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So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read in school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.

It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

Jeanette Winterson, from In Defense of Poetry 

Introducing the Fall 2012 Issue: The Unknown, Volume 37, Number 3, Fall 2012

FOCUS | From the Editor

We dwell in the midst of mystery. Even if our rational mind denies this, we feel it and sense it. In his upcoming book An Unknown Earth, which is excerpted in this Fall 2012 issue of Parabola, Jacob Needleman describes discovering (or rediscovering) a feeling for the Earth and the Sun: “Such feelings are quite prior to, earlier than, feelings for one’s mother or father. They are written into the being of man.”

Sometimes we experience this feeling for what is great and unknown as nostalgia, a fierce longing for our true home. The physicist Stephen Hawking defines “synchronicity” as nostalgia for the future. In our own lives, synchronicity is the uncanny sense of being given a clue from another level, of following a trail of cosmic breadcrumbs towards a deeper meaning or pattern, a greater truth that wishes to be revealed through us.

We dwell in the midst of the unknown, and not just on the level of the galaxies. A few in all cultures and times have seen and explained how the structures of the mind shape and limit our experience of reality. How we, ourselves, are the deepest unknown. Below the level of consciousness, we sense and feel this. Our popular culture reflects and projects our fears and wonder at this knowledge. Can we break out of the bubble of our own experience and come to know a greater reality?

All the contributors in this issue of Parabola encourage us to deepen our awareness of just this question. Nipun Mehta describes a pilgrimage to India—“our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way.” Can we open our eyes and minds and hearts to what usually goes unseen? Contributor Barbara Berger reminds us that we can start here and now. She describes suddenly seeing the magic and possibility in the negative space of a painting. Her recognition is full of that primal feeling that Dr. Needleman describes: “My own un-knowing wasn’t a weakness after all, not a symptom of something wrong, something to fix or solve. It was part of a greater mystery….”

Welcome to The Unknown.

–Tracy Cochran 

[Cover Illustration by Nancy Stahl] 

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From parabola-magazine.