We sat down with Albert Flynn DeSilver to discuss his new book, Writing as a Path to Awakening: A Year to Becoming an Excellent Writer and Living an Awakened Life. Beginning in January, DeSilver will be offering a yearlong series of workshops in conjunction with this book at Marin Magazine’s Sausalito office.
MM: Give us an abbreviated version of your path to poetry.
AFD: During my second year of grad school, my teacher (Bill Berkson, also a poet) sent me to an anthology reading for the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. And I heard this poem that night, well it was really a line, that caught my attention. The reader was quoting the great Berkeley Renaissance poet Jack Spicer, who said, “The poet builds a castle on the moon/Made of dead skin and glass.” I just thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.
MM: And your path to meditation?
AFD: Shortly after the reading, a friend invited me to Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He said, “Hey, let’s go to this Monday night thing, this guy Jack Kornfield is giving a talk and you should come check it out.” I’d never meditated or anything. And so we went to that sitting group, and during his talk, Kornfield shared at least three or four poems, and I just saw into this whole sense of writing and poetry as a spiritual kind of gateway. I started meditating soon after, so the love of poetry and meditation became parallel paths from that point forward. That was about 20 years ago. Meditation prepares the mind and sets the groundwork for creativity to happen.
MM: What was your favorite part about being the inaugural poet laureate of Marin?
AFD: The Poetry Chair’s a giant chair made out of books that was built by my friend, Todd Pickering, and he designed it so we could wheel it around. We ended up taking it up to Mount Tam, out to Stinson Beach — we just took it all over the place. We would just plop it down and hang out. It was so spontaneous and unscripted, so it was kind of like immersing with the segments of society that were stumbling across poetry. We bought it to the county fair one year and these punk dudes from East Bay came over, and they were sort of making fun of it. But the next thing I knew, they started rapping, and we started writing it down. We ended up writing their raps on balloons and hanging the balloons from the chair.
MM: What is it about poetry that grips you more than other genres?
AFD: You don’t have to make logical sense with poetry. It’s really driven by heart-sense or a mysterious kind of prerational, post-rational expression that’s about emotionality, and emotions aren’t always rational, they’re not always logical. So poetry becomes that language of possibility, that language of mystery, that language of curiosity and unexpected magic.