92 Book Reviews – The Way Under The Way



A The Place of True Meeting
By Mark Nepo

Publisher: Sounds True, Louisville, CO.
Pages: 297



Written with the temperance and pace of a spiritual seeker, The Way Under the Way represents twenty years of Mark Nepo’s poetic life and wisdom; the result of a spiritual revelry that he suggestively describes as “undressing what I know.”

Such an undressing reveals the visceral immanence of fear and pleasure—nursing a broken bird until it dies—and the sublime ephemera of reflection and transcendence— “Heidegger’s notion of dwelling with care /in the being that underlies everything.” The poems, though whittled with care, in their accumulation feel more like a stream wearing away a soft shore as it passes: the poem, like the shore, remains; but the agile spirit, like the water that carved them, speeds away into the distance.

There are obstacles and passages, which often turn out to be one and the same phenomenon viewed first on the approach and then in the passing. In Nepo’s spiritual longing and aching cosmology, the divinities would, if they could, exchange eternity to enjoy the brevity of having all that we know… and then having it all taken away. In his poem, “The Angel of Grief,” an angel reflecting on the exalted and fleeting lives of man cries out to man in its longing, “I would give Eternity to /live with what you’re given, and to feel /what is opened by what is taken away.”

Mark Nepo is a known quantity to the readers of SUFI, with many of his pieces first published in SUFI, and his first book, Unlearning Back to God, published by Khaniqah Nimatullahi Publications in 2006. From there, Nepo penned a New York Times #1 best seller, The Book of Awakening, while becoming a spiritual muse to one of America’s great media icons, Oprah Winfrey. Still, as much as Nepo’s books, interviews and workshops have moved the needle in popular spirituality—and they have—his best writing blossoms in the subtlety of his poetry, where, “a cloud parted /in my mind and the light within /made it briefly to the page.”

The burden of the spiritual experience falls heavily over most of Nepo’s poems and yet, there is a sincerity in his spiritual devices which transcends mere affectation or New Age calculation. “Poetry is not the words and how they are written on a page… poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul.” This is a ubiquitous trope in Nepo’s writing and interviews, but in an interview for SUFI he added this alluring addendum, “now I want to be the poem.”

The naiveté of childhood and the lumpish weight of memory are captivating motifs in Nepo’s poems, as in his poem, “Oh, Grandma,” wherein he reaches back “between worlds” into his childhood in Brooklyn and sees his grandmother, gone now twenty years, “leaning from your kitchen/ into the brick alley, except /the alley is my heart. /And the light behind you /is where we come from /and where we’re all going.”