Dipa Ma’s greatest gift to me was showing what was possible—and living it. She was impeccable about effort. People with this ability to make effort are not disheartened by how long it takes, how difficult it is. It takes months, it takes years, it doesn’t matter, because the courage of the heart is there. She gave the sense that with right effort, anything is possible.
Listening to birdsong and the wind sift through the t0ps of forests never failed to provide respite from bearing witness to ecocide.
The only worth globalizing is dissent.
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
Recently, a friend, acknowledging the pressing issues of the climate, told me matter-of-factly, “Relationships are the most important thing in life.” In this fall class, we will engage in minute particulars of care for our natural world, practice choosing skillful means in daily life, pursue political and cultural investigations, call things by the their true names, savor and circulate poems, and cultivate neighborliness and the dear love of comrades.
Among our teachers will be two women from India, the Buddhist meditation adept Dipa Ma and the activist and writer Arundhati Roy, as well as the intrepid U.S. American journalist and mountaineer Dahr Jamail.
We meet on five Tuesdays in October, and three Tuesdays in November, beginning October 1. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and g0 till 8:15. Each session with have time for silence, paired sharing, writing exercises, book discussions, announcements, poetry recitations, and deep looking. A class blog will enable us to share our various writings and sources of inspiration. Read the rest of this entry »
I first came to the work of Charles Reznikoff in 2008 when I read his terse “poems” in Holocaust. He had read thousands of pages of war crimes trials transcripts to produce condensed, jarring, essential “scenes of disaster,” like something out of Goya. I returned to him in 2010, and read several volumes by and about him. Reading this Objectivist poet that summer prepared me for a breakthrough in writing the following spring.
I recommend By the Well of Living & Seeing: New & Selected Poems 1918-1973 for anyone who might be interested in exploring the vision and sensibility of this Jewish American poet. To whet your reading appetite, I offer for your consideration the following poems…
If you ask me about the plans that I made last night
Of steel and granite—
I think the sun must have melted them,
Or this gentle wind blown them away.
The Old Man
The fish has too many bones
And the watermelon too many seeds.
When I was four years old my mother led me to the park.
The spring sunshine was not too warm. The street was almost empty.
The witch in my fairy-book came walking along.
She stopped to fish some mouldy grapes out of the gutter. Read the rest of this entry »
Having recently perused Jim Forest’s biography and memoir of Dan Berrigan (Playing in the Lions’ Den), I returned to Berrigan’s collection of poems, And the Risen Bread. If I can find five poems in such a collection that speak to me (and which I can pass along), I’m pleased.
The poem that still stands out for me, above all the others, is his “Zen Poem,” which I cannot help but think was influenced by his time with Nhat Hanh in France after the Vietnam War. However many times I read it, it remains fresh, like Book 6 of The Brothers Karamazov.
The early poems in the book are Christocentric, abstract, Latinate. The middle poems are still mostly pre-political. Like Vatican II brought the Church into the modern world, in the Sixties Berrigan, like so many others, finally got with it. “Certain Occult Utterances from the Under Ground and Its Guardian Sphinx” retains its spiritual relevance after fifty years. The Georgetown Series includes “The Trouble with Our State,” which also speaks to what is called the Age of Trump. (It would be pertinent if Ms. Clinton was president.) Read the rest of this entry »
Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann, ed.
From Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry
New Directions, 1964
Guido Calvacanti, Sonnet 7
Saint Teresa d’Avila, Bookmark
Elizabeth I, When I Was Fair and Young
William Butler Yeats, Down by the Salley Gardens
H.D., “Never More Will the Wind”
What matters in poetry, as Coleridge would have agreed, is the intensity of the emotion, and the depth of comprehension registered by the writer.
My efforts to indicate part of the quality of Chinese metric have been sabotaged by the lethargy , or worse, of America endowments for the suppression of the life of the soul.
W.D.H. Rouse notes that Golding’s version [of Ovid] was one of the six great books that Shakespeare had read, as perhaps no other man ever will.
Shakespeare’s lyrics if not the absolute fountainhead are at any rate the channel from which almost all later melodic and rhythmic variety in song-strophe has flowed into English and American verse.
Nineteenth century rhetoric books used to recommend: clearness, force, and beauty. Medieval Latin gave it: ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet, that it teach, move, and delight.
John Armstrong, Love, Life, Goethe:
Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007
Almost twelve years ago I read this book, and the themes of Bildung and mastery were most striking. I recall theologian Matthew Fox’s distinction between religion and spirituality—religion is what you believe because of what someone else experienced; spirituality is what you believe because of what you’ve experienced. The following passages give a taste of Armstrong’s investigations into Goethe’s spirituality…
In his writings, Goethe was trying to understand his own life. Goethe was not primarily ‘confessing’ his private failings; he wanted to do something more risky and more valuable: confess his strengths and grasp what had gone well: how he had been happy and successful. He thought, as most writers secretly do, that we could learn from him how to lead better our own lives. 4
The moral is simple: don’t just stare at my life as if it were a puppet show: create your own life, and feel free to take your plots from me. 20
Goethe set himself to conquer this fear [of heights] and gradually, by repeated attempts, completely overcame his fear and was able to enjoy the wonderful prospect without anxiety. 44
The point of self-mastery isn’t to keep oneself good or pure or to resist temptation; we may need to overcome our fears to do some of the things we most want. Self-mastery, here, is the means to pleasure, not the mechanism for resisting its allure. 44
Goethe’s underlying ambition was concerned with personal growth, with the mutual exchange of inner and outer. He did not long to write more and more successful novels, but to become a particular kind of person. Weimar was to offer him a great opportunity. It was his chance to ‘get real.’ The imaginative and expressive powers so evident in the writing of Werther might be raised to even high worth if they could somehow be integrated with a deep appreciation of everyday life. 102 Read the rest of this entry »
Jessica is taking my Diane di Prima class, and posted this at our class blog. She gave me permission to share with whomever I wished. Enjoy!
The last few pages of The Poetry Deal are enchanting, filled with so much truth and wisdom, DiPrima captures the essence of the meaningfulness of art.
Reading this part of the book inspired me to share a poem, which I composed in my head one day on a hike. My weekly hikes are a spiritual practice for me. They center me, offer me refuge in the life-giving, healing presence of trees. I enter an enhanced soul-state, my mind cleared after another week of feeling mostly like a mind-numbed hamster-on-a-wheel.
I’m tempted to choose a selection that is my favorite from those few pages and include it here, but it’s all so damn great that it’s impossible to choose. So I’ll share with you the passage relevant to my reflection here:
“When spoken, the poem cuts a shape in time, when written it forms itself in space. It often dwells there in paper or parchment before you pick up your pen. At those times all you have to do is trace what is hidden in the page. At other times you may hear the poem broadcast, spoken like a radio in your head & you can write it down like taking dictation.” Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes the world is too much with me—
The Trump world
The I-Me-Mine world
The seemingly gleaming samsara world—
But then I remember I need a dose of poems
Like the following from Ko Un’s book This Side of Time
Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg…
The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I’ll dance my way out too
when it’s time to leave this world. 26
Do I have a love
to wash away people’s hate?
I opened an umbrella
then closed it, and
let the rain fall down on me. 27
I love August.
I love the August sun.
I remember ten billion years ago.
Ah, my body is smeared with primeval light. 52 Read the rest of this entry »
This morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I want my next writing/reading class to be on the work and life of Diane di Prima: poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist. We could read her two poetry collections, “Revolutionary Letters” and “The Poetry Deal,” as well as her memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman —The New York Years.
“Early in November, just a week after Freddie died I began writing a book to him in the form of a long letter/journal. It was the one thing I could think of doing. Most of the time the pain was too much to hold still for, and I went around in a haze from one thing to another. But I knew from doing Zen meditation: one can hold still, hold the mind still, if it is a task. Even better if it is a finite task, has a foreseeable end. So when the loss got to be too much, I would go into my study, light a stick of incense and tell myself I’d type (write) till it had burned away. That particular incense took about forty minutes, and that seemed a possible time span, though not easy. I could always look up and see how much incense was left. It made more sense than a clock. I wrote the book for a year, though not every day, and ended on the anniversary of his death.” –Diane di Prima