Here it is! The Atha cover design by Joe Evans!
aksaranam a-karo ‘smi
aksaranam—of letters; akarah—the first; asmi—I am
Of letters I am the letter A
Akara, the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, is the beginning of the Vedic literature. Without akara, nothing can be sounded; therefore it is the beginning of sound.Bhagavad Gita 10:33. From The Bhagavad Gita As It Is
Talking to my lovely friend and supporter Lyn recently, she taught me that the Sanskrit word Atha is actually pronounced ‘Utter’. The ‘A’ sound is soft and short in Sanskrit, unless topped with a line to show its stronger and longer pronunciation (these diacritical marks are regrettably missing from the quotation above). It’s the most basic sound of speech there is, the simplest of aspirations with the breath of the exhale shaped into sound: ‘a’. The ‘th’ combines into a hard ‘t’ sound.
I was so happy to discover this serendipity in my choice for the book’s title. I had chosen the word because Atha means ‘Now’ and is the first word in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. My poetry in the collection is both based on what is happening ‘now’ and intended to bring readers into the ‘now’ as they read.
So it was a happy accident to discover that Atha is actually pronounced ‘utter’. ‘Utter’: to speak, the act of speaking. A poem is an utterance, an act of speech brought into the world through breath, sound & rhythm. My poems utter. They speak.
This opening into multiplicity and synchronicity is foundational to my poetry – and I find examples appearing where I had not planned or expected them. Poetry, in this form, enables me to approach it as a reader, discovering new depths and possibilities each time I return ~ surrendering the assumption that I am its ‘author’. I put the words where they want to be. The poems, however, write themselves.
“Ah” is a basic mantra – “Ah” as the exhalation of the breath, as appreciation of the breath also. Appreciation of the empty space into which breath flows. The open space, into which breath flows.
So if we’re talking poetics, and beginning with breath, the vowel road is connected then with the title of the course, Spiritual Poetics. And the mantric aspect is a lot more important than has been understood in western poetry – as pure breath, as exhalation of breath, as articulation of breath, as manifestation of breath, as animation, as expression in really the easiest and most natural way of your own nature, which is by breathing, and making a sound while breathing. Just like the wind makes a sound in the leaves.Allen Ginsberg, Composed on the Tongue (1980). San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, p108-109.
The vowel a is especially significant in the Sanskrit tradition, as this verse from the Bhagavad Gita shows:http://learnsanskrit.org/sounds/vowels/simple
Of letters I am a. Of compounds I am the dual.
I alone am unending time, the Founder facing every side.Bhagavad Gita 10.33
Why is a so special? The traditional answer is that a is the origin of all vowels and the basis of all speech. If you read this answer carelessly, it might not make much sense; after all, what does a have to do with letters like “k” and “b,” and how does it relate to other vowels?
But this answer should not be taken so strictly. Recall that a is the sound of exhalation. a requires no extra effort and no movement of the tongue or lips to come forth. This is what the answer means when it says that a is the origin of all vowels; since a is the unadorned sound of air leaving through the mouth, all other vowels are modifications of it. Since a is the sound of breathing, and since breath is the basis of speech, we can say that a represents the fundamental basis of speech.
Working with the rhythms of breath and the sounds of speech, my poetry manifests as mantra and is intended as such. Particularly as my writing is beginning to evolve and develop more and more, so I’m releasing the requirement for my words and poems to mean, and simply allowing them to be. As breath, as sound, as rhythm. I invite you to allow my words to wash over you, their sounds and rhythms to create a dance for your breathing. Allow them to carry you into that no-space of meditative mind, that place where we are not separate, that place they call Utopia.
Then meaning becomes playful, spontaneous, fluid and mutable. Meanings may arise through combinations of words and the images they create. Meanings may be present for you in ways that they are not for me. Meanings may reveal themselves gradually over time, as much to me as to you.
There is no separation between writer and reader here. We’re both invited into the work of co-creation in this process: as writers, as readers – as writereaders. In the utopia of each poetic moment, we are.
Atha will be published by Knives Forks & Spoons Press.