[This first appeared in Poetry Nook, Vol. 1 --ed]
We conducted a two-part interview with artist and writer Bauke Kamstra (some may know him by his Twitter handle, @Wyrde). Kamstra’s approach to our questions illustrates his grace with words and his unique mentality about life, art, and creative mysticism. Some answers are given as poetry and some are given as prose, but all contain the lyricism of a man who recognizes language as a tool and an instrument. The following conversation is not always linear or traditional but is full of music, poetry, life, and constant reminders that humanity reaches toward art as a means of connecting to a collective divinity.
Let’s talk about your background and young life. When did your parents leave Europe? What influence, if any, did that background have on your development?
I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a port city on the far east coast of Canada. Once, before my birth, there was a very large explosion there. Many people were killed. Much of the city was destroyed. Heroes were born in the wreckage. A link and a love was forged with Boston, who brought much rescue. My birth was not nearly this traumatic.
Dutch immigrant parents
fleeing the dark wreckage
that was Europe.
A familiar story.
That port city
drowning in sailors
let them go into the valley
a land full of apples & tides
& fierce grim men.
I was taken by force
yet to be fair
I was only a baby
& did not know what to decide.
The Annapolis Valley was a common, insular, self-absorbed place with gangs of rough farm boys, mountain boys, town boys, teaching each other the error of ways.
Longfellow wrote the poem “Evangeline” about the tragic expulsion of the Acadians (from nearby Grand Pre, in the valley), when France lost to Britain and deeded the colony to them.
At 15, in the full rigor of my teenage years I fled this history, the apples and tides, the rowdy boys of whom so many died, wrecked in cars and beer fumes. I felt as if forced to leave, as once the Acadians had been expelled into the world.
I had learned to flip a burger
& wash a dish
my hands were just beginning
to make marks
that looked like things.
I joined the diaspora of hitchhikers that were already lined up at exits from coast to coast, waiting for a ride.
The roads were not lonely
they were an open
constant traffic of souls
cars, hearts, minds
another golden age.
We came down from the hills
& up from the plains
looking to wet our feet
in different seas.
We knew that those
come before us
so we set out to make
a better world.
As they did.
You’ve lived an itinerant lifestyle in the past. How has travel affected your spirituality and your approach to poetry?
Those were halcyon years, fishing like kings. As I traveled coast to coast, across Canada, the U.S., forays far south into Mexico. Working cafes, restaurants, carnival rides, whatever it took to make a few bucks and keep moving. I learned to play a bamboo flute, to call spirits from rocks, and many other obscure and esoteric things (I scarcely knew half of what I did). I made mistakes, a habit I haven’t give up. I made a few better marks, slowly improved my image skills.
Always I asked questions. Only rarely was there anyone else there. I had experiences that were strange, mystical, inexplicable, even to myself. (E.g.: Unearthly singing late at night, camped in a field of yarrow, nothing around for miles.)
I’d been brought up a holy roller. In Vegas I had a lucky streak and became a high roller. So I fled (I was always fleeing) to the Middle East, India, up to Nepal. I’d had a little grounding in university philosophy by then, though it didn’t take, and I tried to learn something by treading holy ground. No matter where I looked, I didn’t see God.
There is no reason
or a thought
can be laid on god.
to the question of god
The holy books
of the alignment
heaven & hell
the I Ching
& the dishes
The question is not the answer.
Without answers, I eventually came to rest. To find focus I intensified my preoccupation with beauty. I spent a year in art school, developing craft. I also worked there as a model, flipping from one side of the canvas to the other, like a spinning coin.
What life events, if any, spurred the transition from artist to a poet?
I discovered nakedness. The wearing of clothes, I learned, is a symbolic act. The strange, North American puritan ethic is strongly rooted in this, civilization is also invested in it. Protection from the elements is an occasionally useful side effect. One of the primary purposes seems to be to tacitly ignore the physical, the animal. This does not necessarily work. Some use it to accentuate. The hidden is more alluring than the exposed.
As the clothes fall away
a butterfly from the cocoon
in the absence
Clothing is no more than a mask. Its layers conceal, and we learn to hide within them. I found that the removal of clothing not only revealed the beauty of the body, but that the unveiling exposed layers of the heart, the mind, the soul. The one exposure led to other exposures, in a cascading process of permission and freedom.
I drew and painted mostly women. This was not so much an impulse of heterosexuality. I was not blind to the beauty of men. Women seemed more comfortable with nakedness, more in love, or more obsessed, with their own bodies. They were more curious about how it looked in the eyes of others. Women are mysterious, men transparent. I suppose this may be true of both genders, that their own is deducible, while the other isn’t, I don’t know. What I know is that this mystery enhances beauty beyond normal bounds, to the edge of divinity.
A tiny Picasso girl
with half grapefruit breasts
a tiny serious mouth
how to smile.
In every drawing, in every painting, I attempted to reveal the unveiling, the nakedness beyond the body, and the allure of the mystery.
Art and poetry have strong similarities for me. Both are a search for meaning, for beauty. I enter an unordinary space, with different rules. Everything I know is there with me, as well as everything I don’t. Only a little memory follows me when I come out of that space, but it doesn’t matter, because I have the image, or the poem. Generally, the deeper in I go, the more profound the work that comes out. This is the experience I think of meditation: ecstatic, non-thinking, a simultaneous sinking deeper into the world, and an expansion into the void. This experience is somewhat describable within an image, or in poetry, poorly with logic or reason.
Which poets have had the most influence on you in the last year or so? At any time?
Influence is pervasive, it is in all things. Who in western culture, for example, has not seen the Mona Lisa. Influence is not reducible to structured form. For every influence one can name, there are another hundred influences lurking below consciousness. My family, my childhood, my travelling, my art, all are major influences on my work. Yet to name any particular incident is both true and false. No such statement can be made without leaving something crucial out, most likely something that has not yet risen (or never will rise) to consciousness.
The ideas of “favorites” or “best” are born in competition, which requires a winner, an elite. To me, the best flavor of ice cream is the one in my mouth. Every poem is transcendental, if only in some small way. I constantly seek that element of mini-satori, a zen-koanish stopping of the world, so that the reader (and I) gain a different perception of the world forever, even if infinitesimally small. Such soups become large mixed with others in the pot of time.
Today I am reading Leonard Cohen. Today he is my greatest influence. Tomorrow I will read Don Coles or Jeni Couzyn, or perhaps I will read Patrick Lane, or Jonathan Aaron, and they will be my greatest influences. Or an anthology. I read voraciously every day.
The history of art is not only the sacred / psychic / psychological / sociological but the physical / technological as well. What are the alternatives to paint & brush? When might art have taken an entirely different route, a series of possibilities never played out?
In the forest
root twines with root
leaves breathe the same air
supporting the wings
insects & animals.
made of many.
The influence of ideas spreads like a virus. For example, the idea of evolution was created and we began to think of many things in those terms, as ascending (or descending) processes. Steam power, electricity, computers, and we begin see things in mechanistic terms, intelligence as programming, as software. There are many examples of this, from psychology to physics. We are all invaded by our social / psychological milieu. All of this is reflected in language, and is inescapable, except, perhaps, by poetry.
I’ve fought against these things, struggled to escape them, persistently, futilely. I perceived the obvious falseness of language, its inability to be precise, to be true. I thought words were lies and abandoned them for image. Even so, my artwork was gestural, depending as much on accident as intent and control. My most powerful pieces did not rely so much on an abundance of sensuality as by the prominence of ambiguity.
How would you define poetry?
Poetry is the eye of language.
Language is paradox
only poetry can breathe.
It is not language
but the silence in language
that needs poetry to be heard.
Poetry arrived for me at a convergence: the realization that it embodied the same communicative power of ambiguity that image does was one, and the desperation for another form of expression was another, as arthritis made making visual art increasingly difficult.
is a wandering drunk
What kind of milieu do you prefer when you write? How do you structure and approach your writing life?
I write every day. I write by hand. I normally go out and find a place brimming with solitude, and most often before the sun rises.
When I write the initial poem, the impetus is spirit and heart, and a touch of mind. I enter a kind of meditative state and the poems come out. Sometimes the poem is already done. More often I apply mind, revising the poems as I transcribe them to my computer. Some poems get revised and revised.
Trying to explain
I now read poetry voraciously, omnivorously, as I have read so many things throughout my life. I allow its sediment to filter down deep into mind. This sometimes sets off an inspired train of thought, resulting in a poem. My poems, in some sense, contain the history of poetry. This may be true of all poetry, influence is pervasive.
I have found different ways to acquire craft. A systematic approach is solid, usually faster, but risks rigidity. When I was learning to draw, I thought, I have to made 10,000 bad lines in order to learn to make good lines, so let me get them over with. I apply the same reasoning with poetry.
My involvement with poetics is on a visceral level, not the theoretical. Any theories I may possess about poetics, conscious or otherwise, are embodied in the poems themselves. It is not that I do not think about poetics, I do, constantly. Yet I rely on my gut. I see, for example, complex, intricate, word constructions and I think, wow, this is great, I should do this. Then I don’t, for a sparser, simpler line often seems to contain more truth. Then I suddenly find myself writing dense, intricate work. It is not a science, it is an evolution (to use that viral idea). Everything is subject to change.
Committing to a specific style can be an ossification of process. I hope to avoid this, to continue to expand and learn new ways of writing, of poetry.
I do have preferences of environment that make writing easier for me. Before I started writing poetry I wrote an (unpublished) book on overcoming creative blocks. I am not blocked (I was once subject to them). I am currently working on a project to turn this book into a course on creativity (engagement, inspiration, production, & breaking blocks).
Anything from the mundane to the esoteric is a fit subject for poetry. I generate my own prompts as easily as waking up.
When you think
this is no day for poetry
it is the perfect day for poetry.
Could you tell us more about what went into your book, Reaching Out? What prompted you to write a book at this stage in your life, what did you learn in the process, etc.
My book, Reaching Out, was premature and the issue was craft. Craft without inspiration is mostly decoration. Inspiration without craft sometimes succeeds, but more often fails. I had made a few thousand micropoems, and a hundred or so longer poems. It wasn’t enough. I have now written in excess of 10,000 micropoems and several hundred longer poems and I now intend to come out with a new book, most likely by the time this interview is printed.
The book will be called: Flower & River; Bone & Stone. The hermetically complex ideas associated with the elements emerge in many forms, and I use these elements to section the book (or chapbook, I’m not sure what it should be called). Even so, I do not attempt to force the poetry, the esoteric implications, on the book. The poems arise naturally out of the elements I have chosen. There are deep connections within that which is most common and mundane.
I plan to pre-sell a limited number of signed copies that will be accompanied by personalized poems, written for the purchaser, and inscribed by hand onto a greeting card that has one of my images on it.
I will be putting this on my blog at www.positivelywyrde.com
Why do crows resonate with you in much of your work?
Crows are the messenger
They are the bringers of the word
They bring fire
write omens on air
arrive before the battle
are intimate with death
clean up after
fly direct, unswerving
speak with voices harsh
with the sound of truth
They are sacred, mystical, magical
They are raucous
& they are rude
wary, but unafraid
& love shiny objects.
They steal eggs, but will fight
an eagle to protect the nest
often alone they
congregate at night.
They are black, as night is black
& hide in it.
& obvious by day
And when summer birds go
What advice do you have for young poets?
I am a young poet. Only the body is ageing. I will say this:
We do not entirely have to be, yet are normally limited by the preconceptions of our culture, by the virus of ideas that infect us, by the assumptions of our parents and our peers. Poetry, art, is about boundaries, and about crossing boundaries. An artwork is necessarily limited by its frame, a poem by language and form. Even so, successful art is always bigger than its bounds, conceptually, spiritually, and / or in other ways, striking deep, striking wide, & flying high. The limitations are as illusory as the world itself. This is what the artist discovers.
The process is as simple and complex as learning to see, instead of look. To notice the spaces between, instead of just objects, notice that there are no edges - there are, at most, corners. Notice that everything is connected and that there is always a mystery.
I would not know
of your nakedness
without the moon
I would not know
I am immersed in sensuality. Beauty seizes me and shakes my soul, leaves me breathless, and sometimes weeping for joy. Input comes from the world, through our senses, including those extra ones that perceive beyond the physical. These are subtle enough that we are never quite sure of them. They are not concrete, that work on the edges of things, as much in the realm of possibility as actuality. Input is accepted holistically. It is a misunderstanding to think soul, heart, mind & body are separate. They are integrated.
In previous interviews, you’ve described writing poetry as a form of meditation that allows you to enter a certain mental space where the conscious mind brings back material that the unconscious mind has collected. Could you talk more about that mental space and what poetry as a spiritual act has to offer?
There is little I truly know. I have many, many ideas about things, and even a few unsupportable beliefs. (Warning, these are subject to change without notice.)
Ego is a tiny veneer of thought and personality that believes it is you.
My mind thinks it is me.
Consciousness is vast, the subconscious is vaster by orders of magnitude. Contained within the subconscious, & containing it, is a connectivity to everything, by spirit, by physics, by processes we have little or no conception of.
Language is mnemonic, a system of pointing signs, not communication. I believe all real communication takes place on an empathic level. Thus, for example, in reading a book, or viewing artwork, or talking face to face, we use the symbols embedded in these languages to take us emphatically to its meaning, directly from the author, whether in front of you, separated by space, or separated by a thousand years of time. Miscommunication takes place when you confuse language with meaning, or allow your preconceptions to rule.
All of this information is encoded in what Jung might call the collective unconscious, or something else. I think it is much bigger than that, access to an accumulation of infinite information. The medium that embodies this could be a substrate of life, of reality, or something unknown. This information is available to the individual subconscious, and will sometimes surface consciously.
The physical world is an illusion. Time & space are illusions. Life & death are illusions. Convincing illusions.
No energy is ever lost. We are most likely infinite & eternal. Ego is an ephemeral phenomena associated with being corporate.
I look forward to finding out more.
Art asks questions
in a language of light
in the language of sight.