Poetry as a Spiritual Practice: An Interview with Wendy Brown-Báez
by Gaia Richards
excerpt from the September 2008 issue Edge Life Magazine
Wendy, you are a Bardic poet who portrays her craft as a spiritual practice. Will you elaborate?
Wendy Brown-Báez: I am a storyteller from the Bardic tradition and I'm offering my stories so that you can see that you have a story to tell, also, within you. A Bard was a person that went from village to village and told poems as a way of passing along information, news and gossip. A Bard preserved the legends and myths, as well. I want to bring poetry to people who are not experienced in listening to poetry and so, it should be easy to understand. Some of the poems that I do are not about me. They are about other people who may not have a voice or they are about my witnessing of situations that are difficult.
WBB: For examples, I have a poem about a suicide bomber, about a pregnant woman in Baghdad, about a beggar woman in Mexico:
"The old woman paused in front of us / hardly more than a corpse / fingers of bone cupped open / the palm a bowl of destitution"
God does work through people.... One of the things I find appealing about you is, well, your affect, the way you dress, your style.
WBB: I was part of a workshop called "Earthwalks for Health" and we would spend weekends with the indigenous people of New Mexico, learning their spiritual traditions. One time we were taught about how to listen to the river speak to us. After Sam died, I went to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert for Thanksgiving. I walked to the Chama River where I'd throw his ashes to see if the river would speak to me.
The River said, "Take the pieces of your life and put them together." It was the first intimation I had that there is some meaning to all that had happened to me, the commune, Michael's death (my partner), Sam's death (my son), and my desire to help others.
Poetry, my poems, are my own unique expression and I use my body, not just my voice. I embody the poems. When I start to rehearse a poem, I ask, "How does this poem want to be presented?" I let the poem tell me how to dress, how to move and use certain gestures and intonations. For example, in Beggar Woman, I wear a typical Oaxacan apron and rebozo. By contrast, I dance a little when I recite "We came to listen to miramba music..."
I set up an altar and light candles after each poem and dedicate them to individuals, other poets, or peoples who are living through intense situations, such as the children of Afghanistan. This way, I create a beautiful and meaningful stage setting and it is a kind of prayer. After my last performance at Banfill-Locke, the audience came up to the altar to see the photos and to continue a dialogue with me and it was very moving to me, very special.
The last thing I want to say is that I believe anyone can write and share their story and that stories connect us to each other. My slogan is "You don't have to be a writer, just a willingness to find your own words." For me, writing is one of the ways I stay connected to the Divine, listening to the still voice within, and performing is letting that Voice speak out loud so I can be connected to others.
For more information on Wendy Brown-Báez, please visit http://www.wendybrownbaez.com/
Gaia Richards is a freelance writer, resident yogi at the Midtown Global Market and astrologer. Her website is http://www.satnamcity.com/