'Going Back to Go Forward'
Exiled from the technological age
for my love of all things olden, simple and green
I return to humanity's first dwelling-to the forest,
our natural home within the wild realm that is the Earth.
Whose arbor of thatch branches and blooming leaves shelter us
and whose bower pantry rains down fruits to nourish us.
-Excerpt from "The Secret Keepers" by L.M. Browning
L.M. (Leslie) Browning has been on a spiritual path that led her from Catholicism-the faith in which she was raised-to explore many world religions before bringing her back to earth, as it were, where she found that the old ways of shamanism and druidry were what engaged her heart and nourished her spirit.
This journey also resulted in Browning's first book of poetry, "Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith," and three more books of poetry being published as a series by Little Red Tree Publishing, LLC, of New London.
Browning grew up in Stonington and is a Class of 2000 graduate of Stonington High School. She is studying for a degree in philosophy through the University of London External Programme. In addition to her poetry series, she is finishing her first full-length young adult novel.
Browning says she chose "Oak Wise" as her book's title because it's a direct translation of the word "druid," and in druidry the oak is a sacred tree that's viewed as a doorway into the Otherworld or a conduit through which one can gain the Earth's wisdom.
The book is illustrated with beautiful black and white photographs of trees and landscapes from various countries.
"Oak Wise" is structured quite differently from the average poetry book. Browning educates and enlightens the reader about ecological faith in her introduction, explaining how the book is a convergence of her own beliefs and the Celtic traditions she has studied, and dispels misconceptions about shamanism. She writes what she describes as prose-poetry, telling vivid stories that she divides into chapters. She also includes a glossary of words and terms, and suggestions for further reading.
In a recent interview, Browning talked about her poetry, her process, and her beliefs.
Q. Did you do all your reading and research about shamanism and druidism prior to writing the poetry or did it all happen simultaneously?
A. Simultaneously. I ran across two books on shamanism that sparked my interest in Celtic shamanism and very quickly the poems came. I wrote the first book in two weeks.
Q. You say in the preface to "Oak Wise" that the series will explore many sides of the human condition-can you expound on that?
A. The first two books, "Oak Wise" and "Ruminations at Twilight" explore spirituality and man's need for deeper meaning in our lives. The final two books explore the disillusionment we go through after adolescence when we enter the real world and try to maintain our beliefs and idealism.
Q. You say that people nowadays are moving away from traditional religions, toward nature, in part because of the "green" movement. Isn't that what happened in the 1960s when young people and their rock 'n' roll icons like George Harrison and Cat Stevens were leaving Judeo-Christian religions and embracing far-Eastern spiritual beliefs?
A. Yes and I definitely think it's happening again-a new evolution. It definitely needs to happen.
Q. Can you talk about the concept of reaching back to liberate yourself and at the same time enabling yourself to confidently forge ahead, as in the poem, "Going back to Go Forward"?
A. I feel we've arbitrarily left our paths behind and in doing so left a lot of things that can help us find balance in the present. We've coined the phrase, 'You can't go home again,' and closed the door on being able to go back and find what we need, when the door is actually open to us. We can go home again. We just think we can't. We can't turn back the clock, but we can bring [those] practices into the future. If we had greater appreciation of the earth, we'd be better able to deal with what we're creating.
Q. Why did you decide to publish your books with Little Red Tree?
A. I wanted to do a three- or four-book series and [the publisher, Michael Linnard] gives the author free reign. He doesn't try to filter or alter the author's voice, which is very rare. He pushes you to add to it and make it a really full book.
L.M. Browning will reading from "Oak Wise" at Poetry in the Park, from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 27 in Westerly's Wilcox Park and have copies for sale. Browning will introduce her second book, "Ruminations at Twilight" at a reading and booksigning at City News in New London on Aug. 28 from 2 to 4 p.m.
"Oak Wise" can be purchased at Little Red Tree Publishing's website, www.littleredtree.com.