We interviewed Jinks Hoffmann, poet and author of It’s All God, Anyway: Poetry for the Everyday, Spiritual Director, and retired psychotherapist. We found out where to find the sacred in everyday life, how poetry can be a spiritual practice, and why you want to cleanse your shmutz.
What is poetry for the everyday to you?
My poems are about ordinary, everyday life. I believe everything is of the divine, both my inner and outer worlds. As I say, in the poem The Same Thing:
On these days, everything brings her to tears;/ not just the violin section of August cicadas/or the blushing of the straggling roses/in the park on the corner;/not just the old man struggling to put the lid on his container at Second Cup/ or the dark-roast smell of coffee./ Not just the single dimple on the left cheek of the checkout girl at Metro/ or the obvious pride of the young man rearranging summer peaches.
And from the poem Hidden and Revealed:
Sometimes I spin round/knowing I am not alone/for the very air hums/with gratitude/and question and answer become one.
I seldom see anything/other than a leaf dancing/an adagio on the outskirts/
of an ordinary oak/ or another seventy year old/ walking behind me.
That is so beautiful. Can everyone understand poetry?
Some poetry is rather esoteric and complex and more difficult to understand. My poetry is generally very accessible, because I write from my heart, and I want to be simple. I used to think I should write more complex poetry, but I can’t be who I am not. I write from the inside out.
Do you ever experience writers’ block?
I don’t experience writer’s block with regard to poetry, because my writing is very much like prayer for me. It is a kind of simultaneous talking and listening to the divine. (I call that deepest, most intimate part of me, “God.”) So I only write when I feel called to. And the poems arrive in about 5-7 minutes, and then I work to craft them later. That sometimes requires several edits. The editing is usually a pleasure for me, though not always.
What have you come to realize is sacred that you haven’t always seen that way?
My awareness of the sacredness of life grows all the time. I think that everything is sacred, but that we are too rushed or busy, or too tied to technology to see this. Even almond butter and honey, on a really good rye, is sacred. The grit of life, and challenges offered by the big and small difficulties are sacred too. It is often in the mindful engagement with life that sacredness is lifted up.
People may do evil and cruel things, too. It is hard to see these acts as sacred. However, in asking the question of God, “how do I engage with this? How can I learn and grow here?” we continue the movement for growth and for that which is potentially life-giving.
Have you always been this mindful?
No, my mindfulness and consciousness grow all the time. I expect I will keep “waking up” till I die. I plan to, hope to, anyway. Working on what I call “shmutz-cleaning” helps me become more mindful. My shmutz refers to those aspects of my psyche where I mess up. Which I do pretty damn frequently!
Having a regular spiritual practice is also a very important way to become more mindful. I talk about my spiritual practices in my book. I have a few: spiritual, contemplative reading, reflective journaling, poetry writing, dream work and walking are all spiritual practices. And I like to say that my life is my spiritual practice, because I get to study God in my life, all the time.
What was the biggest hurdle to getting your book published?
Although poetry is notoriously difficult to get published, I sent my completed manuscript to 11 publishers, and was fortunate enough to receive 2 offers. It all happened rather quickly. What was difficult was deciding whether to self-publish or not, since the publisher takes most of the money and the royalties are very small. But in the end, I decided I wanted the satisfaction of having a book published by a “real” publisher, and I am very happy with the decision.
What is faith, and should we all have it, always?
Faith means different things to different people and is a complicated question, about which I could write a thesis! I believe deeply in the “Something More” that I call God. Faith, as I see it, is trust where there is not tangible proof.
It is this connection with God that is the source of my faith. Indeed, my whole book is about my connection with, and listening for God in the everyday.
And I have no “shoulds” for anyone else. Having faith, even though really God is such mystery, serves my soul, as you will see from the poem, Faith:
No certainty/someone/or something/is “there” /or “here”─
or that/the someone/or something/listens/and guides me.
But a deep trust/that when/I take the time/shut my eyes/and ask─
maybe only/of that deepest place/─I will connect/with love./Or at least, compassion.
Is this then/the gift/ my faith—knowing/to go within?
Your son is Daniel from The Cutting Veg – Do you share his deep love for garlic?
While I do love garlic, and think it improves just about anything, I don’t believe anybody loves garlic the way Daniel does. He is an original (and an inspiration) here!
You can learn more about Jinks’ book It’s All God, Anyway: Poetry for the Everyday here.