Exclusive Interview with Rumi

John Paul – So, finally, Rumi. Some folks know you as a poet. Some know you as the guy who created the whirling dervishes. Some know you from little quotes on the Internet. Some know you as one of the top selling poets in the USA … Who are you?

Rumi – Well, I guess I am all of those things. I am a Sufi, from the 13th century. I was the dean, I guess, of a religious school.

JP – Dean?

Rumi – Well, I was the leader of an Islamic school, I had assistants, scribes and followers, fans and critics.

JP – Sufi?

Rumi – I am the head of an order of mystics known as the Mevlevi Order. The word Sufi is complicated. Idries Shah tried to clear that up, but in some ways he muddied the water even more and for us Sufi, that is great work!

JP – The Whirling Dervishes? How did that dance come about?

Rumi – Well, man that is a big question! We were a group of people caught in a time and place when lots of religions were competing for followers. Jesus and his people were still around and since we were in Persia, we had big celebrations and ceremony. The dance came about I guess over time to replicate the new found science of the stars. That is why we turn counter clockwise. To replicate the cosmos spinning. The dance is outlawed in my home town. I guess we we were pretty radical.

JP – People still do it? The dance?

Rumi – Yes. There is a person even in Louisville, Kentucky, Kabir Helminski. He is of my order of Sufi and they dance. There are Sufi all over the world. Not all are Mevlevi.

JP – Coleman Barks, can you speak about him?

Rumi – What can I say? Aww Man, He is just like Shams. Ha! Southern Man, wild ass nut case! He is the reason my poetry is so popular in the United States. See, Shams got my ass in trouble, so, this guy came along, he was just a regular old tradesman, redneck kinda, he challenged me in-front of all my students, called me onto the carpet. Sort of “called the question” so to say. Well, after our first meeting we became good friends, I could not believe he had the nerve to challenge me! But we became such good friends that my followers, students, my work at the school, it all suffered. Even my own son got pissed off at me, I was spending all my time with Shams. Staying up late, talking and arguing, being wild. Shams showed me a different way of life. He got my ass in trouble is what he did.

JP – What about Mr. Barks?

Rumi – Well, us mystics work in strange ways. I needed a voice for my work and his was the best I could find.

JP – Mr. Barks tells a story about a Sufi coming to him in a dream and then later meeting him sort of by chance. The dream sounds like a pretty mystical sort of guru thing, kinda like an acid trip. Did you have anything to do with that?

Rumi – No. But I did have something to do with Robert Bly.

JP– Robert Bly? The Iron John, men’s group poet?

Rumi – Yes, him, but there is way more to him than that, Vietnam protester, activist, I guess he was to become Coleman’s Shams, hell I don’t know, I, in a roundabout way, suggested to Robert to introduce Coleman to an idea. To give him a spark of inspiration. That Sufi coming to Coleman in a dream, that was all Coleman. Like I said, We Sufi work in mysterious ways, things get put into action, you have a saying, “Perfect Storm?”

JP – What was the spark of inspiration?

Rumi – To “breathe some life” into some literal translations of my work.

JP – Did he do that?

Rumi – Well, I am one of the top selling poets in the United States! I guess he did. (laughing hysterically)

JP – So, what about the whole Sufi coming to Coleman in a dream? Do you believe that part of Coleman’s story?

Rumi – Yes, but like I said, I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was all Bawa Muhaiyaddeen‘s work there.

JP – Bawa?

Rumi – Well, he is the founder of a Sufi Fellowship in Philadelphia. He is a different order of Sufi than me. He was the one who came to Coleman in a dream. I think Coleman manifested that experience out of a fear of making money and success from my work.

JP – Were you upset about his profiting from your poetry?

Rumi – No, not at all, us Sufi, or at least some of us, we give it all away anyway and get screwed more than not for what we do anyway. I was happy to see my work get the “New Breath of Life!” I think Coleman needed to find out from somebody, who was a Sufi, if what he was doing with my work was “authentic.” And I guess be respectful about his inspired work. Bawa is a very good example of what a Sufi community could be and about the best Coleman could have conjured. The Bawa fellowship is quite different than my school, we danced, they don’t do the whirling dervish thing. Bawa came for other work to the USA.

JP – What was that work?

Rumi – Well, Bawa came to the USA back when the whole Hippie Guru thing had gone out of control. The Beatles and the Merry Pranksters and that whole culture had “gone off the rails.” Bawa appealed to that crowd. And his message of love, understanding and community resonated. No drugs, no alcohol, and Islam. Bawa’s fellowship, was a perfect living example to get a look into what an Islamic Sufi School would look like. In some ways, that is why I choose Robert Bly to get the ball rolling. Bawa told the hippies, you don’t need LSD and drugs to find enlightenment. Robert was from that generation. I recently found out that there were “whirling dervish,” spinners at Grateful Dead concerts.

JP – Why do you think Coleman Barks was the voice for you work?

Rumi – He is a Southern Man. Southern people think and live in stories. They tell stories, they take a long time to trust, take a long time with saying hello and goodbye. Southern traditions are slower than some other folks in the United States. Sufi’s teach in stories. We are I guess “Long Winded.” His deep southern charm was what made my poetry come to life.

JP – Some folks say that all he did was take the ISLAM out of it.

Rumi – Well, that is what they said I did, in my time. Not to mention, the fundamentalists always say that. Even the Christians, Buddhists, all religions have their traditionalists. What Coleman did was inspired work and he tells people that from, what he would say, “git go.” I did mention that my “Whirling Dervish Dance” is outlawed in my country? See, Sufi work is inspired. People looking for the literal translation of the Bible and the Quran, well any traditionalists for that matter are stuck in time and place. If Coleman was reporting to be ISLAMIC in nature, then there would be critical problems and a reason to be very upset that he was trying to report to be something his work is not.

JP – Why do you think the USA is the place your work saw a new life?

Rumi. Hippies. Well, seriously, the United States is supposed to be a melting pot. My work is a melting pot of words, work, songs, traditions. It just was that perfect storm, I guess. Things put in place. Robert Bly’s generation of Beat Poets and Coleman’s Hippies needed it. I hear even Steven Gaskin’s folks down in Tennessee have a Sufi Circle.

JP – Well, let’s change gears. What American Music do you enjoy?

Rumi – Ha! The Blues and Jazz. Sun Ra, whoa, I really like his work. I really like Bluegrass Music. Appalachia Rising, that group is onto something. John Hartford.

JP – Bluegrass Music?

Rumi – Yes, because it comes from small working communities. Hard working farm small town people. That is what my Sufi school was. We were a small town of people who worked hard, played hard and danced in a sacred way, Ever seen a square dance? We danced in circles, that old time dancing is far from being in a square, people are whirling all over the place.

JP – thank you for your time.

Rumi – You bet!

JP – take care.

Rumi – See ya on the boat!

Sabbatical of the Belle – A new book!

The Sabbatical of the Belle is a new book of poetry, prose and pictures about leaving a good job on the railroad where I was working for the man every night and day. I would be lying if I said I didn’t lose a minute of sleep thinking about the ways things might have been, however, I’ve washed a lotta dishes up in Louisville. I’ve run a lot of trains down to Tennessee. I never saw the good side of the derby city, till I got a job on a river boat queen. This new book is about that.

The book is about following your bliss.

It’s about making a decision to leave a career, even though everyone thinks your crazy. It’s about transitioning backwards in time and place into the history books of the transportation industry. It’s about long hot summer days on the Ohio River learning and preserving a river way of life that is almost all but gone. This collection is about work and camaraderie. It’s about being just a small part of something much bigger than yourself. 

The Belle of Louisville is a 105 year old National Landmark. She is an awe inspiring piece of western rivers history that is truly something to experience.  The video below is a good example of my source material!

If you would like to support my work, you can do that at the link below.

Thanks!

https://igg.me/at/fKMv-UAwcc0/x#/

 

What We Do: Roy Betts, of the Belle Of Louisville from brian wagner on Vimeo.


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Photo by Chase Hermes

To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

(When I left work – exhausted and hot.
Our secretary was hanging directions
to our meeting on the union board.)

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

It is my direct action to love!
Go home directly, hug my boy –
kiss the wife and hit the sack.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Brothers, one day you will take
this union as sacrament.
This power we seek is to unite human
heart with sacred vision.
To be forward thinking – with resolve.
Our kinship, our favor.
Our love for one another,
will be our saving grace.
It is radical to speak without kind intention.
It is what it is, is the mantra of the broken.
Reality dictates that our strength comes in numbers.
It is ignorance that expects people
to come, who have not been invited.
It is morality that guides us to be all inviting.
Conscience that tells of our failure.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Let us not fall to fear of what might
happen if we raise our voices on high.
They will say, “they won’t stick together!”
They will say, “they don’t care!”
They will say, “they have fallen to
greed and don’t understand!”
Let us be like the tree,
planted by the water.

For I was happy but now I’m not.
I was lost but now, I’m found.
Was blind … but now I see.
I am employed by your favor!
Let’s not get lost in arguments.
Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us now greet each other &
feel open hands meet &
raise our voices on high!
Sing:

There is power in a band of working folks
when they stand hand in hand.

Amen.
In solidarity!

P.S
I make motion to change
the name of our union to also
include the word.
Sisterhood.
Can I get a witness?

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Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill

1.
To
be
raised
on the Clark
family home place –
George Rodgers Clark Park –
my front yard – Mulberry Hill –
where Louisville’s first family settled.
I’m sure there is plenty to say about George.
I’m sure they were privileged. It was a blessing –
to play in the rich Grey Kentucky clay! Play war in our
grass forts, throwing walnuts at each other. My
Brother and Sister at my core – our undaunted childhood
discovery. We were privileged to be free to play.
To be told not
to come home
until the sun
was sinking low.
2.
I remember “no niggers” painted on the roof of the
lodge, in the park where we swam. We played basketball
together – they had big family picnics, family reunions.
I remember when they painted over the
wrong words with white paint. And then
the letters would eventually bleed through –
like some sort of cruel joke, like a stain.

I don’t remember seeing any “niggers” in the park!
My mother told me the word on the roof was
wrong. I remember “stop busing” painted on the
stop signs. I remember the two black kids in
my neighborhood catholic school. They stuck out
like a sore thumb. They didn’t stay long …

I remember the mean man who would run us off
when us kids would get too wild.
He ran the park from a little office in the lodge.
His name I don’t remember. He carried a five gallon
bucket and picked up trash.

I remember majestic grandfather cottonwood
trees blowing in the hot humid summer breeze –
sapping cherry trees and the flooded creek.
The tree that was surrounded by a large fence –
the story behind it. They said an Indian woman
sat there with her dead child in her arms.

Her tears watered the tree as it grew around her.
They said you can still hear her weeping if you put
your ear up to the tree. They also said it grew from
George Rodgers Clark’s sword.

Oh how I remember walking across that park …
to find my Dad. At the end of the bar at Tim Tams.

– I would stand under his shadow.
His work truck parked in the lot.
Oh how I remember the real cherry
cokes! Pickled bologna and crackers –
the men and their work conversations.
The wooden shuffle board game and
the heavy metal pucks.
Falls City beer in ten ounce glasses,
salt shakers on the bar –
the telephone that would ring –
the bartender telling the woman on the
other end – “ no, he is not here.” –

4.
Privilege is relative, not a good place to start
a conversation. Political correctness is relative too!
Triggers are pulled and buttons pushed! We can
only be so careful not to offend.

It was a privilege to be a free child –
before Anne Gottlieb was stolen –
before those Trinity boys were raped –
before they beat to death that gay man in
Cherokee Park with a Louisville Slugger.
Before media told us who we were supposed to be –
before AIDS became a household word.
Before cable T.V. terrorized our airwaves
with a constant droning.
5.
Times are a changing. Time has been known to do
that. Naturally. I act out in defiance of the norm. I rebel –
taught to question – raised by resilient men
and women. People who were trying to dream. In America.
The land where their fathers and mothers died.

It is a privilege to be alive –
it is work to tread water –
to keep your head above it all.
6.
May peace be with you.

The Sabbatical of the Belle

They call me old man.

My crew. Nothing has really changed

in the over 100 years our lady has

made her way around.

They call her a tramp.

The boat. They use her to make a point,

of how things used to be built to last.

They say she is haunted.

By a deckhand, who walks the lower

deck whistling a mournful tune, and

by a captain who loved to gamble.

We are not a team.

For a team is out to win something.

Competes in game-playing.

We are a crew.

Wherein We, is the only way.

There is no, Them.

They call me old man.

My crew. Of young boys of summer.

Spirited like freedom, like

fireworks. Crass, salty and no different

than any other working men –

I have experienced.

They give me shit, and I give it back –

as they carry large bags of ice up a grand

staircase. I shirk that work, as they

miss the details, skip the corners –

walk around in circles,

day dreaming of

cute girls,

success

and

money.

There is something about her –

our Southern Belle. She breathes

with the ebb and flow of the river.

As her lines tighten and slack.

One little mistake could skin

a finger, pull a body into the water.

And that is our only goal, to keep

everyone out of harms way.

The river, our river –

much like how this boat

has been at times.

Trashed, dirty and rolling free,

like the murky blood

of a forgotten country.

And I walk the decks, a reincarnate

of Floyd the whistling deckhand.

Singing railroad hobo songs,

traditional blues. Making up

words to go with the troubles

I have seen, the struggles I feel.

A continuation of a body of

working songs, left in the air

like vibrations reverberating

in time with the clicking of

this massive machine.

They call me old man.

As I honestly greet every passenger

with a southern charm –

that is not a gimmick.

The rich, who shuffle on the

boat without making eye to eye.

The children, scared by the

grandness of our lady’s strength.

The old woman, who rides for free.

The Mayor, just making an appearance.

All the people, no matter

their lot, greeted in the language

of a native son.

Welcome to the Belle,

watch your step and then

Y’all have a gooden or,

take it easy now,

Y’all come back

and see us.

The Sabbatical of the Belle.

They call me old man.

A river man now.

Who once blew

that lonesome whistle,

all the live long day.

I am a stowaway most of

the time, laughing under my

breath.

They,

my crew,

if they only knew.

Old man river.

That old man river –

he must know something.

But he don’t say nothing.

He just keeps rolling –

He keeps rolling along.

John Paul



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