Satish Kumar: perspective, purpose, and planetary poetry
Satish Kumar is a clear voice for elegant simplicity, profound artistry, reverential ecology, and compassionate living. He is a poet of action.
Both of his books, No Destination and You are Therefore I am: A Declaration of Dependence, are autobiographical.
photo by Peggy Dobreer They chart the shaping of his life, his purpose, and his message. According to Theadore Rosnak, author of The Making of a Counter Culture, “Satish Kumar is among the most important educators of the 20th Century."
He continues to play out his life purpose today. He is the long-time editor of Resurgence Magazine, the program director of Schumacher College in the UK, an international speaker, and a peace activist. His latest book, The Buddah and the Terrorist will be released in September 2005 by Greenbooks Publishing.
PDB: Your article "An Elegant Simplicity," in the last issue of Resurgence, was informative and inspirational, and it read like poetry to me. Do you consider yourself a poet? And do you have a poem that you would share with us?
SK:One of my favorite poets is Gerard Manley Hopkins. He was a Christian pastor in Scotland and wrote about 100 poems. That is his entire work, but they are simple and profound words of imagination, and one of my favorite poems by him is called Inversnaid:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
There are two kinds of poetry: one in words, the other in the way of being. If one lives imaginatively and creatively then every human act can become a poem. The great German artist, Joseph Beuys, once said that everyone is an artist. In a similar vein, an Indian art connoisseur, Ananda Coomaraswami, also said, "An artist is not a special kind of person, but every person is a special kind of artist."
We need to transform every human activity into a work of art, a work of poetry. Then, art and poetry will become a way of life. I don’t like putting art or poetry or spirituality for that matter, into a box. I like to see these qualities integrated into everyday living. A beautiful garden is a work of art. A meal, well prepared and beautifully presented, is a poem. Art is not just for decorating the walls, or commodities to be owned as an investment. We need to re-examine our attitude towards art, and liberate it from the prisons of museums, galleries and concert halls. If you look at the traditional societies, everything they made was useful and beautiful at the same time. There was no separation between utility and aesthetics. Their clothes, their shoes, their pots and pans, their homes were made well. Anything that is made well, made with heart, mind and hands in unison – then it is art, and poetry.
PDB: I loved the poetry of Mary Oliver, also in the last edition of Resurgence. What do you look for in the poets that you publish?
SK: Yes, Mary Oliver is one of the favorites. She writes in the same tradition as Gerard Manley Hopkins. Her poetry is not just for entertainment. Although her composition and language is superb, in her poetry there is something greater than skillfulness and use of language. She uses the language to convey something which goes beyond language. When I read her poetry, I feel that she is using the words as vehicles to convey something deep and profound, almost transcendental.
In Resurgence we have a regular section devoted to poetry, and we are looking for poets and poems which convey that deep meaning.
PDB:Do you think that poets have an ethical responsibility to the society they represent?
SK:Yes, because poets are citizens too, and every citizen has to take ethical, ecological and social responsibility. Everyone has to use their particular gift in a way that goes beyond self-expression, and serves the needs and aspirations of people and planet. Take William Blake for example. He was a revolutionary poet – he challenged the orthodoxies of his time, and questioned the way society was moving in purely rational and materialistic directions. In our own time, poets such as Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder and of course Mary Oliver are poets who exercise responsibility but this does not mean that they use poetry or art as a means of propaganda or preaching. Propaganda and preaching destroy the imagination and creativity. The hallmark of good poetry is to use creativity and imagination for the service of the earth, the humanity and something beyond earth and humanity, the sacred and divine mystery. A poet such as Rumi comes into that category. Love of divine, love of nature, and love of people becomes a continuum of the life and work of such poets.
PDB:I believe it was Senator Edward Kennedy who said on a news dialogue about the 9/11 tragedy in relationship to the war in Iraq, that when society is in a period of communal mourning, the people turn to poets to seek solace and comfort. Do you think this is true?
SK:Yes it is true. A heart filled with sorrow can find solace in poetry, in art and in music as much as in nature and friendship. When I am despondent, confused or filled with doubt, I read the Indian ‘Song of the Lord’ (Bhagavad-Gita) which is one of the most beautiful poems written in Sanskrit language - it is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the Warrior Arjuna. In this dialogue Arjuna expresses his bewilderment, confusion, perplexity and despondency – he is filled with sorrow and doubt. And at that time, Lord Krishma sings the poems filled with wisdom, and lifts the heart of Arjuna. This is my example of finding solace in poetry.
PBD: When I met you at the Ahimsa Center, I was in tears and embarrassed. You reassured me by saying that a broken heart is often the resource for creativity. Resurgence is such a creative anthology, filled with beauty, surprise, and splendid, responsible information. The rhythms of life permeate the pages and, immanently, the reader. Is there something that breaks your heart that brought you to the work you do today?
SK:The way industrial societies are tearing apart our earth, our indigenous cultures, and human qualities of compassion does break my heart. I am filled with sorrow to see that the Western consumer society is cutting the branch upon which it is sitting; destroying, contaminating and polluting the natural environment which is the source of all life, the source of inspiration and health. So, I want to do something. Editing Resurgence is something I can do. I try to present Resurgence to the world so that people can see a way of living in harmony and in awe and wonder, and in reverence to nature. I am delighted to know that you like the way Resurgence is presented – our efforts are dedicated to integrate politics with principles, science with spirituality, economics with ecology. Through such integrity and integration we can have the best of both worlds – why to choose only one when both options are available.
PBD:If a student came to you, and asked for one simple thing that he or she could do to care for the Earth and humanity, what would you say?
SK: I would say learn to bake bread – because when you bake bread you slow down. Baking bread is a kind of meditation. You can relate to the natural world through bread if you ask where the wheat was grown, how it was grown, was it organically grown or does it contain chemical fertilizers. When you bake bread you learn to celebrate the mystery of rising dough and the nourishing qualities of food. If you have no time to bake bread you have no time to live. Baking bread for yourself and for your family and friends is a door to friendship, relationships and family values as well as ecological sustainability and spiritual fulfillment.
You Are, Therefore I Am, and No Destination: An Autobiography, are both available through www.greenbooks.co.uk. Go to http://www.resurgence.org or http://www.schumachercollege.org. for information, subscriptions, and programs.