Hold It All

Category: World Literature

Something I Had in Common with Philip Roth

As I sat there and watched him struggle to go on living, I tried to focus on what the tumor had done with him already. This wasn’t difficult, given that he looked on that stretcher as though by then he’d been through a hundred rounds with Joe Louis. I thought about the misery that was sure to come, provided he could even be kept alive on a respirator. I saw it all, all, and yet I had to sit there a very long time before I leaned as close to him as I could get and, with my lips to his sunken, ruined face, found it in me finally to whisper, “Dad, I’m going to have to let you go.” He’d been unconscious for several hours and couldn’t hear me, but, shocked, amazed, and weeping, I repeated it to him again and then again, until I believed it myself.

After that, all I could do was to follow his stretcher up to the room where they put him and sit by the bedside. Dying is work and he was a worker. Dying is horrible and my father was dying. I held his hand, which at least still felt like a hand; I stroked his forehead, which at least still looked like his forehead; and I said to him all sorts of things that he could no longer register. Luckily, there wasn’t anything I told him that morning that he didn’t already know.

–Philip Roth, Patrimony

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Making the Whirling World Stand Still

Arthur Rimbaud, Complete Works
Translated by Paul Schmidt

And so I come back to the boy-genius, enfant terrible whose Illuminations I bought while at Bellarmine (under the influence of a Kerouac whose words I enjoyed but whose life was not a practical model).  And true as well with Rimbaud — what a mess of adolescence, what dissolution, no wonder the Beats jumped on his bandwagon.  No thanks.  I’ve more sympathy for the adult, boring Rimbaud than the precious, self-conscious, self-centered Poet of the universe, even with his theory of illuminism and the consequent perverting of the senses.  Demais!  

Although I must  say, I like parts of A Season in Hell  for which selections see below (Schmidt:  A Season in Hell has literary precedents:  It is a set of philosophical meditations, a confessional handbook, a mystical vision of the Soul.  But it wakes new vibrations in its style:  a nervous, compacted, often vernacular use of poetic language in prose.  It is, as Rimbaud said, ‘absolutely modern.’”)  For I am impressed by the devotion & delirium & detachment it took to compose such a “confession.”  

I can’t say that there really are many poems herein worth memorizing. Sure, I could use some lines and maybe images, but other than the list of re-readables (principally Bateau Ivre and Saison), I can put this away till another day (maybe after I’ve read Baudelaire and Breton) and want to give him another try.  

I don’t get the fascination, although there were some lines in poetry and letters that did catch me.  But I wonder if I will ever be tempted to reread him, to sit down and spend 2 to 3 hours with this Seer.  It’s a coin-flip.

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Poems Worth Rereading—- Read the rest of this entry »

A Sangha with Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac,

Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling, editors, Disembodied Poetics:  Annals of the Jack Kerouac School

Rereading this collection  after many years, I’m struck by the following perspectives from various writers I noted then and that still rev me up now …

Until you assert yourself nothing ever happens to you.
Jack Kerouac

This underground vehicle [along with local, cosmopolitan, and diamond vehicles in Buddhism] has equipped itself to trade in marketplaces across the planet. Its riders include Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac. It is a night-wandering caravan, loaded down with strange and desirable goods, the goods of Poetry, and it picks its way along the treacherous trade routes of History, generously alert to the perils and needs of our own epoch. One could call it by a Sanskrit term, kavyayana—the Poetry Vehicle. Here the gospel lyric comes to mind—You don’t need no ticket, you just get on board.
Andrew Schelling

There is perhaps the poet’s Bodhisattva vow: to be a bridge, a boat, a fountain pen, a typewriter, a publisher, a school to anyone who has need of these “vehicles”—not personally, mind you, that it’s my particular style bridge, made in my image, my brand of typewriter of poetry.
Anne Waldman Read the rest of this entry »

“Why Must the Poet’s Mouth Be Bloodied, His Teeth Caved in?”

More than a decade ago, octogenarian  Jesuit felon Daniel Berrigan  spoke at the local Jesuit university (in the auditorium of the business school, no less).  During the Q & A, a friend of mine asked him this question, “Dan, what have you been reading these days?”  His response:  “The Gospels and the poets.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Pithy, the Necessary, the Clear, and the Plain

Charles Reznikoff: Man and Poet, edited by Milton Hindus
National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, 1984

Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.

— A.C. Graham quoting a Chinese poet from long ago

 

This thick volume is a collection of reminisces, literary analyses, and appreciations of Charles Reznikoff: Objectivist, American-Jew between two worlds, New Yorker, walker, miniaturist, transformer of documentary mass of data into free verse art, survivor of mean anti-Semitism growing up, self-published devotee to his own writing, lawyer who never practiced, maker of a preferential option (in writing, anyway) for the humblest, and chronicler of the Jewish history.

I first learned of Reznikoff from writings by Eliot Weinberger and Allen Ginsberg. In the summer of 2010 I plunged into his works and Hindus’s volume during the generation of what became Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine. Read the rest of this entry »

Occasional Moments of Peace, Gratitude, and Delight

I first learned of Gary Snyder through Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums, where he was fictionalized as “Japhy Ryder,”   who, according to Alvah Goldbook [aka Allen Ginsberg], was  “a great new hero of American culture.”  Snyder’s Back on the Fire: Essays jazzed me many times, a sample of which follows…

This Sierra ecosystem has been fire-adapted for millions of years, and fire can be our ally. 14

Biodiversity… only means variety of life, and it means “Right to Life for Nonhuman Others,” a moral sentiment I religiously support. 16

What we refer to as nature or the “environment” or the wild world is our endangered habitat and home, and we are its problem species. 24

We study the great writings of the Asian past so that we might surpass them today. We hope to create a deeply grounded contemporary literature of nature that celebrates the wonder of our natural world, that draws on and makes beauty of the incredibly rich knowledge gained from science, and that confronts the terrible damage being done today in the name of progress and the world economy. 30

We must work on a really long time frame. 40

… the most important single ethical teaching of the Buddhist tradition is nonviolence toward all of nature, ahimsa… 52 Read the rest of this entry »

Tolstoy’s List

After coming across this acknowledgement of influence, a goal  for this spring–re-engaging with Tolstoy.

 

To Contend, To Enliven, To Distance, To Advocate, To Investigate, To Rally, To Prioritize, To Surprise

I’ve read Anne Waldman since 2001 (Fast Speaking Woman: Chants and Essays got me started). Her epics, poems, interviews, and edited anthologies (from the Kerouac School at Naropa) have stimulate and open up possibilities. One of her most engaging books is OUTRIDER: Poems, Essays, Interviews. For you, friends in the writing sangha, I offer the following passages:  May one or more of these be a goad, an encouragement, an invitation.

Worry the essential library. Write what you would want to read. Utopian poetics, what you want to read. 15

A good idea: Contemplative education. Non-competitive education. 17

Maker of books she might be. Maker of schools. 23

Encourage street corner culture. What happens below the radar. 27

Nowhere to go again but the library. 29

To contend, to enliven, to distance, to advocate, to investigate, to rally, to prioritize, to surprise. 31

To vocalize. To mouth the impossible. 31

I have declared in one manifesto, a writing beyond gender, and have tried to inspire a poet’s Bodhisattva Vow, in which one becomes a bridge, a path, a shelter, whatever is required, for others. And one reads and studies and performs… for the benefit of others. 46 Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations to Jason Makansi!

Friends, I highly recommend Jason’s novel–here’s a blurb I wrote for it…  “Religious texts aver that to save one life is akin to saving the entire world. The beauty of Jason Makansi’s novel is in its intricate depiction of the coming together of three people to save a fourth. Taking the reader from Syria to Guantanamo to the American Midwest, The Moment Before is an extended meditation on friendship and fidelity amid the United States government’s ongoing war on terrorism.”

The Seeds at Work within Us

Years ago, I read with pleasure Goethe’s Maxims and Reflections (translated by Elisabeth Stopp). A good number of them are worth revisiting, much like many of those I’ve encountered over the years from La Rochefoucauld, Dr. Johnson, Emerson, Ramakrishna, Proust, and Sri Anandamayi Ma. Here’s but a small sample from the German sage—

In the face of another’s great excellence the only possible salvation is love. [45]

A state of affairs which leads to daily vexation is not the right state. [143]

When people really deteriorate, their only contribution is malicious joy in the misfortune of others. [195]

Intelligent people are always the best encyclopedia. [196] Read the rest of this entry »