“With my koshuiti, I want to see—singing, I carefully examine things—twisted language brings me close but not too close—with normal words I would crash into things—with twisted ones I circle around them—I can see them more clearly.”
—words of a Yaminahua ayahuasquero
I have long believed that writing is a shamanic art. The earliest spoken language must surely have been poetry, because word is metaphor and voice is music, and where these are combined, poetry begins. In its written form language must have been developed as a magical art of shamans. The intrinsic power of writing remains today, and like other shamanic arts, it is one by which the multiple realities of our existence may be understood and integrated, an art through which reality can be created or altered.
Koshuiti are songs that Yaminahua shamans of the Amazon, known as ayahuasqueros, use to communicate with their spirit guides. For me, the term Koshuiti has become equated with poetry, for all poetry employs a sort of altered linguistic perception, using word, image, or idea in non-ordinary ways to express what cannot be effectively expressed in everyday speech. But on another level, Koshuiti represent a specific kind of poem—one that uses “twisted language” in an attempt to break us free of the mundane and bring us closer to a different and perhaps larger way of perceiving reality—a perception that the poet may well have discovered in the very process of writing the poem.
I believe all the work presented here is in some way shamanic. The shaman has been called one who walks the borderlands, who walks with one foot in this world and one in the realm of spirits. The impossibility of seeing myself as fully a part of any one defined group or category is a thread that has wound itself through every aspect of my life. This has been true from my earliest years, where gender is concerned, although as I grew older I was firmly taught to hide this confusion, to play the role of “male” well, and it was not until my later years that I became strong enough to question the roles. The shaman also, in so many cultures, cannot be confined by gender roles. From “adulthood” until my mid-forties I earned my living as an electrician. Yet I could never bear it when people defined me as “electrician.” I am so much more than that, I would think. Later, people began to describe me as “poet.” It was more flattering, somehow, but equally uncomfortable. Still later, certain folks began to call me “shaman.” Well. . . here we are.
The present work reflects this never-quite-belonging theme: it explores not only the borderlands of poetry—those between thought and word, word and language, and the place were poetry fuses with prose—but my own borderlands in terms of sexuality and gender and gender-queerness. It represents the culmination of a long work to integrate my life as a poet with my life as a shaman. In this, I hope it will become a part of the work of many others who draw upon the teaching of older cultures in our struggle to bring some wholeness to the broken and schizophrenic culture we live in.
So many circlings bring me back always to this word Koshuiti. With the work I am beginning to present here, I hope “to see,” as the ayahuasquero said, to “carefully examine things” without crashing into them, and perhaps to convey to others some of what I see.