What is ecstatic poetry?

There is a certain quality to a poem, any poem. Poetry has a way of circumventing the traps and pitfalls of our common rhetoric in order to bring us deeper: deeper into the poet's subject matter, deeper into ourselves. For both poet (the writer) and reader (the receiver), poetry has the power to "get us out of our own way." And because of this, ideas can be expressed poetically in a way that is wholly unique. Poetry is often characterized by its ability to condense or distill the ideas of the poet into messages that have a certain penetrative quality: a good poem can hit us right in the heart, and we all know it when we read (or hear) it. Poetry is a product of all of our world cultures, languages, and traditions; wherever in the world there is written language, you will also find poetry there, whispering its secrets into your ear. But what sets ecstatic poetry aside from the rest? What distinguishes it from other types of poetic expression? The answer is a visionary and very personal experience. It is the difference between poetry-at-large and poetry-as-practice. Activist and poet Muriel Rukeyser is noted for saying: "If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger." But what is this hunger? One could say that the practice of ecstatic poetry seeks to answer this question. 

"I wonder: from these thousands of me's, which one am I?"  ~rumi

Many scholars believe that ecstatic poetry as we understand it in the West has its roots in eastern contemplative writings, specifically from within Sufi mysticism. Even though ecstatic verse can be found in some of the earliest recorded writing in human history, such as the Homeric and Orphic Hymns from ancient Greece, it is the Sufi poets Rumi and Hafez who are often credited as the first ecstatic Masters. Though separated by over a century, the lives of these great poets brought about massive collections of poems that are, in many ways, ineffable. What can be said about these classic ecstatic poets and their work is that there is a very distinct flavor, a rich and characteristic texture to their poetry. It is as if each poem is a channeled message from the Divine, words written as a way to express a very specific kind of connection: connection with Self, or with God. It is the longing for this connection that fuels the fires of ecstatic poetry. 

Well-steeped in the spiritual practices of their time and culture, Rumi and Hafez used words, used writing, as a vehicle for self-exploration and spiritual practice. When we read their words today, it is not difficult to come to understand their use of poetry as a devotional practice. "Devotion" here isn't meant to indicate some type of supplication to any hierarchical God-in-the-sky, but instead, in the words of modern ecstatic poet Joseph Montgomery, "devotion" points towards "...an intense focus of personal understanding, a nest of insights to come home to each day, built on a branch of bewilderment." Indeed, the ecstatic poet is perfectly comfortable with her own bewilderment. Her words may even begin to point in the direction of mystery, not necessarily to solve her own personal conundrums, but instead to dance with them in loving embrace. This is the practice of poetry-as-devotion.

And yet there is more. There is a longing, a fundamental, universal, common human longing that often takes up residence in the work of the ecstatic poet. Undeniably, countless poets have used the vehicle of ecstatic writing to express their longing: longing for sacred love, longing to know the Self, longing to understand our place in this grand cosmic arena. In short, the ecstatic poet often expresses a longing to connect to his or her essence. Here, the "essence" to which we are referring goes by many names: "God," "the Beloved," "Source," "Spirit." But regardless of the term used, there seems to be a unified aim within ecstatic poetry, a common thread that helps to provide ecstatic poetry with its unique identity: this longing for essence. It is as if the practice of ecstatic poetry takes us lovingly by the hand and, with a gentle-yet-knowing smile, leads us more deeply into the cavern of our own longings. Perhaps some of our own personal mysteries will be found there. And maybe, just maybe, a few of their answers...

There are many powerful, essential ingredients in the stew-of-words that the ecstatic poet is brewing on the stovetop. Present in this holy concoction is a deep, personal longing for connection with essence and also the practice of devotion-through-writing. The path of ecstatic poetry seems to possess all the qualities of a visionary/mystical art: an art form that has the potential to contribute to the Awakening of both individuals and society. And so it is that Brandon Thompson and a small number of other contemporary ecstatic poets have agreed upon the following definition for ecstatic poetry: "Ecstatic poetry is a devotional practice that seeks to connect both poet and reader to their innate longing for their essence." This definition has become somewhat of a mission, a mantra, a vision statement that seeks to identify the unique type of poetry that is being offered and explored on these pages. It is presented humbly, that you may find some form of resonance here, on your path as a writer, a poet, and a Lover of the Divine.

"Let the beauty of love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."  ~rumi

It is important to note that the ideas expressed on this page are but humble notions about the presence of ecstatic poetry in the world. The experience of poetry writing and reading, just like that of any of the arts, is a profoundly-personal journey. This page makes no claim that some poems or poets "are ecstatic" and others "are not." Surely, some may discover an experience of their essence just as readily in more contemporary works as in the writings of the ecstatic masters. As it is with any deeply-personal or spiritual path, the discussion on this page has been composed with a full awareness that attempting to capture such concepts in word is not unlike trying to transport a gallon of water in a butterfly net: the whole Truth lies in the heart of the beholder, in the work of the practitioner, and is wholly unique to each individual. Therein lies the beauty of poetic expression. The worldview of ecstatic poetry, as it is defined and discussed on this website, is an offering that has arisen from a deep love and reverence for the awakening power of poetry practice.