How the Light Gets In

I’m writing from Key West, where I’m attending the Key West Literary Seminars (KWLS) — as the grateful recipient of a teacher scholarship. I’m here for a week, one glorious week, and weather-wise, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It was a bit more complicated to leave school for one week after just heading back post-Christmas vacation, but I’m sure the students are also thrilled for some writing /catch up/ down time. They have plenty to do in my absence!

The theme of the seminar this year is How The Light Gets In: literature of the spirit. I’m going to try to post throughout the week.

Festivities began last night at the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center. What an amazing evening! We were treated to music by the Paul Winter Consort — gorgeous, uplifting music against a backdrop of stars and light. Music, Pico Iyer told us in his introduction, clears the mind and truly lets in light, perhaps more sharply or clearly than words can. Iyer talked about Leonard Cohen, who said we must “say Amen to the way things are.” He talked about visiting Cohen in the various places he has lived, stories that illustrate Cohen’s deep understanding revealed in “Hallelujah.” Cohen has also said that”Light comes through many windows.” And here, Iyer noted, Cohen is paraphrasing Emerson (it always comes back to Emerson) who said, “Cracks are where the light gets in.” And perhaps, Emerson was quoting Rumi who said “Our wounds are how the light gets in.”

We were then blessed- – and I use that word deliberately — with poems by Marilyn Nelson, Mark Doty, Barry Lopez, Coleman Barks, Patricia Hampl, Jane Hirschfield, and Mary Rose O’Reilly — all coordinated with music from the consort. And I was transported, brought to that place of knowing, of feeling the light enter, of reaffirming once again my strong belief that it is in our art, in our music, our words, our dance, our painting, that we find and reveal the Divine, how I, at least, understand God.

When I listened to Pico Iyer’s words — “It’s important, what we feel on our knees as a lover and a monk,” I was reminded immediately of Whitman, whom we’re reading in my 11th grade English class right now. I thought of the sexual imagery he uses throughout “Song of Myself” as a sacred metaphor, the way he uses the body, too, in both sacred and profane ways, and how, in our class discussions, sometimes I see that light enter my students’ brains and hearts, how I sometimes feel it too, a flash of understanding, a glimpse of something more powerful than the words on the page in front of us.

I’m going to leave you today with words from Paulette Alden, whom I had the opportunity to sit next to at last night’s events. These words are printed in our program for the seminar. She says: “I had a revelation. I believed in literature. I meant this in the same way that people believe in God, their need for Him. But there it was. I believed in literature, it became my religion and for all those years, in my own fail way, I had been true to it.”

I can’t wait for more!

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