HomePoetryA Sonnet, a Map, and Lots of Tricksters
Evensong, a sonnet by Stephanie Thomas Berry

Venus, November 30th

1. Creativity loves limits.

I love playing with poetic forms—sonnets and sestinas especially. Many years ago in college, my music theory professor told the class to compose a small piece using only two intervals. “Something magical happens when you subscribe limits to your creativity,” he said.

I was doubtful. But of course he was right.

The sonnet Evensong began as I drove home from a poetry class. Venus was brilliant in the West. The metaphor of Venus as a pendant hung on the breast of darkness came to me, as inspiration often does, while driving, while the mind was tuned simply to movement, the door opened from an evening of poetry. Later that phrase blossomed under the rules of the sonnet.

{click to hear the audio}

      Evensong - Stephanie Thomas Berry

Look, now, how Venus gleams, a pendant hung
upon the breast of darkness. She alone
can touch this ache of dusk—my heart dethroned.
And though I’ve turned and walked on paths far flung,
the press of life and thirst of heart, their pace
shall never match, but always one outstrips
the other, just as she is bound to dip
into the night, then falls across the face
that burns so fierce, her gentleness outshone.
O Sun, I do not mean to sulk, or spurn
your own magnificence, I only yearn
to stand within the mystery and own
my place upon that stage, to know
the candle flame that’s mine, before I go.

How does form nurture creativity? When we set parameters our creativity is given a map. We know where to go. Creative energy can sometimes seem overwhelmingly chaotic, an estuary of ideas and inspirations. When we impose structures and limits, we carve a river bed into which all that fertile water can flow.  But what happens really feels more like magic.

This post is a perfect example. At first my intention was simply to post a recording of this sonnet, and write a little bit about it. But then, within the first paragraph of this post, I realized that the idea —form gives creativity a map—is highly relevant to a project I have just begun.  And this post is the perfect way to set the stage for its introduction. That’s part of the magic…the connections just light up.

Coyote Skull Sketch and Page from "The Book of Symbols"

Coyote Skull Sketch and Page from “The Book of Symbols”

2. The Trickster steps upon the stage

I guess it started in October. I was standing in my driveway when a raven flew over me, so low I could hear the taffeta of its wings, see its feathers ruffled like a cassock. Right after it came a crow, whose feathers were tighter and its flight more suited to their windless path. The raven perched in the forest behind my house, right by my old studio, and began its unique croaking vocalizations. The crow fussed a bit and flew on. It all felt very dreamlike, especially since I had been reading the book In the Company of Crows and Ravens. 

On November 8th our country elected Donald Trump as President. I re-read this post, Trickster Times“, by Sharon Blackie, a writer and mythologist whose blog I love. In it she writes:

“I believe that the Trickster we get is often, in Jungian terms, a reflection of the cultural Shadow. ‘The shadow is anything we are sure we are not; it is part of us we do not know, sometimes do not want to know, most times do not want to know. We can hardly bear to look.’ So writes Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, in a collection of her reflections called Coming Home to Myself. But look at what she goes on to say next: ‘Look. It may carry the best of the life we have not lived.’ The Shadow doesn’t just represent the dark side of our unconscious, all that we do not want to face: it represents opportunity as well. Facing and integrating the Shadow is a necessary part of what Jung called individuation: the lifelong process of psychological integration, as the individual [or country ?] strives to become whole.

Sharon Blackie considers Donald Trump to be a trickster figure. I think that’s why people voted for him. They wanted someone to “shake things up.” Joseph Campbell said that the trickster figure in Native American mythologies represents the “power of the dynamic of the total psyche to overthrow programs.” We the people wanted to release the stagnant government that is no longer serving us. We wanted to overthrow programming—though I wish we’d chosen Bernie for that. But, as Sharon Blackie wrote in her aforementioned post, you get the trickster you deserve.

Three Tricksters: Fox, Coyote, Shadow, photo by Stephanie Thomas Berry

Three Tricksters: Fox, Coyote, Shadow

On the morning of November 9th, as I woke feeling like I had entered an alternate reality, a fox was in our driveway.

3. Making the Map

These, and other experiences and insights, point to very clear evidence that the Trickster is at work in my own life and in the world at large. When Trickster shows up, we must pay very close attention to things. We must be vigilant lest we miss the clues the Universe is sending us. If programs are to be overthrown, we must be aware, and have our own map ready. We must have new programs to put in place. 

Blue Coyote Study, a sketch by Stephanie Thomas Berry

Blue Coyote Study

So now everything I work on is seen through the lens of the trickster. I’m studying the coyote, the raven, the hare. I’m reading myth and working with dreams. And I’m creating a body of work that crystallizes from the abundant chaos of the Trickster Archetype. It’s the Trickster Collection, and it will incorporate all the creative forms I love—pastels, drawing, printmaking, poetry, journaling, embroidery, and (something new) papercuts. The real adventure, however, is in the map-making, in charting our course through this Mirkwood forest. I hope to help light our trail.

Trickster in Fog and Red Leaves, a pastel painting by Stephanie Thomas Berry

Trickster in Fog and Red Leaves

Over the next several days I will finish and then present the first painting here, which features seven crows. But for now, as a way to thank you for getting to the bottom of this long post, I’d like to make a little offering: here’s a pdf of the above painting, “Trickster in Fog and Red Leaves” that you can download, and print if you like. You can place it on your fridge as a reminder that we are living in Trickster times. Vigilance is required now more than ever; fear is not.

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