My second poetry book, Atha, is NOW AVAILABLE from Knives, Forks & Spoons Press!
Atha is a Sanskrit word. It’s the first (and arguably the most important) word in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
“Atha yoganusasanam“Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1:1
Atha means ‘Now’. Patanjali uses this word to bring us immediately into the present moment, the ‘Now’ in which yoga (meaning ‘yoke’ or ‘union’) can occur.
My poetry engages with this same principle. Each poem – and the book as a whole – is intended to bring readers into this moment: the moment of reading, the moment of breathing, the moment of each poem’s duration. In Patanjali’s ‘Now’, yogic union is possible between self and other as the ultimate self-encounter. In Utopian Poetics, this same encounter is anticipated as something that is both possible and ‘not yet’. That is, each poem invites us into a place of non-separation, where the lines between reader and writer are permeable, each acting as co-creator of meaning as the poem unfolds within a multiplicity of possibilities. Yet each poem, limited by its material form in terms of words and structure, can never fully embody or invite the complete union that would constitute non-separation. In each poem, non-separation between self and other is both possible and ‘not yet’.
The yogic term for this experience of non-separation (again from Patanjali) is Samadhi.
Samadhi is derived from the Sanskrit, sam, meaning “together with,” “completely,” or “perfectly,” a, meaning “near to” or “all around” and dha, meaning “put.” Its most basic definition implies a complete state of concentration. For a practitioner of yoga and for a disciple of meditation, the spiritual significance of samadhi is much more profound. In the classical system of Patanjali, samadhi is the eighth and final step in the meditative process before the Self is released from its self-ignorance and enters the ultimate condition of kaivalya, “aloneness.”https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/4995/samadhi
When the mind loses its essential nature (subjectivity), as it were, and the real knowledge of the object alone shines (through the mind) Nirvitarka Samadhi is attained.Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1:43
Yet ‘Now’ also speaks to the material, physical, political and social conditions of our present moment – our collective ‘Now’, seemingly in the constant flux of chaos and crisis, and always in the process of (re)birthing itself.
The poems collected in Atha use collage techniques to anchor into the reality of this moment. Refusing to avoid the challenges and political crises of our time, while navigating a deeper channel of the possibility of utopia that can be accessed even now.
To see what I mean, take a look at these ‘Three Yoga Poems’* taken from the section ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’ in Atha.
Sally-Shakti Willow’s bold new collection Atha utilises collage technique to espouse a Utopian Poetics described as ‘a relationship of non-alienation between reader and writer’ in which one encounters one’s embodied and intersubjective self. In combining fragments from a rich array of sources such as yoga manuals with the 24 hour news cycle, Willow ensures that this enquiry fully integrates inner and outer worlds in lines like ‘hormone secretions stimulate freedom of movement.’ In her series of rituals for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, this utopian tension is memorably chased by a ‘ghostword’ that ‘sembles’ and ‘dissembles’ as it ‘search [es] the words / for the root.’ The final section ‘Movement & Meditation’ opens with the question ‘how to metabolise this’, when ‘this’ feels like all the evils of the world rising to engulf us. That the answer must be ‘my voice’ puts Willow’s courageous and generous work firmly in the company of writers like Maggie O’Sullivan – to whom she pays tribute here – making Atha an accomplished and inspiring act of ‘edgewordering.’
In Sanskrit, Atha is pronounced like ‘utter’ – the ‘a’ being the most basic sound of exhaled air through the mouth, and the ‘th’ forming a harder ‘t’ sound. As a poet, to utter to is speak, to pronounce. An utterance is a speech act. And a poem is an act of speech.
Speaking my poetry aloud is an important part of the poem’s performance for me. The poem lives in its sounds and rhythms.
This weekend, I gave several readings of my poetry from Atha to launch the book at Into the Wild Beltaine festival. Reading venues included the Spoken Word Yurt, the Into the Wild Cafe Stage, as resident poet in Hemp by Nature, and an intimate launch event in Sacred Visions Gallery.**
Copies of Atha are available now! Order direct from Knives Forks & Spoons press here.
* My thanks to paul hawkins, guest editor at Burning House Press, for first publishing ‘Three Yoga Poems’ in November 2018.
** My thanks to Damian BB Wood for the opportunity to read at Into the Wild, thanks to Hayley & Pete for creating the welcoming space of Hemp by Nature, and deep love & gratitude to Philippa & Clive Hedger and Yvonne McG at Sacred Visions Gallery for the creating the perfect energy to launch Atha into the world.