* meditating with yannis ritsos

In my recent interview as part of my Distinguished Poet feature for The Inflectionist Review, I spend some time talking about the poet Yannis Ritsos and his poem “Protection” which I wrote about two years ago here.

I feel that ever since discovering Ritsos’s work years ago I keep coming back. The most recent return has come in the form of my morning meditations which consist of my reading poems aloud for about 5-10 minutes. I discovered this practice in talking with Ani about some of the physical struggles with meditation, how sitting in one spot and focusing on breathing can sometimes bring more anxiety and pain than, say, reading poems aloud.

Because of the role poetry has played in my life, reading poems aloud for the sheer focused pleasure of it feels like returning home. Approaching it like meditation, I let myself read as I used to growing up, sinking into the words, not worrying about exacting meaning, rather, the meaning instead rising from the active engagement with words. Giving myself over in this way, I believe, takes me to a similar place of selflessness as meditation – though I wouldn’t exactly call it a substitute or equivalent, more a cousin activity, closer to prayer.

book-glasses-letters-paper-study_defaultI made it through most of Spring reading through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems and have moved on to Ritsos recently. In the interview, I speak of a fateful vividness in the work of Crane and Ritsos, a characteristic that can be found in the poem below. The poem’s narrative moves from a childhood scene observed from a distance, the details moving in the first two stanzas with a similar distance. The third stanza, on the other hand, zooms in and in four lines gives a fateful image that lifts the lyric beyond words on the page.

A Myopic Child – Yannis Ritsos

The other kids romped around the playground: their voices
rose up to the roofs of the quarter, also the “splock” of their ball
like a globular world, all joy and impertinence.

But he was reading the whole time, there in the spring window,
within a rectangle of bitter silence,
until he finally fell asleep on the window sill in the afternoon,
oblivious to the voices of those his own age
and to premature fears of his own superiority.

The glasses on his nose looked like
a little bike left leaning against a tree,
off in a far-flung, light-flooded countryside,
a bike of some child who had died.

*

Happy meditating!

José

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