Please see previous posting for background on Ellen Bass interview excerpt that follows...
RS: Peter Ackroyd in his biography, Blake, suggests the poet's imagination and visionary experiences were part of a special fate, a natural gift, perhaps inherited, and that for Blake, Imagination was primary, a near sacred element in his life and his work. As a poet, what do you understand by that word, Imagination?
ELLEN: I believe that imagination is what allows us to understand and enter the experience of others. I think many of the problems in our world stem from a lack of imagination. If you can imagine what someone else feels, then, to some extent, the separation between you diminishes. Some people are able (and willing) to do this more easily than others. I think it's part natural gift and part choice or commitment.
As you say, Blake saw imagination as sacred. When the barriers between I and thou collapse, when we can see into the experience of another being, this is the essence of what is sacred. Many spiritual paths offer practices to help us feel the oneness of life, to help us understand that we are not separate from each other, and what happens to one person in one place is not, cannot be, isolated.
In some of my poems, I use, to the best of my ability, this kind of imagination directly. "Bearing Witness" from Mules of Love, for example, where I talk about the way that listening to an account of suffering allows us to "slash the membrane that divides us". Or, in "Gate C22" from The Human Line, I enter--and hopefully make a door for the reader to enter--a completely different experience, the joy of a couple kissing at the airport.
But even in poems which are primarily about my own experience, I still rely on imagination, because I am trusting that my experience is not mine alone, but in some way is also the reader's experience. If it were only mine, then what I wrote wouldn't be a poem. It would be a report of what I felt, thought, did. To become a poem, what I write has to go beyond "what happened to me" to express something about what happens to all of us, the human condition.
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...