S&P's Contributing Editor, Jon M. Sweeney, had an “Off the Page" conversation with Chelan Harkin about “Let Us Dance!" on February 7, 2023. Watch the video below.

This new poetry collection by Chelan Harkin follows her first, Susceptible to Light, which appeared in late 2020. Both books, self-published, have been quiet bestsellers in the inspirational and religious poetry category over the last two years.

University press-published poets would love to reach as many readers as Chelan Harkin is finding. Her poems are visionary, mystical, and contemplative. She clearly stands in the line of style and spirit of Daniel Ladinsky’s renditions of Hafiz, which we were regularly recommending twenty years ago.

Some of the poem titles will draw readers who have complicated relationships with spirit and spirituality: for example, “I Tried to Haggle God,” “You Don’t Have to Believe in God,” and “Go Mad with Me!” Other poems will appeal to readers who are discovering the divine feminine in their lives: “The Wise Wild Hairy Woman,” “The Great Mother,” and “Her Sacred Reckless Thing.”

And then there are moments when the poet writes simply as a woman, representing all women, as in the long six-page poem, “Dear Men,” which begins: “Dear men, / just beneath our rage / lies a mountain / of profound, aching sorrow / at how far we’ve been / from true connection with you.”

At times Harkin, like the earlier Hafiz, speaks for God, as in the opening lines from the poem called “More Than Mystical”:

“More than mystical,
my poetry is human.

“At times
God passes me a beauty code
to be written down
and passed from heart
to heart
to unlock
the world.”

The influence of Hafiz on Harkin is also experienced in her appeal to the human senses, in particular the experience of movement and sound and music, which feels like Sufism, in her poems. (See the excerpt accompanying this review for an example of this.)

Some of the best poems in the book are the love, joy, and play-infused ones, such as "Follow Your Sweet Desires:"

“The flower benefits
from the hummingbird
following her sweet desire
for nectar.

“Darling, it’s the same for us —
all hearts will be pollinated
by you
following the honeyed river
of your soul’s desires.”

Harkin’s teaching is from the perennial wisdom of all the great religious and spiritual traditions, where the final goal of all existence is union, and that is divine. The theme of light, as in the book’s title, recurs often, and is an example of how perennial wisdom meets contemporary life and its challenges: “Set your feet squarely. / Look the world directly / in the eye / and become fully visible.”