Good Books: December 2013 Newsletter

HowTheLightGetsInHow The Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
by Pat Schneider
Oxford University Press, 2013
paperback, $18.95

“Writing about deep memory can bring up from the unconscious seemingly random images and phrases that we have known all our lives… They float in and out of conscious memory like flotsam and jetsam on the surface of the ocean that is our unconscious life. Writing them—slowing down and allowing the images to write themselves, without trying to analyze them—can bring about an amazing experience of personal revelation.” – Pat Schneider

Almost twenty years ago, I read another of Pat Schneider’s books, The Writer As An Artist: A New Approach to Writing Alone and With Others. Back then, she had already founded Amherst Writers and Artists and was teaching writing in a variety of settings using the workshop method she developed.

How The Light Gets In is a book for writers at all levels who are open to being amazed by process writing. The book reads like good memoir, the kind you can’t put down. It also takes you into the heart and soul of a writing workshop, where you’ll witness the writing process and the spiritual journey seamlessly revealing themselves. At times, you’ll be inspired to pick up your pen and try an exercise yourself, or at least note it so you can return to it later. What you won’t find is quick directives with easy steps to better writing. This book goes deep, like a poem goes deep, because that’s the way the author-poet lives and writes and teaches and breathes.

The themes of creative writing and spiritual practice are Schneider’s story, the background of every page in the book. Everything can be viewed through one lens, or the other, often both; which is what Schneider does so exquisitely. For the reader who naturally resonates with her themes, the book will be compelling. But what about readers who are attracted to writing more than spiritual practice, or the other way around? Schneider’s “in-the-moment” transparency in both living and writing demonstrates the presence of something other; call it what you will—creativity, spirit, mystery, presence…

“That strangeness, the way the delicate touch of an image can evoke something in metaphor that is central to your work, something you never would have found by left-brain analytical planning, is for me a kind of holy process. It requires waiting and listening and trusting  whatever image the unconscious gives. It requires attention to what is given, no matter how common and unremarkable it may seem. That attention, that trusting, cracks open something inside, and lets in the light.”

The book includes thirty-three of Schneider’s poems, some previously unpublished. Glancing at the table of contents, you will feel the poetry of language drawing you in: what has no name—there is a spirit—instructions for the journey—this is a river—doing good—strangeness—joy. Thankfully the book includes an index, making it easier to locate references to many other cherished writers and poets.

Finally, the book’s oh so perfect epigraph:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

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