Hold It All

Category: World Literature

Making the World Bearable: A Reading/Writing Class on Diane di Prima—Fall 2018

Feeling a need to be inspired in these dismal times?
Been burnt out with academic writing that doesn’t originate in your soul?
Seeking a community of comrades to inspire, console, and rouse you?
Wanting to dive deep within and seek connections locally, nationally, and globally?

Then join us in exploring the vision, work and life of Diane di Prima—poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist.

One Saturday morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (Lindsey Trout Hughes, who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I wanted my next writing/reading class to focus on Diane, whom Allen Ginsberg described like this: “Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”

In Saint Louis, we’ll gather on Sundays at 2 p.m. beginning October 28 and go till December 16. We’ll meet in different cafes and people’s homes (if people are up for that). Each session will go for 90 minutes, allowing ample time for reading, writing, and sharing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making It Be  Spring with Everything

Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1996

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror—going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.

Artisan Ch’ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn’t let his mind get in the way. Therefore his Spirit Tower remained unified and unobstructed.  You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.

___________________

What good medicine  Chuang Tzu is for me, with all my scheming,  planning, exerting, desiring and grasping after!  He’s the chill sage on the  Via Negativa: letting go and letting be, as in the following passages: Read the rest of this entry »

After Reading Brecht’s Galileo

We want heroes, role models, saints, exemplars
Keep looking!

Ramakrishna had his soft spot for the young lads, didn’t he?
Howard Zinn had affairs

Gandhi slept in his old age along side young Hindu relatives
Brecht’s Galileo, too, likes the delicious things in life and fears the instruments shown him

Yes, Ramakrishna loved Kali
Zinn loved the power of the people

Gandhi loved the struggle
Galileo loved science

The message for us
We little, ordinary people (in Easwaran’s terminology)–

Andrea: “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero”
Galileo: No, Andrea: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” —

We must take over
The heroship

–February 2013

“Renounce and Enjoy”

Mohandas Gandhi used the Bhagavad Gita as his go-to source for dealing with life’s daily problems and issues.  A short book of 700 verses, the Gita grounded and inspired Gandhi throughout his life.  Like other  Indians of  spiritual stature, he even wrote a commentary on the classic text in the 1920s.

I recently read Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda’s translation,  Bhagavad Gita:  The Song of God. Having once worked at a Jesuit university, I was intrigued by the Gita’s insistence on matters relating to action, which may strike some people as peculiar, if not terribly wrong-headed. Read the rest of this entry »

Jew-in-the-Library, Jew-in-the-Streets

Jill Krementz, The Jewish Writer, Henry Holt and Company, 1998

Portraits, bios, occasionally quotations form this coffee table book collection of Jewish writers, poets, novelists, scholars. Wiesel is here, as is his nemesis Hannah Arendt, as is Norman Finkelstein’s nemesis, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.

Chava Rosenfarb touched me most.

The book’s a testimony to Jewish empowerment, making it (Podhoretz is included), with some occasional sentimentality. The Holocaust survivors are here, a few Yiddish writers, a few Israelis (no women), the young and the ancient, many New Yorkers.

I don’t think the word “Palestinians” is in the whole book, and why should it be? This is a feel-good tribute to the tribe’s success stories. Why muck it up with notice of Israel’s ethnic cleansing program? (But then, if Krementz had done a similar book on “American Writers” in 1982, you wouldn’t be surprised if no one mentioned the recent Indochina cataclysms, compliments of the United States.) Thus, I.B. Singer’s line doesn’t appear to apply to many of these writers: “Life itself is a permanent crisis.” In the Promised Land of American Success, Academy of Arts and Letters, Holocaust and Lower East Side Memorials, how could it be?

What follows is a list of those writers I’d be happy to read (or in some cases, get reacquainted with): Read the rest of this entry »

Exemplar of Epistolary Ecstasy

Bill Morgan, ed., The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

“Recommending Hare Krishna to one and all” 375

It might have taken me 12 hours to read this book line by line, but it’s more important to trust and intuit at look of page, and find what is useful, and not read like pedantic scholar or (still) anxious grad student scrupulous about comprehensive exams.

There’s not much to say here, except this: I have been a pathetic slacker when it comes to correspondence, and so it was worth the 20 bucks I spent on this volume to allow this vow to arise: I vow to write 1 person each day in old style 1989 letter for 15-20 minutes, JUST A SINGLE PAGE, bang it out.

So, thank you, Allen, for being role model, exemplar, candid explainer, exhibiter of neuroses, free thought fun thought, intimacy engenderer, and I think of people I need to at least write one page to: LW, CT, CG, AW, TS, JL, SM, LD, RK, and 50 more! Revive the great era of letter writing! Use letter as warm up for any writing I want to do. Wish to be ancient, marginal, anti-up-to-date, within 24 hours of me receiving from you, you will have response in mail… training (again) in wild mind.

Plus, List 50 luminaries—literary, political, spiritual and write them letters. Fearlessness. Charming notes to sages, authors, mentshes. N.B. Correspondence as a response to something: Book, event, circumstance, insight, feeling, memory…. [Best writing comes in letters, hence, the epistolary form for future book]

Reading this book, I want to start exhaustive correspondence log, including date, addressee, form (Facebook, email, letter, postcard).

Poem to write: Allen Ginsberg Healthy at 83—Twitter, Facebook, 84,000 prostrations of the Mind Read the rest of this entry »

A Radical Presence Constantly Goading Us (Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems)

Owner of the San Francisco institution, City Lights Bookstore; publisher of the Pocket Poets series, including HOWL, which brought an obscenity suit to City Lights and global fame to Allen Ginsberg; poet of A Coney Island of the Mind, which has sold phenomenally for a book of poems in a country which doesn’t esteem poets; issuer of manifestos and proponent of poetry as a subversive art— like Mohandas Gandhi’s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s life has been his message.

Last year his publisher New Directions issued Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems, edited by Nancy J. Peters, Ferlinghetti’s long-time City Lights partner. Any avid Ferlinghetti fan will argue with the title, because each reader will note certain riveting works that are not included in this volume of 144 pages.

Yes, there is Rough Song of Animals Dying, but not An Elegy to Dispel Gloom.

History of the Airplane and Pity the Nation are here, but not Salute and Tall Tale of the Tall Cowboy.

I’ve shared Recipe for Happiness in Khabarovsk or Anyplace with scores of friends (page 66) but missing herein is In a Time of Revolution for Instance.

I first read Ferlinghetti in earnest in the middle of the Reagan years of the 1980s. His prophetic, engaged, and lyrical voice was a delight and a relief. Some of the poems from Coney Island were then and are now, worth rereading, such as “Christ Climbed Down” and “I Am Waiting.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.

_____________________

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 »