About Rasma: the Five Ws, long form. | R a s m a H a i d r i | Rasma Haidri

About Rasma: the Five Ws, long form.

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I’m an American writer living on an island off the Norwegian seacoast with my artist wife. We call our house “Haven” which means garden in Norwegian and of course in English it’s our refuge. In 2001 I moved to Norway on a trajectory originating in the American Midwest, crossing through Hawaii, and ending in the Norwegian Arctic. I needed that climate and landscape, a kitchen window opening onto a fjord and mountain ranges stretching from the North Sea to Sweden. Nearly twenty years later I moved inward, and inland to a west coast island where my view is cliffs, woods, marsh, meadow and moor and the darkness and stillness are so complete one can imagine the faint, distant sounds might be coming from the turning canopy of stars, even if one knows there are some thirty thousand people living on Ash Island and we are a bit over a half hour away from Bergen. 

My life as a poet began when I watched my mother take up a pen and write—for me—a poem as if pulling it out of the empty air. 

Oh little pussy-willow

I have so often thought,

You’d make a lovely pillow

All kitty gray and soft.

And if I were the proper size

Perhaps an inch in height,

I’d put you in my tiny bed

To hold my head at night. 

I thought I had witnessed an act of creation no less wondrous than if she had pulled a pony out of the breadbox. Later she introduced me to an old tattered textbook volume containing Archibald MacLeish’s iconic Ars Poetica of which the first and last couplets are emblazoned on my memory:

A poem should be palpable and mute

As a globed fruit…

A poem should not mean

But be

And then there was Eliot. I must confess that I sat through many of my English lectures in college with an aching head. Not a headache, but a head so full of indistinct thoughts it was straining to burst, but little made sense. It amazed me how I could get A’s while feeling I knew less than when I started. I remember going to my freshman Shakespeare professor and asking to drop the class. He asked why. I said I didn’t understand Shakespeare. He said he didn’t understand Shakespeare either so why don’t I just stay and we’ll not understand Shakespeare together. I stayed. I got an A. 

I was too young to be in college. I had fought to be the brilliant kid they let graduate from high school at sixteen. They should have made me stay, but here I was, smart in everyone’s eyes but my own. I felt like a fraud. I had no mind. My memory of the small group of us working on poetry is dim and made of cardboard, like a crackerjack box with part of the lid torn off so the prize inside is dark and far away. It’s yours, it’s in your hand, but it’s unreachable. 

It was after I graduated, sitting with a quilt wrapped around me in a cold Norwegian dormitory room. (I know the room, Kringsjå 504A, the slant of light, the temperature, the time of day. I can return there like Wordsworth to his daffodils.) I picked up my college textbook with my notes scribbled in the margin (I did pay attention) and for no particular reason simply read, slowly and closely, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” . It was a moment of transcendence. I felt lifted outside space and time, yet inside the room now warm, bright and shimmering. What came to mind was the old story of scales falling from Saul's eyes on the road to Damascus. I had not known I was blind until I could see. By god. So this was poetry. 

I discovered creative non-fiction during a chance encounter with the late, great Michael Steinberg, founder of Fourth Genre, who suggested to me that a failed poem may be asking to become an essay. Eureka. What I love about writing creative non-fiction is it combines the intimate, emotional proximity of poetry with prose's wide open field in which to gallop and explore. 

In the middle of my life I felt a restlessness I could only define as needing to “break through to my creative power” which in itself sounded so cliche that I told no one I was suffering. Finally, though, I reached that nadir that is so low it has to give way and from which get the word breakthrough. A friend did a soul reading (yes, it’s a thing one can do) and lo my father’s maternal grandmother who died in India in the first half of the twentieth century was there and had been talking to me all along. Her simple answer to my wish for creative power is a lesson I will work to relearn daily for the rest of my life.

Write for joy.

Write for the necessity of joy and the joy of necessity.

Everything else will fall into place. 

If you focus on process you will produce.

If you focus on production you restrict yourself again and again.