In this inaugural episode, Alan introduces the aims of the podcast and then discusses the poem "Fill and Fall" by Li-Young Lee.

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Poetry to the Brim - Episode 1: “Fill and Fall” by Li-Young Lee
In this inaugural episode, Alan introduces the aims of the podcast and then discusses the poem “Fill and Fall” by Li-Young Lee. --- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/poetrytothebrim/support

Transcript

Hello everyone, I'm Alan. Welcome to my new podcast "Poetry to the Brim," where we explore the fullness of things through poetry. The name of the podcast refers to what poetry can to do to us. By plumbing into the far corners and forgotten edges of life, poetry can fill us to the brim: allowing us to experience the fullness of life, and to revere and love the things in it.

Rupert Spira, a teacher of nonduality I admire, often describes happiness as an absence of a sense of lack. I'm not sure if he was the first to define it like this, but it's a definition I come back to time and time again. This perspective of happiness suggests that there is no lack if we are paying the right kind of attention to things. On this view, what we have is good enough, abundant already, and that it's our resistance to what we seemingly don't have or unfortunately do have that begets our feelings of unhappiness.

So in this podcast, we will be entering into the poet's awareness. In doing so, we may ourselves feel full and without such a sense of lack, if only for those few minutes when we lose ourselves in the poem.

Today, I'll be reading the poem "Fill and Fall" by Li-Young Lee. He's one of my favorite poets. This one is taken from his darkly seductive collection "Book of My Nights," published in 2001. In this poem, Lee directly addresses the brimming nature of things that this podcast serves to celebrate.

Alright, so that's enough of a prelude for both this podcast  and this episode, so without further ado.

--

"Fill and Fall" by Li-Young Lee

As long as night is one country
on both sides of my window, I remain a face
dreaming a face

and trace the heart's steep path: Night
and falling.
There's no place

my hand, full of its own going away,
ever found along a body
falling beside me.

And the way to the crowning grapes lies sealed
to all but one who's heard
what nights are for: Falling,

as water falls
to fill and fall, overwhelming
basin after basin,

as each must kneel
inside himself to find
the tiered slopes
only brimming masters.

--

So now I'll talk a little bit about the things I noticed in the poem, and as a disclaimer for the rest of the episodes, these are just my interpretations and feelings, unless otherwise stated. There's nothing necessarily right about what I say.

What struck me first in the poem was the turn when Lee says what nights are for: "Falling / as water falls / to fill and fall"—I love how he carries the language down the page. The form almost accompanies us through the feelings of loss and falling, while it does so for the speaker too. There's a sort of unspoken empathy here: the speaker knows that falling inevitably occurs in life, whether it be our failing at a particular task or our own ego getting in its own way or losing something we love. Loss accentuates the good that we once had, and failures makes future success what it is—that much more sweet. The gravity of life necessitates falling and loss, but the speaker knows that on the other side of such an experience with this realization, the fullness of Night can be glimpsed, not just what's apparently dark.

This makes me think of another thing I appreciated about this poem which is the way Lee plays with opposite words and concepts so masterfully. In the stanza, "There's no place / my hand, full of its own going away, / ever found along a body / falling beside me.", he uses the word "full" in a negative way, suggesting that if the speaker is obsessed with his own going and going away, everything will seem dark, conventionally speaking. However, in the turn of the poem I mentioned earlier, he uses the verb "fill," ("Falling / as water falls / to fill and fall"): he suggests a very different meaning of the same root word, akin to water's nature which is to fall so it may fill. The seemingly "steep path[s]" or "tiered slopes" of the heart are in fact not negative things to be resisted, but instead (as we find out at the end) must be knelt before in deference, so that the filling (or the feeling of fullness inside oneself) may have space to enter. The falling exists inseparably from the filling. They go hand in hand. In Buddhist terms, it's dependent origination.

By writing a poem about the dualities of filling and falling, I think Lee goes successfully beyond the dualities, where we may find the brimming quality of things.

--

"Fill and Fall" by Li-Young Lee

As long as night is one country
on both sides of my window, I remain a face
dreaming a face

and trace the heart's steep path: Night
and falling.
There's no place

my hand, full of its own going away,
ever found along a body
falling beside me.

And the way to the crowning grapes lies sealed
to all but one who's heard
what nights are for: Falling,

as water falls
to fill and fall, overwhelming
basin after basin,

as each must kneel
inside himself to find
the tiered slopes
only brimming masters.

--

Thanks for listening to Poetry to the Brim. You can find a full transcript of the show on the show website at podcast.poetrytothebrim.com. There, you can also subscribe to stay up to date by email for when I release a new episode, and find ways to support the show.

Also, I'd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions you might have about the show. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@acyanlight) or Instagram (@acyanlight), or email me at acyanlight@gmail.com.

Thanks again! Until next time.