Poet’s Pilgrimage – Mevlana Rumi, Konya.

It’s 10am. The birds are only just stretching their wings as I arrive through the front gate, pass my bag through security and enter the grounds of the museum. Immediately I feel a sense of peace and solitude, calm and serenity. I’m glad I’ve arrived early; I have the whole place to myself. I notice ‘Konya, the city of hearts’ and fall in love with the phrase, eager to have my photo with it.

I follow the path round to the left which opens up to the main courtyard and entrance, my heart audibly thumping away. There is soothing reed music playing, gently inviting you in. In the centre there is an area for ablution. I stand in the middle and absorb the atmosphere, the light, the sun and become lost in a different world, away from everything. The wording above the entrance cites ‘Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’ in Arabic script, which warms my heart to be able to read. I take a deep sigh just like I did when I saw Medina and Mecca for the first time. The security guard is relaxed and glances at me as I walk in. It feels good to be away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul’s busy streets and moody airport security staff. My thoughts: I feel mad, completely mad to be here so early. Who takes a morning flight for a day trip to see a shrine? I know what this means to me. It means that I have paid my respects and connected with the soul of another human being, who, through his closeness with The Creator, produced the most wonderful magic on the page. This is a pilgrimage for me. It is holy, pure and real.

It is eerily quiet and dimly lit inside. I approach the grave slowly, my shoes making the most embarrassing noise , that of heavy shopping bags intermittently being dragged across the floor (you can only walk in here with blue plastic covers on your feet). I reach Rumi’s grave and am confused and surprised to see that there are many other people buried here too so I work out from the plan that he’s buried next to his son.  The tombs are all constructed with stone structures imitating those of Mevleviana hats, with turban – like moulds around each one. It almost brings them all to life, giving a surreal sense of their eternal physical presence. My thoughts: at this moment my mind is completely blank and unable to process that I’m actually here. I take a few moments to compute it all and then say my prayers. Now I begin to wonder about his life and his companions – how did they live, what was their daily routine and ponder on just how lucky and blessed these souls are to receive hundreds and thousands of prayers by so many people near and far, century after century. I feel overwhelmed and immensely lucky and blessed to be here, as a poet but more as a human being.  I say all my prayers for the deceased and for all of poethood to succeed in bringing about positive change to our world.

I walk over to the encased collection of cloak and caps that belonged to Rumi and the books by him, Hafiz and several old copies of the Quran. Something keeps pulling me back to the graves so I visit them again, saying prayers quietly but fervently under my breath. No amount of time I spend here seems to be enough. The more I have the more I crave.

After some quiet time alone in here I walk out back into the courtyard to see the displays in the museum which was once living quarters. I learn more about  the practises of the Mevlevi order, how it came about and how it ended. There are accessories, praying beads and details of the daily lifestyle here, complete with very real looking mannequins frozen in time, either in the kitchen, chilling, dining, learning to whirl or praying.

There is one particularly insightful detail about building internal resilience which I notice – the students spent many days in isolation and as soon as they felt they were unable to cope they would leave. If they failed any of the stages of their spiritual training their shoes would be turned to face the other way, indicating their unsuitability.  The Mevlevis also kept from their very modest income a minimum amount of money for food and clothes, giving away the rest to the poor families in the surrounding areas. A sudden sadness overtakes me when I learn about the ban on Sufism, making me reflect on power, politics and pride. The practice may be banned but the Sufi spirit will still live. I fold away these words deep into my chest, check the time and suddenly realise I’ve spent more than two hours here already.

I look across at the wall protecting this museum, beyond which is my life, chaos and in less than four hours a flight waiting to take this pilgrim back ‘home’.

To Learn the Future

 

 

 

A copy of The Scottish Poetry Library’s To Learn the Future arrived today with a loud announcement through the letterbox, hitting the terracotta floor in the porch, demanding my immediate attention to go running to pick it up. I had been waiting for a week for my copy and it arrived well in time. I opened the package in haste and out popped a bright blue pocket-size handbook.

My poem A Book Closer to Home was first published by Bloodaxe a few years ago in the anthology Out of Bounds. Lilias Fraser, the project manager at the Scottish Poetry library, got in touch with me on Twitter a few months ago and  told me she had come across my poem in an archive when she was searching for poems on the theme of ‘otherness’; she wanted to publish it in this new gift for newly qualified teachers. It was a pleasant surprise. Of course, after a telephone discussion, I agreed. Incidentally,  I was in Scotland a few weeks later for my birthday, exploring Braemar, so I stopped in Edinburgh to pop in and meet Lilias. I liked her energy and passion for this project and listened to her with deep interest as she told me about other projects they have undertaken, such as the previously published book of poems for GPs – she gave me a copy which I enjoyed reading on the way back to Brum.

The book of poetry for teachers is beautifully produced, is of very good quality, with a bright and eye-catching cover. I like the list of biographies at the back and there are well-known poets like Carol-Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay in it as well as other poets I have not heard of before but have made a strong presence on the page. The book brings together different voices addressing various aspects of education, the learning experience, not just the teaching experience. Mine falls under the chapter ‘Getting to Know’.

As soon as I could I called my mum to tell her the good news, having waited until the evening (she is in Canada at the moment). Her tired insomniac eyes lit up with pride and sparkled. I love seeing my mother’s eyes shine when I tell her about a new publication. It’s like all of a sudden youth jumps back into her body, momentarily lighting her up; within an instant her frail stature becomes stronger. I hide my sadness for her but continue to let it run wild on the page.

As always, I thanked her for creating those experiences and memories for me from which I write and WhatsApped her a copy.

I’m very pleased with this edition and hope to work together with the Library in the future.

Thank you Lilias. Thank you mum. Thank you to the forces that create luck and fortune.

http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/shop/catalogue/learn-future

Rupi Kaur

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I was choosing a book as a present for a friend  who was ill from breast cancer, my own heart heavy for her after seeing pictures of her in the treatment room. Life paused for me too as I reflected more on living and not regretting or even wasting a moment. It urged me forward to be even more kind to folk. A book and a woody candle would warm up her evenings and help her to relax.

I was browsing the poetry section, aware that she didn’t read poetry and found a book called Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – subtle and gentle white print on a black background with a new name I had never heard of, inviting me to pick it up…and I didn’t put it down. I remember having to sit down, flicking from one page to the next and becoming completely absorbed in it. Instantly, there was a connection, from one woman to another, as well as a writer speaking to another. She was accessible, to any female and even a reader who never read any poetry.

My friend loved it and I know this gave her some respite from the harsh reality piercing her chest and into her whole being. I prayed a verse from the Quran every day for her but the literary charisma of this very young and astonishingly talented female poet had the power to soothe, through an explicit and brave treatment of subjects close to the heart .

Then it was time to research about her life and how she began writing. I found online reviews and links that popped up on my Twitter and Facebook account, telling me how she had suddenly appeared on the poetry scene, a writer who had self-published initially (interesting, I thought, as I totally rejected the concept of self-publishing up to that point). She was discovered by a publisher and she was presented to the world as this beautifully honest writer and artist.

So what is it about this writer I so love? Her honesty matched with the skill of constructing images with words so sharp in a succinct way. She is very economical with words and that is the true poet for me, one who says very little and brings you down to hit the ground or raises you to the sky, in a millisecond of a moment. Some of her work is accompanied by sketches which doesn’t distract, but pulls you in even further. Her second book focuses a lot on female sexuality and the process of growing up and being in a cocoon of a culture which teaches you to hide and be ashamed. I have never been bold to enter this world for myself, to communicate on the page what it was like for me growing up and being constantly told not to laugh like this, talk like this, sit like this and especially  when it was time for me to put my bike away because my breasts were emerging and I was too old to play out with the kids in the street.

I am now enjoying her second book The Sun and her Flowers, which I find to be even more honest and raw than the first in which the voice is stronger and less afraid of speaking the truth. As a writer myself, who consistently tries to remain true to herself, this is encouraging.