is not useless – it is like green juice, giving us life back in our veins; our spirit-veins and our body-ones.
…After the drunken
dazzle spree, the
hormones have bedded
down along with
the winter garden…
…as the needle we thread
to stitch love and meaning
into this last tapestry draped
around our shoulders…
Yes, this “speaks to my condition”, as my mother Devadasi would say.
Priya speaks of ecology and human recklessness too…in ways we can all relate to; and all larded through with sensitive and tender celebration and honouring.
Ah – a section called India. And yes, it was called ‘Bombay’ for me then too. In Chai Shop and other poems she celebrates India in such wonderful, precise description…as-is, the funky and the brave – as we celebrated it. This book is a coming home…into scenes sometimes more raw and shocking than ones I saw…
And she speaks of Desire – that Dictator of my youth:
…the smell of wood burning
cake baking, bare body
in water, warm and velvet
pitched towards breath
just one more.
Other themes I recognize here – the urge to possess the lover; going to a day spa in Poona; and themes I don’t – dogs, children…But this end to Weight I do know:
…still we choose
the weight of other.
In Declarations, I resonate to:
Ordinary life is an extraordinary luxury.
…shoes are the best part of any wardrobe.
Or, from Confession:
…I was here, I am here
why not roar.
And something I won’t call hope, but maybe it is – or maybe just reality:
…Still we trust
the hardened earth
will turn once more
will spit us out
onto verdant soil
moist and dark
ripe for seed
the holy ground
This is beautiful: for I do feel that ground, this ground, this life, is holy…not a thing to want to flee.
Priya has the gift of not-using-too-many-words, and just the right ones. I hope someone will help me with such a gift, sometime – give it to me somehow; at least so that I could choose to use it, or not.
The last poem, Winter/Spring, says
…Every morning since
our longest night
I watch with hunger
the shy inch worm
of returning light
‘Light relief’ is also a phrase my mother uses…laughing, at 98, as she’s always laughed – and this fragment speaks to me as so many of Priya’s poems do; as I write this on December 21st, shortest day of the year, in the wild wet north of England; and it is yet, by all accounts, too warm for its proper winter-nature…and the clouds run as fast over the sky as they can, and I’m going to go out there – nourished, thrilled, buoyed up, by these poems – as if the very fact of aliveness has been given, from many angles all at once, including the deathly-seeming ones…a new and tender-hearted boost. Like wet dark leaves just made of this wonderful-smelling thing called Earth.
Review by Madhuri for Osho News
Priya’s poem Vipassana’s Last Dance
Book Launch and Readings:
Friday, 15th January 2016, 7:30pm
at MadeLife, 2000 21st Street
organised by the Boulder Book Store
Tuesday, 23rd February 2016, 6:30 pm
Banyen Book Store
3608 West 4th Street, Vancouver
www.amazon.com, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Denver, Banyen Books Vancouver
Priya Huffman (aka Ma Yoga Priya) holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Psychology, a masters in Psychology, both from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. She took sannyas at Mount Abu in 1973, and rejoined secular life in 1986 as a practicing psychotherapist. Priya is a potter and poet who lives in Boulder, Colorado and Cortes Island, British Columbia. Priya is the author of one previous book of poetry, The Territory of Home. priyahuffman.com
More articles and poems by this author on Osho News