Feature Poet:
Chelan Harkin 

Inspired poetry has been flowing through Chelan Harkin for years though her publishing journey is only less than two years old. Her launch into sharing her poetry with the world has been mystical, transformational and filled with prayer experiments gone right. She is thrilled to now be offering speaking events nationally and internationally. 

Chelan is 34 years old and lives in a geographically spectacular region of Washington state with her two young, beautiful children, Amari and Nahanni. In her poetry and in her life, Chelan continually invites the fumbling, suffering parts of our human nature along with our divinity to meet for tea in the heart, to have a great laugh, celebrate our sacred grief and share a big hug. 

Chelan has authored four books of poetry, Susceptible to Light, Let Us Dance! The Stumble and Whirl with The Beloved, Taste the Sky and Bouquet of Stars. She loves to stay in touch. Follow her on Facebook. 

She is interviewed here by Soul-Lit’s co-founding editor, Wayne-Daniel Berard. 

W-D: Chelan, welcome to Soul-Lit. Ever since encountering your amazing poetry on Facebook, I’ve been looking forward to the day when you would feature with us! You have become one of my absolute favorite contemporary poets!

Your poetry is very much reminiscent of the great Sufi mystical poets, such as Hafiz and Rumi. May we assume this is not an accident?

Chelan: Hi Wayne-Daniel! So nice to be here with you. I first heard a Hafiz poem when I was 17 years old in a therapy session. Therapy hadn’t been doing much for me but when my therapist read me that short Hafiz poem, “You Don’t Have To Act Crazy Anymore” something truly profound happened in me. The doors around my heart which had felt so hopelessly locked down all sprang open and my consciousness was able to make contact with that open hearted space in myself, affirming that some deep part of me was okay, was well. Though it was a short lived opening, another profound thing happened deep in my soul while that poem was being read to me. Though I didn’t even have language to categorize what I was hearing as mystical poetry, I knew without a doubt that whatever that poem was and whatever the magic it carried that had that amazing effect on me was what I was meant to do in a big way. It was a destiny moment. Hafiz has been my primary poetic inspiration.

W-D: As you know, Soul-Lit is a journal of spiritual poetry -- a term we construe quite broadly! What does the phrase “spiritual poetry” mean to you? In what ways might you consider yourself to be a spiritual poet?

Chelan: Great question. That phrase spiritual poetry could lead one to imagine that my poetry primarily addresses spiritual concepts. While that isn’t untrue, my poetry does address themes of God and deep connection and the soul and what not, I would say that what truly makes my poetry spiritual poetry is that it is not primarily conceptual, but arises from the uninhibited channels of life’s movement. It is a translation of currents of energy as they move through me. When I can be truthful, accountable, humble and loving about any emotional block I may be experiencing and dip my consciousness into that area to stay there with love, channels open, Life moves, deep patterns rearrange for the more open and whole and this vital, elegant, raw and refined energy of Life or God or what have you speaks through me as inspired poetry. I trust its voice more than anything.

W-D: In the same vein, could you tell us about your own spirituality? Your poetry seems to possess a strong mystical quality. Have you had what you consider to be mystical experiences? And if so, how does this inform your poetry?

Chelan: Great question. I’ve always had a leaning in the direction of the mystical. I was born somewhat tuned to that station, you could say. At age 3 my mom tells me I would often merrily say, “I’m ready to die” with a big, mysterious grin on my face like I knew some kind of joyful, cosmic secret and was hungry for some behind the veil banquet that I knew was set. Those inclinations were deeply buried, however, as I did all I needed to in my adolescent years to fit in which was excruciating and laborious work for someone for whom living in dissonance with my truth was an acute form of suffering. At age 21, in a time of true crisis and despair for abandoning myself in such essential ways, I went on pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy land in Israel. Having grown up in the Baha’i Faith, I felt love for it and shame around being part of a minority faith. I wanted authentic relationship with it but didn’t know how to get there and I felt deeply complex about it all. On one of the last days of the pilgrimage, my group went to Baha’u’lla’h’s (the founder of the Baha’i Faith) prison cell. We entered and had quite time reserved for prayer and meditation. I sat down for what felt like a matter of seconds and without hearing any commotion, when I opened my eyes the 30/40 others in my group had left the cell and the door was closed. I still can’t explain that. I looked around the room to take stock of the strangeness of the experience and the only way to describe what happened next was that I was immediately filled with the resonance of a voice. It wasn’t that I heard a voice with my ears though it rang through every cell of my being with more clarity than a normal voice ever could. The voice said, “Let Us Dance.” This message and its vibration had an authoritative quality to it, but a deeply, unconditionally loving authority to it that I couldn’t not trust. What was communicated to me within and beneath the words was that I was so deeply invited for my relationship with God to be a stumble and whirl with the Beloved. That this all embracing divine force wanted all of me, my mess along with my magnificence and that all of me was eternally welcome, just as I was. I was filled with rejoice, ecstasy and a deep and profound catharsis. At that moment I knew with a certainty that I would one day write have a book of poetry titled, “Let Us Dance, The Stumble and Whirl with The Beloved” as I now do. Not a week after returning home from this wild experience, poetry that was complete and intact with almost no need for editing started pouring through me as it still does to this day 13 years later.

W-D: Chelan, your poetry, though universal in its appeal, speaks deeply and movingly to and about women, including the Divine Feminine. Do you see yourself as a poet with a very strong message for women?

Chelan: Great question. I see feminism absolutely as humanism, as an understanding that is necessary and essential and urgent for the exoneration and liberation of the human soul. While societal injustice and hierarchy and all that goes into all that definitely and without question impacts women differently than it does men, what I primarily go into with my poetry is the rejection of what I often call the feminine qualities that men and women and all people alike have needed to repress and reject to fit in to our society: emotions, sensitivity, desire, inner truth, inner guidance, intuition, power from within, a true connection with our inner gifts, our light, our wisdom and with our divinity in an experienced, embodied way. Women can have an extra potent connection to truth and inspired wisdom which is so essential for the healing of our world and hearts. My poetry does also speak to the activation and remembrance in women more specifically about our vast powers and how astonishing we are and does its all to assert with an authority it feels justified in claiming around this theme the inherent worth that is ever abiding in women in spite of the myriad ways societal messages, attitudes and behaviors would have it stripped.

W-D: Your poetry seems to offer the idea of pain as a spiritual experience. Can you speak here about how you see the transformational power of pain and struggle, as reflected in your poetry? 

Chelan: Yes! Oh, I’d be simply delighted. This is the theme I care about perhaps the most. To deny our pain, our uncomfortable feelings, is to relate to ourselves from a paradigm of judgment and rejection. This, I believe, is where separation begins and then festers into its self-protective structures of hierarchy and superiority. We mistakenly believe that to be happy and worthy of connection we must conquer and dominate our pain or else somehow we will be unworthy of love. The truth is that this self-rejection and repression of our pain which can take a tremendous amount of energy to maintain just makes us act like crazy people on some level or another and creates lives that are never fully satisfied. Pain, when judgment is taken away from it, is life energy that has been exiled, stuffed down, stuck and stored away. When we can bring our consciousness into contact with the pain in our bodies with an attitude of love, curiosity and acceptance, these stuck energies unlock, often in the form of catharsis and release these trapped energies and our old associated strategies for avoiding them and infuse our psyches and nervous systems with new energy that can be channeled toward creative rather than self-protective ends. We become more unified with ourselves in this process. This gorgeous somatic, sacred spiritual experience can only happen when our pain is not held in judgment. No matter how much distress, humiliation and misery any pattern in our lives has caused us, when we can connect with the pain beneath it in a loving way, we find that its root is ever one of innocence, and in seeing this we feel the grace and ecstasy of forgiveness and redemption and restored tenderness.

W-D: It seems you have been doing some traveling and sharing your poetry in churches and other spiritual communities. Like Rumi and Hafiz, your poetry urges people to break out of old, restrictive concepts of God and to embrace a more visceral, even lusty version of the Divine. How has this been received by your audiences in more traditional settings?

Chelan: What a fun question. It has been received marvelously. I pray before I speak each time that my words and poems can be inspired to most reach the hearts and I’m delighted that so far that really has been the effect. Churches and spiritual centers with ministers who resonate with my poetry are mostly those who have reached out to me so there’s already wide resonance in the congregation. Also, largely, I speak in personal narrative form, I share my story, and storytelling is such a marvelous way to communicate potent truths in a way that is disarming. My poetry has that sneaky trick as well and so in almost every case so far regardless of setting, these events have felt like deeply sacred open heart fests.

W-D: Please tell us about your new book, Bouquet of Stars.

Chelan: Thank you for asking. Bouquet of Stars is a special book that came out of a special project. I was asked last spring to host a group called Poetry Chapel. Its intention was to gather a group of 12 aspiring poets to develop their craft in an emotionally, psychologically, relationally safe and encouraging space while also giving them step by step guidance for publishing and marketing a book of poetry so that they’d be empowered to create a book of their own one day if desired. At the end of our ten weeks together, each poet submitted 6 poems to this book. Bouquet of Stars is such an amazing compilation, the first half being 40 of my poems and the second half belonging to the other poets. They developed a beautiful network in our time together and received wide exposure from my audience. It has been a true community collaboration and the experience with these extraordinary twelve was profoundly and lastingly meaningful to me.

W-D: Beside the Sufi poets, who are the poets who have influenced you, older and/or more contemporary? Whom do you like to read?

Chelan: Great question. The truth is, these last two year since poetry has been flowing at such a rate I haven’t read much. It’s as though I haven’t had much time for intake. But two poets who have inspired me greatly are contemporary poet Fred LaMotte and amazing performance poet, Anis Mojgani. Both are extraordinary and I hope anyone reading this explore their work! Currently I am most touched, impacted by, moved and inspired by a couple of astonishing female poets in my life, Lucy Grace and Maya Luna who write with this signature I deeply recognize of inspired flow that carries Truth.

W-D: What advice might you offer younger poets, just beginning their journeys as creators of poetry? Is there something you wish someone has shared with you as you started out? 

Chelan: Surround yourself with encouragers, with people who can genuinely see and value the beauty of your work and pour their light upon it. In my experience, this is how gifts evolve. And free yourself up from the paralysis of perfectionism by letting your work be bad, immature, foolish and embarrassing. We need to embrace these fears for inspiration to be able to move through them. Write about what is real and true and alive in you even if its desperation to write something good so you can be valued and seen as you felt you never were before. Write about how lonely you are and how you’re trying to bring yourself home with your pen that too feels lost in the woods. Write about how you’re trying to write in a way that will create a map back to yourself that you’re not even sure you’d follow because of how enticed you are by leaving. You hear me, I think. Write about what’s true, even if it’s how far you feel from what’s true. And share it with others. There is no better gift to others than even a crude attempt at the expression of truth that liberates, empowers and gives permission to all and this is the highest achievement whether it reaches one or thousands.

W-D: And finally, we often close our interviews by asking the poet if there’s a question they wish we had asked, and how they would answer that question? 

Chelan: Ooo, good question. A question I like to receive is what was it like to finally publish my books. And the answer is: terrifying. It was the biggest risk I’d ever taken and I had to move through and test a mountain of limiting fears and assumptions about the ways I worried people would reject me and my work. I kept taking steps forward and as I did I needed to encounter and move through the burn of those old fears. As they fell away though, I learned the most valuable lesson of my life that our fears are not at all truths! And sometimes not only is the worst thing we fear might happen not at all relevant but something more wonderful than we possibly could have imagined is waiting for us.

Thank you!