Leslie: You follow in her footsteps as a “mysterious figure.” You seem a modern-day, reclusive, Zen hermit-poet more suited to the age of Ryōkan than that of this era. How do you see yourself within the current poetic landscape?
Frank: I definitely have a need and a leaning for solitude. It is how I refuel and solitary time is when I am afforded the potential to delve into the creative process. In general, I find many aspects of modernity overwhelming, if not downright insane, so there is a lot about the world I don’t engage with. But, that said, I wouldn’t call myself a recluse because I still enjoy being around people and have a commitment (at least for now) to stay engaged in the world and remain connected to community, such as it is.
I’m also not a true hermit by most people’s idea of the term, but I do live a pretty solitary existence, and, at times, have emulated the lifestyle of certain early Ch’an poets who lived in urban settings, held day jobs, but stayed to themselves at night and went on mountain retreats as often as they could to focus on their poetry and Zen practice.
A lot of this may be a natural leaning for me, since even in my senior year of high school I avoided typical high school activities. I would come in from the day, drop my books, and head straight out into the forests behind my mother’s house in North Carolina.
Being a solitary in recent years is also due to circumstance. From 1995 to 2005, I was very active out in the world. In fact, I was facilitating retreats along the themes of dreams, consciousness, contemplative practice, nature, and ecopsychology. However, in 2005, and especially in 2007 when doña Río died, I intentionally turned inward. Initially, grief was the motivator. But, then I began exploring the biographies of certain hermit-poets and felt an immediate affinity with how they had arranged their lives.
Some years I would put this exploration on the back burner and, for example, focus on relationship. Other years, my creative process has been the only thing for which I have held space. Both types of cycles have taught me a great deal.
This year, I’m crossing into my 50s, and also clocking my fourteenth year of wandering down the same path I began walking with doña Río, spiritually and creatively. I have no idea where it is all going. As I age, living a slower pace becomes even more important to me; to connect with the land, to practice Zen, to explore ancestral energies, cultural streams, and heritage, and to write. But, yes, most days I feel like you could probably drop me in a Japanese forest or back behind a mesa in New Mexico, and I’d be okay.
Where this places me in the poetic landscape I’m not entirely certain. Perhaps one way of putting it is this. All poets are oriented to paying attention. They are attuned to the life around them. I am as well, but I’m also oriented to the life of nature, the inner life, and other non-obvious realities.
Leslie: Delving into your practice of holding space, tell us about your creative process.
Frank: My creative process is definitely a lived and living experience. Various natural images come to mind that express this. Climbing a mountain. Disappearing into a forest enveloped in clouds. A river that has its own particular flow but which also reflects, in some sense, what it encounters as it flows along.
At times, my creative process has felt like attending to a rather cosmic relationship; to what East Asian cultures call the Dao (Tao, The Way). As I say in the Preface of The Temple of Warm Harmony, “…’round and ‘round the sun-like Dao.” Sometimes that is what my creative process has felt like.
Lately, the working metaphor for my creative process has been riding a horse. Writing has begun to feel akin to saddling-up, heading out on a trail, and journeying beyond known trails into uncharted territories. In some cases, the “horse” is the horse of memory, taking me back into childhood, or into the multidimensional muscle memory and memory of the senses that gets registered when visiting a place.
I’m currently working on my third book, Stirrup of the Sun & Moon, which is tethered to experiences of memory of mind, dream, and place. My heart-mindstream is awash in a cascade of images, insights, and impressions, so my creative process has become one of registering these impressions, sifting through them as if panning for gold. A few of these kinds of poems have made prior appearances, such as “Quantum Travel” in The School of Soft-Attention (2018), but now I’m following the thread more closely where mindscape, dreamscape, and landscape touch.
Practically speaking, I wake up with my creative process every day because the moment I awake I am processing impressions from the dreamtime. So, notetaking, journaling, and trying to pull dream vignettes and fragments through the permeable membrane of consciousness that separates the dreaming and waking worlds is part of my daily course. That, and talking out loud to myself. [Laughs]
I live alone so I may even talk out loud to myself as a means of conjuring flashes of the dreaming mind so as to bring through the images that were experienced in a dream, or that are still fluttering about at the periphery of awareness in the dreaming body (which, of course, extends beyond the physical body). This activity is really rooted in the technique of active imagination from the Jungian tradition. It works well with dreams, it works well with poetry, and some day I hope to apply it to the realm of fiction.
Leslie: What do you think the role of the poet is in the current world climate?
Frank: We are living in a truly disturbing time. Not to oversimplify current conditions, or add unnecessary layers of lathered-up fear, but the energetic reality we are in strikes me as a battle of wills, conscience, and consciousness.
There are some whose consciousness is on a destructive footing. Destructive of earth. Destructive of societal, economic, and governmental norms. Others of us reject this on civic, environmental, and humanitarian grounds.
The poet in such times is what the role of the poet has always been: serving as a collective conscience (not holding our tongue about injustice, for example), but also reminding us all that, despite the presence of despots of delusion and dysfunction, that the numinous level of reality—of beauty, of grace, of healing, of sacred mystery—still exists, and will endure.
In this way, the poet can be a healer, a transmitter of perennial wisdom, and a culture of harmony rather than degradation and divisiveness. Indeed, as both conscience and purveyor of elevated consciousness, the poet can remind us all who we really are, individually and collectively. It seems to me we need both of these functions now more than ever.
Leslie. What words of hard-earned wisdom would you impart to those creative minds still seeking out their voice and getting ready to “saddle up” and head out onto the trail?
Frank: Become an apprentice to your deeper self. This includes one’s dreams and the wise characters found therein. It also includes checking in with yourself multiple times during the day. Surface world technological distractions can be a real obstacle to such deeper attunement. There is a natural human wisdom inherent in the person that practices mindful attentiveness. Make it a practice.
Trust that one’s own voice is linked to one’s creative process, which has a life of its own. It has its own flow; you’re just along for the ride. You can paddle and steer, but you can’t push the river.
Trust that one’s voice and creativity has a purpose that has its own seasons and rhythms. Live closely according to those rhythms. Live in attunement with the seasons of your creative life. Honor the fallow times just as much as the inspired and abundant times of creative harvest.
When it comes to creative writing, eject modernity’s cold, lifeless notions of writing being mechanical and product-focused. If you want to do writing like that, get a job in advertising.
I would also add, try holding the notion that writing (or any creative endeavor) is not an exclusively intellectual exercise. Try on the experience of writing as a full-bodied somatic experience including giving voice to hunches, impressions, 24/7 lucid dreaming, like picking up flavors and aromas from the ethers. Creativity can be a multidimensional experience involving senses beyond just the five we usually rely upon.
Held in this way, there is no such thing as writer’s block. Even when you aren’t actively writing, you realize you’re working, or are ‘being worked,’ by the larger process; what I call “the poet’s dreaming body” is actively working, observing, recording, seeing. Learning to trust in that feels related to trusting one’s creative voice. Don’t dismiss anything in your experience.