Bill Shute: “Point Loma Purple: The Life And Work of Katherine Tingley, An Imagined History in Mosaic Verse” . Poetry. 2007. Word Mechanics.
This 2007 volume by Bill Shute is a work to revisit. He achieves something very magical in Point Loma Purple, but keeps it accessible: he tells us a story.
In these “mosaic verses”, we find his themes arranged, such that their context changes depending on where the observer stands in relation to the work. Verses, beset by Shute’s purposeful spacing, are as tiles suspended on a grouted plane, where divinity looms perpendicular to an earth observed.
There are many things to love about “Point Loma Purple” found in Shute’s social and spiritual connections, playing out in a “neo-narrative” of Katherine Tingley. (“Neo-narrative”, in that he has essentially recreated her story as an “imagined story”, interpreted,based on the public record)
But why? Why has he chosen her life, her contributions? We know Shute uses language to link domains. From symbols to architecture, he connects humans with their elements (myopic or even absurd, when he’s in a critical mode) and then pushes back, humans falling back into a periphery. He takes the reader from what is individual to what is universal-moving in and then slowly zooming out. It seems fitting that he would choose a subject so connected historically to a movement of spiritual oneness in the face of diverse pluralities. Just as Shute’s “Acres” explores society in the industrial park minicosm, Tingley is an exploration of the individual in relation to everything beyond the fingertips.
We are introduced to Katherine, (then, Catherine) in “A Dream, A Seed” and Shute sets the scene, first highlighting elements of the physical realm: trees, forms, colors, perfume- then connecting them inextricably to an inner mindscape to serve as a place of anchor in upcoming transitions of both chronology and style: from earthly to ethereal, from the ontological to the soulful, human to social, youth to adulthood- for example,returning to the younger Katherine and the Chinese teapot. In these scenes, Shute draws at times from the accounts of Tingley herself, such as in “The Splendor of the Soul”. It is through translation into Shute’s own language and cadence that we, as readers, are treated to a remarkable piece of writing. (continued)
Who was Katherine Tingley? Tingley was a turn of the century theosophist, and like Shute’s tiles of “mosaic verse”, the members of the Theosophical Society advanced a position of collected truths: an assemblage of elements, forward moving and evolving truths from diverse religious perspectives that again, like a mosaic, present an aggregate truth that is universal and overarching. It is, in a sense, a summation of parts, like an organism: one life, in “radical unity”. Truth, “Speaking through every culture.” (“A Dream, A Seed”)
Was it Shute’s intention to “micro-morphize” Tingley as an embodiment of sorts, into this organism, bringing lofty ideas within range, into something palpable?
What we learn about as we read about Tingley goes beyond the idea of reflecting on the self in relation to a higher consciousness or interconnected design, into the idea of working purpose and life examined. “Deliberacy”: breaking “the chain of empty habit”.
We watch her movements from escape to reinvention, actor to activist, becoming a public personality subject to both wrath and admiration. We see suspicion: of a woman, of a rival, of an innovator, of a person whose message was often misunderstood or feared. We see criticism- Point Loma as “bourgeoisie”.
Tingley’s story is about a certain essential imperative, reflected in the examples of charitable and social work:
In “Bridge Building”:
“Not concerned about receiving, practicing the
Law of duty. She didn’t think about trying to achieve
These goals- she was too busy living them…”
“…each man is a Soul; each Soul
Must have chance to evolve; and those who have gone
So far astray are in greatest need of the Light.”
In Book Two: Being and Becoming, we see Tingley’s story connected to these questions of mission and purpose. Enter the Theosophical Society, and soon- her ascent and the spread of “theosophy for the masses.” (“The Woman In The Wilderness”)
By the time Tingley gets to Point Loma, she is clear on the need to connect work with purpose toward “divine life”, mission, service, “casting pebbles in the pool of humanity” (“Punta de la Loma”)
Reaching out and refining the message, she turns her attention to the establishment of the Raja-Yoga School: “the melting together of beauty and education” (“The Raja-Yoga Mustard Seed”) and “The New Way”, a publication intended for inmate populations. (karma, transformation, reincarnation, and transcendence.)
At its core, this book is a tribute to the “Purple Mother”: purple, the color of “royalty” and “womandom”. (“The Path, The Potholes”) It is a tribute to Katherine Tingley’s legacy and Shute makes the case – eloquently and skillfully- for understanding and appreciating this legacy.
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About The Book
Point Loma Purple: The Life And Work Of Katherine Tingley (1847-1929)
An Imagined History In Mosaic Verse
A 3200+ line book-length poem in 18 chapters, paralleling the 18 sections of the Bhagavad-Gita.
Bill Shute, 2007
Published by Word Mechanics
Palm Springs, California
Find more titles by Bill Shute at Kendra Steiner Editions.
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