BWW Interview: Writer Joel Lesses

Writer Joel Lesses speaks about Spirituality,

Poetry and his Podcast.

MCL: Do you write prose or just poetry?

JL: Inclusive in the scope of my work and intention, opening to what presents itself, I like to write; prose is a part of the exploration and poetry is a part of the exploration and letters are also a part if it. The coming together of pen and paper, everything is possible, the undercurrents of life itself are waiting to be dipped respectfully and brought forth in to this realm, fountain pen into well, the well never runs dry. The ink does not run, but dries on the page and marks the expression of a past moment, how precious.

MCL: How did you get into poetry?

JL: I feel that "getting into poetry" is getting to know oneself. So that these things are in a sense parallel worlds waiting to touch and merge, like lovers yet to meet, the poetry and human being. I never thought of writing when I was younger much, but noticed in a high school assignment an ease in touching something timeless when I was writing, although I did not have the language for that experience at that time. I met my creative writing professor, Major Ragain, in Kent Ohio at Kent State University; the blooming of my poetic life began. He was gentle and listened, popped phrases into mind clear as a bell, taught me that the work I had done on myself was not "for naught," but muscle to enter respectfully and gently into merging of the source of poetry within. I have never been an ambitious writer; but always have been fascinated by the practice of poetry as a means to explore and build a healthy community.

MCL: Some poetry influences?

JL: My relationships and lovers are the most direct means influence because the intimacy teaches us about ourselves and one another, family too teaches in another kind of way. I think I read many exploratory poets and mystical poets, but reading them really and truly is useless unless we garner the courage to go within, and ask "what is dark in us?" "What is fear?" These things like to make us think they are insurmountable; let me assure you, they are not. They are fearful of light and being look at because it is in the unseen nature of their existence that mass their control, when you look into it, eventually, through inexhaustibility you become only light: light, light full of light.

MCL: What is it about those poets you find interesting?

JL: People are fascinating, we mix and play with dark and light, free to choose and express and love and suffer and overcome. Are ya kidding me? This world is not for the faint of heart. It is a serious place with serious consequences. One thing I am grateful I have been given in some measure is a gravitas, a seriousness. What we offer to the world is what we experience, how we are as lovers in love, says Rumi, is how God is with us. There are karmic affinities and choice and when we are careful with our choice, it grows God's smile and He grants us joy, which in turn widens His smile. Poets are everywhere, birds in song, a purring cat, trees; life is poetry, poetry life. What's not to be engaged in and fascinated by?

MCL: Describe your poetry?

JL: Sparse and truthful, merging spirit and world, (hopefully) coming from some place that is truly "not me."

MCL: What's the Buffalo, New York writing/art scene like?

JL: It's a hive mind of ages and styles, colors and genders; I love it and this place. It's salty here. There is some grit, and toothpicks. This lends itself to circling the wagons to express this place and the people it holds and nourishes, and there are some wonderful poets here. Nathan Stolte and I run Ground and Sky, Fred Whitehead and Dog's Ears, a wonderful venue. I like the coffee table readings and small venues that arise spontaneously with friends. Names and titles, you can keep them. Community to me is really about our inherent humanness and right to express ourselves as the beauty we are, with respect and love to everything around us. To me, it begins and ends with listening.

MCL: Any local poets who helped you grow?

JL: Although I never had him as a professor, David Landry has a terrific presence fosters others growth, I feel. I went to school for English in Kent, Ohio; spent some time in the Middle East and returned to Western New York, the people who helped me grow were more through a deep cultivation of love in their heart. Another's grandmother I assisted in some measure gave a hug fused with something I deeply needed and the spirit of what that hug expressed remains. Heidi Maria, musician and singer was a most transformative figure of growth. I have been extremely blessed to have some serious game changers in my path. Maj Ragain and Heidi Maria I think were two most influential people in my life.

MCL: Let's talk about your Podcast. What is Unraveling Religion?

JL: Unraveling religion is a podcast on spirituality, exploring the human condition. Richard Wicka is a mentor and friend in his own right, he houses the Think Twice Radio collections of podcast where Unraveling Religion rests. Without Richard, there is no Unraveling Religion. As Maj is to my poetry, Richard is to my exploration of the human spirit recorded. The podcast's intention is clear here: "For everyone who has an interest in the root of spirituality and religion, our own root, and human beings who have delved into this matter, these series of talks are a work in progress for exploring our rich inner life. I am hopeful that it will deepen our understanding of religious texts, poems, art and the human condition, shared by all to be explored to enhance our understanding and experience of (both Eastern and Western) psychology, and the deep aspects of ourselves and questions fundamental to our human existence." It is a joy to record these conversations and such fascinating people.

MCL: What is your overall goal for you Podcast listeners? What do you want them to get out the Podcast?

JL: Questions on top of more questions. As someone once told me, "questions are holy" they lead to a process in this continual unfoldment, of an intentional exploration of life that is specific to each of us. Truly, there is no overall goal, the whole process of how Unraveling Religion came to be and is was an "accident" and is a part of a larger picture in my life that is my practice of listening responsiveness and an attempt at the cultivation of awareness.

MCL: Religion can be a very sensitive subject to discuss. What has the feedback been like?

JL: Wonderful, while religion *is* "a very sensitive subject to discuss," true spirituality, the mother of religion, is not difficult to discuss in the same way religion might be. Religion is a construct of the mind; spirituality is an experience of spirit and mind itself in this body.

MCL: How did spirituality and Poetry come together for you?

JL: Poetry is an exploration of spirit; spirit is expressed in poetry. I think the question begins with the question "what is spirituality?" and "what is poetry?" and we will each have a different answer. The coming together is balm of healing waters within us, a reservoir without limit, waiting to been seen accessed drunk from and immersed in so that this process leaves behind language; you are then at the point where spirit dictates poetry instead of poetry drawing from spirit. When we get out of the way, the Intelligence As It Is dictates the poetry, all we have to do is listen, that when listening as a practice and poetry as a practice merge and we learn how to truly live.

MCL: Example of a poem that may fit that form?

JL: Sure, the poem Through the Day was an offered to me by the One or the Universe, I was in class with pen and paper jotting down notes and in the margins the poem began to take shape, I could see the images and felt called to write them in phrases, this is one way or process of poems coming from "not me." This is the final form it took:

"through the day"

this night

moment walking

home with moon

shining mind

this moment


autumn bends

turning in


toward home

it is and is not here

still moon

no mind

same moment

never ending.

I have said in readings and talks that if I never write another poem, I feel this is an expression of my true self more than any other poem so far. It is a true poem, deeply rooted in my genuine experience.

MCL: What is "the koan"?

JL: My own personal koan is "what is the matter with me?" or "who am I?" or "what am I?" The koan began in the Buddhist tradition in China to arouse great doubt in the student, it developed into an illogical question reason and rationality could not solve or resolve, so what then happens? If you stay with the koan, what happens? Many famous koans are known in America, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?"

There was a "family friend" who was pointedly a sociopath, a sad man predictable in all he did; his teaching to me served me well. Light does not serve darkness, darkness serves light. It is not another way, nor can it be. So, "what is the matter with me?" with me came from the experiences of being for three years in the "care" of this sociopath, the memories repressed, I had a lion's share of work to resolve those experiences, now I just have a lion's share, the work has turned into a river and a current of flow joy and ease. Meanwhile this offering from Dogen is a reminder to people who think there is anything you can "get away with in this life": "[T]he law of cause and effect never deviates, any more than a shadow or echo deviates from its source." Shobogenzo, Deep Faith in Cause and Effect Dogen

So I need not worry about the past only what it informs me to do in the present, David the sociopath does not understand the limitless nature of existence and time and how what he does is what will be done to him. Dogen was a beautiful student of Zen and life and reminds me often with these offerings to us, "Now, mountains, rivers, earth, the sun, moon, and stars are mind. At just this moment, what is it that appears directly in front of you? The sun, moon, and stars as seen by humans are not the same, and the views of various beings differ widely. Likewise the views about one mind differ. Yet these views are nothing but mind. Is it inside or outside? Does it come or go? Does it increase one bit at birth or not? Does it decrease one particle at death or not? . . . All this is merely a moment or two of mind. A moment or two of mind is a moment of mountains, rivers, and earth, or two moments of mountains, rivers and earth. . . . "Everyday mind" means to maintain an everyday mind in the world of life and the world of death. Yesterday goes forth from this moment, and today comes forth from this place. When it goes the boundless sky goes, when it comes the entire earth comes. . . . This boundless sky and entire earth are like unrecognized words, or the one voice that gushes out of the earth." From Shobogenzo, Body and Mind Study of the Way, by Dogen.

Citation for more information on Koans

MCL: How has your poetry helped you in your life?

JL: The practice of understanding poetry and "what is poetry?" has helped me listen and respond, open and forgive. Again, they are not separate; ask yourself "where is poetry?" It does not exist outside yourself, not somewhere "out there" but in the heart and mind, a river current of our life, itself.

MCL: Do you have any books out?

JL: I have a manuscript entitled "Odyssey of Autumn's Breath: An American Collection and Life" which is an ongoing work in progress that I draw from as it evolves.

MCL: Finally, promote yourself. What's going on in 2016/2017 for you?

JL: Truly, heal and love, learn to listen better; I facilitate poetry at Writing and Well-Being Workshop at the Mental Health Association of Erie County, Nathan Stolte and I run Ground and Sky Buffalo Poetry Series every first Thursday of the month; I am associated with Claire's Inspiration Point on Elmwood and am facilitating a workshop on March 12, 2016. I am trying to eat healthier, I love salad, and I am attempting to make a salad with my tomato and mushrooms as an art of forgiveness and healing.


Joel David Lesses contact is; Unraveling Religion link is; Joel's Facebook;

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