Another Thursday Edition
of Getting Balanced.
Today I have a featured guest who knows all about balance,
Yoga balance, that is.
Introducing Robbi Nester
I am a yoga student and a writer. These are both activities that occupy me for some part of every day, but despite efforts to connect them, until December of 2008, I was unable to do it. I would look forlornly out of the studio window at the waving palm trees and think that surely this, as much as any of the other activities that took up my day, could be the subject for poetry, but nothing emerged from the hazy slate of my mind, as stubbornly unproductive as an unplugged computer or a cracked crystal ball.
This pattern continued, the two poles of my life occupying their own, utterly separate spheres, until my teacher, Denise Thibault, taught several classes in a row based on B.K.S. Iyengar’s Emotional Stability Sequence, which had an immediate, profound effect on me.
I originally began doing yoga about two decades or more ago to help me deal with an inherited case of anxiety that had kept me from driving till late in my 40s and otherwise hampered my physical as well as mental well-being. Regular yoga had quelled the worst effects of this disorder. But this particular series induced a calm sense of well-being I had only rarely experienced. I was suffused with gratitude and energy, as though I was standing before a blazing bonfire, enough to fuel a poem.
That afternoon, a fortuitous summons beckoned: an online journal in which I had several times published, Qarrtsiluni, was planning an issue on the theme of health. Maybe I could write a poem about yoga for this issue? That began a flurry of writing the like of which I had never before experienced.
I looked up the particulars of the emotional stability sequence, which contains 15 asanas or poses, and stared at the diagrams for a while. Then I wrote “Salamba Sirsasana 1—Headstand,” which I submitted to the journal, where it was accepted. The itch did not abate. I was not finished with this project.
The poems poured out over a two month period so that by the end, I was producing several a week, a feat unheard of in my snail-paced past. The lines and images flowed effortlessly. I felt as Keats had described himself in his poem “On Chapman’s Homer”: like an explorer facing an immense and long-sought sea. It was as though it had been there all the time, waiting for me to turn a corner one day, when it would be revealed, all at once.
Writing the poems was only the beginning of this journey. For an audience unfamiliar with yoga, I needed illustrations to accompany the poems. Not being a visual artist, I looked around me. Miraculously, just as with the poems, what I needed had been there all along. My cousin, Nina Canal, an artist and musician based in Marseille France, stepped forward, donating her considerable efforts to the cause. Over a period of two years, she produced graceful drawings for each of the poems.
We discussed a cover for the book. I knew I didn’t want to use a stock photograph. In the middle of yoga class one day, I suddenly envisioned an origami lotus made out of the pages of a book. I had no idea how to make such a thing, but when I went online, I found that others had shared my vision: there was a whole store on the crafts site Etsy devoted to making these flowers, so I ordered one.
With the lotus in hand, I asked my friend, the photographer John Genesta, and asked him to do the job, which he did. Just as with the drawings, the image I envisioned came to life.
For her part, my publisher, Karen Kelsay Davies, of White Violet Press, spent long hours wrangling with the words on the page and the images that accompanied them, producing a beautiful book.
What does my experience say about this business of writing? We think about this as one of the most solitary of activities. The writer sits alone in a room before the empty screen of a computer, and waits for inspiration from deep inside.
It turns out that it doesn’t work quite that way. Inspiration comes from outside as well as within, and that means that writers must call on everything and everyone they know. Their communities, lives, families, concerns have made them what they are. Their enthusiasm is often contagious, creating a ready-made audience of people as filled with wonder as they are at the work they have made.
The moon swells like a seedpod.
Inside the quiet studio, I take
my aching head into my hands,
fingers web to web. A breath,
and then this awkward frame
ascends, becomes an aspen,
flexing in a nonexistent breeze.
Grounded in air, movement merges
with stillness, my ear a vehicle
for surging tides, the galaxies’
faint hum. Everywhere
and nowhere, the worlds
fall away, balanced
on these two arms
Robbi Nester is the author of Balance, published by White Violet Press in Feb. 2012. She has published poetry in Qarrtsiluni, Floyd County Moonshine, Victorian Violet Press, Inlandia, Caesura, and has a poem forthcoming in Northern Liberties Review. Her reviews have appeared in The Hollins Critic and Switchback, and she has essays anthologized in Easy to Love but Hard to Raise (DRT Press) and Flashlight Memories (Silver Boomer Press).
Nina Canal, illustrator of Balance: www.ninacanal.com">Nina Canal
John Genesta, photographer of cover:http://www.sawdustartfestival.org/john-genesta">John Genesta
White Violet Press, Karen Kelsay Davies,https://www.facebook.com/pages/White-Violet-Press/282590661761244">White Violet Press