American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist
American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist
Immensity is always there, but we so often become numb to it, or deceive ourselves into thinking our own lives and selves are what's large. Step into the ocean or walk on Mount Tamalpais, and that kind of amnesia and self-centeredness isn't possible. Enter the natural world at all, you see existence emerge, ripen, fall and continue, and you can't help but feel more tender towards self and others. That summoning into the large and the shared is what poems exist also to do.
It's one of the saving graces in a life, to be able to perceive one's own and others' absurdity, to notice our shared human frailties and be able, at least some of the time, to smile rather than grimace. Like most people, I must have started out with a comic worldview in my cupboard.
One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read ? in such a moment, anything can happen.
Poems offer us counter-knowledges. They let us see what is invisible to ordinary looking, and to find in overlooked corners the opulence of our actual lives. Similarly, we usually spend our waking hours trying to be sure of things - of our decisions, our ideas, our choices. We so want to be right. But we walk by right foot and left foot.
Some questions cannot be answered. They become familiar weights in the hand, round stones pulled from the pocket, unyielding and cool.
The pressed oil of words can blaze up into music, into image, into the heart and mind's knowledge. The lit and shadowed places within us can be warmed.
There the beloved red sweater, bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber. Each confirming: I chose these, I. But habit is different: it chooses. And we, its good horse, opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit.
What some could not have escaped others will find by decision.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted. Begin again the story of your life.
Immersion in art itself can be the place of entry? Yet however it is brought into being, true concentration appears ? paradoxically ? at the moment willed effort drops away? At such moments, there may be some strong emotion present ? a feeling of joy, or even grief ? but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears. We seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself.
I've gone to Yaddo many times, I've worked at the Rockefeller Foundation's Center for Scholars and Artists in Bellagio. That these are places of beauty and of changed landscape is helpful - but far more important for me is that they offer what I feel as a monastic luxury: undisturbed time.
One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn't know was in you, or in the world.
Poems want to awaken intimacy, connection, expansion, and wildness.
Some stories last many centuries, others only a moment. All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass, grow distant and more beautiful with salt. Yet even today, to look at a tree and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed. There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door, ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle. Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket gives off -- the immeasurable's continuous singing, before it goes back into story and feeling. In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots. Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another. I would like to join that stilted transmigration, to feel my own skin vertical as theirs: an ant-road, a highway for beetles. I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart. To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch, and then keep walking, unimaginably further.
The Promise: Stay, I said to the cut flowers. They bowed their heads lower. Stay, I said to the spider, who fled. Stay, leaf. It reddened, embarrassed for me and itself. Stay, I said to my body. It sat as a dog does, obedient for a moment, soon starting to tremble. Stay, to the earth of riverine valley meadows, of fossiled escarpments, of limestone and sandstone. It looked back with a changing expression, in silence. Stay, I said to my loves. Each answered, Always.
There?s, of course, another stage of things, after the first draft is written, in which other knowledges and intentions do come in. You have to know enough to be dissatisfied with the easy phrase, with the false or timid gesture, and also with the masks of style or stance. You have to want, more than anything else, to make your own discovery each time. You have to welcome both your own strangeness and your own fierceness. And you have to have an ear, an eye, that will recognize when a poem has stumbled in its music, seeing, courage, or path, so you can know that you need to work with it further, to ask of it more.
What we want from art is whatever is missing from the lives we are already living and making. Something is always missing, and so art-making is endless.
You must try, the voice said, to become colder. I understood at once. It's like the bodies of gods: cast in bronze, braced in stone. Only something heartless could bear the full weight.
In a room with many windows some thoughts slide past uncatchable, ghostly.
Justice lacking passion fails, betrays.
One recurring dream, many others have also: you go into a familiar house, discover a door or hallway, and find the house continues into hidden rooms. Sometimes a whole second house is there, a larger and unknown extension of the familiar dwelling.
Poems? are perfume bottles momentarily unstopped?what they release is volatile and will vanish, and yet it can be released again,
Something looks back from the trees, and knows me for who I am.
The same basic attention and permeability are the beginning of poetry writing. Whatever I?ve done in both practice and poetry is a search for ways of seeing and speaking, of feeling and understanding, that draw from the limitless well of the limitless real. I?ll add, I always feel a slight dismay if I?m called a ?Zen? poet. I am not. I am a human poet, that?s all. Labels just get in the way. The fundamental wildness and mystery of existence slip every leash we try to put on them, and both meditation practice and the writing of poems are leash-slipping acts.
Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.