Kung and Eleusis

Dear Don,

“Pound against abstraction” is too simple. “Pound on the right use of abstraction”? Money, exempli gratia, is an abstraction, a mark of work done or value added, and may be used aright, if securely anchored in nature’s abundance or in the works of men & women attuned to nature, read heaven & earth, read tao.

And so usura is a defilement of nature, money attached to acts of no worth, parasitism, sucking the life out of creative man, productive man (sympathies with Marx here are several), leaving in place of living culture a table chandeliered & girdled by dry husks, locust shells pretending to the status & stature of men.

Re/ my efforts to reconcile Pound’s fascist sympathies. War & loss hurt & pitched him into extremity. I do get that. And suppose, had there been no Hitler, we would not think quite so ill of Mussolini … the Jews, at least, were safer in Italy than in Vichy, viz. Primo Levi. Still though the hate in some of these chansons makes me sad. I know the hate is for practices, not for persons, but his poetic method leads him to embody practices in persons, and the bile does seem to me a stain.

Not to go too far into psycho-babel, but in my few but gathering years on earth, I’ve come to think, no one hates like that, but in hating something within & disowned. Usura, standing for sthg. weak or blurred in himself, is demonized, & stuffs the eighth circle with demons. (I guess it don’t take much to mint a fascist, dismay at what men & women do, a sense of what glories they might do, & a notion of, a program for, bridging the distance.)

You asked before about sustained vision & gathered fragments. And yes, I see the arc, from Modernist imperative — contain & master the material, the work as Work, magisterial opus — through the humbling of cage & tent & ant (a centaur in his dragon world: he does that, I realized yesterday, the ant does—stands square on four legs, rears up on two, to feed or to preen) in Pisa — to a postmodern surrender, work as simply working, a submission that says, the whole is uncontainable, containment diminishes it, & you, just mark a track through it, that suffices.

Of the species of postmodern, some seem to me blackly comic, nihilistic graveyard whistling, or intellectual gamesmanship, or just despair, thinly veiled, at the incommensurability of mind & world, the pretensions & ambitions, the benightedness, of one, and the mute implacable face of the other, blank & alien as a sheer canyon redrock wall. This is not that.

What’s here is a faith that the world is whole, no striving called for. Any step one takes, however contingent & inflected, is connected to, & reflects within it, every other possible step. (The light unsevered from its source though it touches on all things.) There is no such then as fragment. Whole is whatever the eye sees whole — sees as whole — sees wholly.

I’ll spare us both the self-evident pun. And I do not mean some new-aged mushy faith that all-is-one whereby we float nine inches off the ground & smile sweet & beatific. Rather the heart of the heart of the Heart Sutra —

Form is exactly emptiness,
Emptiness exactly form,

— from which my own work is trying (through fat tectonic plates of notion & control) to gush hotly forth.

I should add here that my reading of postmodern poetry has grown up some since I wrote this. And I see more obstacles to lining up Pound with the dharma than I did then.

By this the whole work comes home to a sweet orphaned song —

I have tried to write Paradise.

Do not move
        Let the wind speak
                    that is paradise

Let the Gods forgive what I
                    have made

Let those I love try to forgive
                    what I have made

Paradise is. The whole work, all its striving, every utterance, wonderfully needless. And, as transcript of its own arrival at this point, complete w/ atonement, a great gift to the tribe.

From mastery through humbling to freedom, the bits growing smaller & smaller, pounded & ground down in the mortar & pestle of one sensitive & impassioned mind, but the vision is singular, is a vision of its own activity & arc, of which Pound’s own concerns (“I am not a demigod, / I cannot make it cohere”) and confessions  (“That I lost my center / fighting the world”) are seamlessly part.

Cutting across that arc (for the method is, one thought cut slantwise through another) (the arc, I mean, from parts that try to make a whole, to parts that are wholes) is this axis: Confucius — Eleusis.

The work can’t be reduced to any one, or any several, polarities, there is much mixture & flux in it, so I don’t want to claim more for this one than is seemly, but here, just this. Confucius, his China, is a pole of quiet & contemplation, in which one steps outside of passion, into a reasoned ethics, attuned to a tao of change that does not itself change. Eleusis & related rites (Dionysus, Adonis, Tammuz, Osiris), are a pole of activity, passion, coitus, a flux in which one is fully immersed.

The Seven Lakes Canto, XLIX, though not re/ Kung-fu-tse, is Confucian in its quality of mind; is as Kenner says the still heart of the turning wheel. Canto XLVII, close at hand, is the force & fire that turn the wheel. Here then the Tammuz/Adonis rite in which the death of the vegetation god is mourned (“the red flame going seaward” his blood at midsummer) even as small potted plants thrust up shoots of wheat.

Odysseus into the cave fades into Tammuz gone underground. Odysseus ploughing (& heeding Hesiod’s dicta — harmony with natural orders) becomes the farmer drawing Tammuz back into life & air. And his going into the cave is at once entombment & impregnation:

Hast’ou a deeper planting, doth thy death year
Bring swifter shoot?
Hast thou entered more deeply the mountain?

The light has entered the cave. Io! Io!
The light has gone down into the cave,
Splendour on splendour!
By prong have I entered these hills:
That the grass grow from my body,
That I hear the roots speaking together,
The air is new on my leaf

These two cantos work as cathode & anode, set just a bit apart, activity & stillness. The energy that moves between them is the godlike “power over wild beasts” in which each canto comes to rest.

Finally. This thought & exemplum. My reading of Pound and my own writing have begun to draw together a little. Here’s a small recent effort to make use of his line and cadence:


Slabs of a crumbling white cheese
baskets of onions, and small fragrant leeks
             wild purslane & gold purslane
white wine, brown eggs and willow cuttings

Gone one whose bones are ground down
             white flour, white wool
             black flour, & black wool
grey dust at sift through the scumbled earth
rain on the fruit-spur as light shakes the twig.
             Mind-ground, blossom-heart,
spring wind blowing madly, here, now, there . . .
—Well, they thought they had it all
                   but they didn’t have it all
—Oh once you have that you don’t get rid of it
             le grain, le blé, le sang
             les os qui la terre arée

pollen hangs on air under white pines.
—Monday she goes, an ontologist,
                         that’s the specialist
Hangs on the air, not pure or impure
gold fines the lord breaks in through
             Αδοναι                    Adonis
             gold that leavens the tree
all once wild, now a sweet sauce
                                    earth-tuft of herb
apples in a wood crate on a fold-out card table

It is disappointing in a dozen ways. I can already smell the dissatisfactions to come. 1. Imitative. 2. First stanza’s got no metafurs in it. 3. Furrin’ languages. 4. Nuttin’ happens. 5. Mind-ground, blossom-heart, was ist? 6. Nuttin’ happens again.

But here’s what I like in it, what hints at future openings & ventures. 7. The cadences emerge out of the material and are durational as well as accentual … are, to my ear anyway, musical phrasings. 8. Each line is its own completion. 9. No interstitial tissue, narrative, syntactical, or otherwise, it trusts the process. 10. It has twists and turns … arrives in the end where it started, but hasn’t followed a course you might have predicted. 11. Has the recursion & overlap to which I have for a long time been drawn, but uses them less forcefully, braids them into the thought more naturally. 12. Ain’t about control.

Re/ that last. Writing it was a strange experience. I kept wanting to impose shape on it, shapeliness, coherence, and then noticing that impulse & renouncing it … find instead I said the shape inside it. That feels like entering a new country — so what if the first steps are clumsy, tentative? A poem that says is instead of should be. What a relief.

Pound’s ideograms

Dear Don,

You asked me to think about the “sustained vision” one might find in (through) fragments but I have not got so far along as that. Instead I have been sinking into, plashing about in, the ideogram.

p 3 KyushunAm I silly to be pleased that the second half of my dharma name, Kyushun (kyu = “endless,” shun = “spring”) echoes characters found in the Cantos?

The second character, “spring,” is composed of two elements. The lower of them (three horizontal strokes joined by two vertical) is the character for the sun. It shows up in the Cantos in the ideograms for “dawn” (“bright dawn on the sht house / next day / with the shadow of the gibbets attendant”) and for “no” or “not” (“a man on whom the sun has gone down”).

Also recall Pound’s explication in ABC of Reading of the Chinese ideogram: man + tree + sun –> “sun tangled in the tree’s branches, as at sunrise, meaning now the East.”

The other element is I believe the character for “tree.” Without the three horizontals it would be the character for “person.” And so made visual is the kinship known since ancient days between human and tree.

Spring is the sun come through the roots of the tree. When Daidoshi named me I felt an arrow go through my forehead. All at once my name had been a truth of my life all along. The calligraphy above is his, on my rakusu.

Where does all this lead? Nowhere and everywhere. I want to notice just one thing, that Pound uses the ideogram in two ways in Rock-Drill, what I’ll call pictorial & ideational.

The pictorial is treated so magnificently by Kenner that little can be added. E.g., his unpacking of ling, “sensibility,” early on.

ling-1_ZhuDEn bas, as ground, the figure for ritual or witchcraft — compounded of the characters for doing things properly (this is appropriate witchcraft) and the waving sleeves of a moving officiant.

En haut, as gable & presiding air, heaven hung with clouds, beneath them three raindrops, together meaning “fall as the big drops fall on a parched day.”

These images and gestures, compounded thus, from sensual life, actual life, mean “the spirit or energy of a being, in harmony with the invisible and by ritual drawing down beneficence.”

Sensibility as the connection to (among) earth, human, & heaven, realized through right observance (right seeing, rites observed), that is, through te, or virtu.

This is (once more) embodiment. Combining stylized images of ROSE, CHERRY, IRON RUST, and FLAMINGO to make a word for “red,” rather than attaching a sound (“red,” “rouge,” “rousse”) whose relationship to the thing it names is arbitrary.

The ideogram offers, says Pound, a way for the mind to resist the lure of abstraction. A way to think generally, to trade in ideas, without losing contact with the actual, the concrete, the specific instance without which speech is just so much hot & circling wind.

Without, that is, making thought a game of moving counters here there & all about, matching & separating on the basis of putative likeness & unlikeness, which can only be credited when the actual features of a thing, its suchness, its particularity, have been planed off, and the gouge marks sanded & veneered away.

In the world itself, everything is everything else, and each thing is utterly selfsame. Not one, not the other, not neither, not both. Speech can’t reach here.

A practice that invoked an idea more directly than our speech can would be a gift of the mind to the mind of the first order. For Pound the ideogrammatic method is more than just plunking some Chinese calligraphy down in a poem. It is a new way of doing thinking.

Reworking this writing now, I see how I was starting to flounder. Pound’s grandiosity invoked my considerable own. Unexpectedly, it was Williams who came to speak to me more, in this work I did with Don. I’m leaving most of the flaws I see here as I see them. And of course all the flaws I don’t see have gone untouched.

Words are of course employed. They are made into images (or scraps of memory, or bits of overheard speech, or foreign phrases, or names from myth, or historical incidents) which are then built up, compounded, just as they are built up in a Chinese character or a film by Eisenstein. It is in the space between the images (or scraps of memory, etc.) that the spark jumps, the light flows, the wind roams about, & the mind finds itself.

One crafts the image precisely to make the space around it precise. This is all being set down too hastily. Let me try to work it out through an example. We might take this passage as a single ideogram (comparable in complexity to ling above):

“From the colour the nature
                    & by the nature the sign!”
Beatific spirits welding together
                    as in one ash-tree in Ygdrasail.
                         Baucis, Philemon.
Castalia is the name of that fount in the hill’s fold,
                         the sea below,
                                                  narrow beach.
Templum aedificans, not yet marble,

The first two lines invoke Heydon’s “doctrine of signatures” and work somewhat like the radical, establishing the general semantic (spiritual) sense of the ideogram. That sense is hard to spell out (real thoughts are) but it has something to do with vegetal power, and each thing fulfils its nature, and a thing’s nature is discernible.

At any rate, this is the sign under which, or the mood within which, the next strokes are presented. “Strokes” because, as in the ideogram, there is no logical or discursive linkage, space is left in which the mind may roam & flash about.)

The next element in the character, three strokes in three lines, entwines two stories with the same signatures, that of the Norse world-heaven tree and that of Baucis & Philemon, who, faithful to the gods, are spared the annihilating flood, & grow in old age into intertwined trees. Instantiations, not mere instances, of vegetal power, of earth and heaven conjoined (recall ling), and of truth to one’s own nature.

Thus far likeness, rhyme, homeomorphism, is building the character. But the ideogrammatic method, like Eisenstein’s montage, is about gauged differences, for only in difference is there a space for the mind-spark to leap.

The distance is marked by shifts in sense (syntax switches from fragment to full sentence) and rhythm (musical phrasing switches from mostly short syllables to mostly long) but our concern here (insofar as these things can be isolated) (that is at best an enabling fiction, at worst a wrong way of life) is phanopoeia.

We have left the trees and come back to the water. The scene is presented in three glimpses — a fountain encleft in a hill fold (and I sense here the sexual feminine, mate to the virile power of the world-heaven tree), the sea below, a narrow beach — in a staccato & yet fluid fashion that recalls the beach scene of Canto II. (One ideogram can call to mind another one hundreds of pages prior.)

The final strokes of the character draw it together, even as they extend and leave it open. “Templum aedificans,” building the temple. The temple of the Cantos, the temple in which Baucis and Philemon serve as caretakers, the temple the universe is, borne up & arranged by the world-heaven tree.

“not yet marble” because the original temples were of wood, the columns fluted tree trunks — suggesting (not saying) (real thoughts are unspoken) that the marble columns to come have virtu to the extent that they recall (but do not slavishly copy) their origins.

The last stroke, “Amphion!” Terrell: “Hermes taught him to play the lyre so well that when he became king of Thebes he fortified the city with a wall magically conjured up by his music: at the sound of his lyre the stones moved into place by themselves.”

The power of one rooted in his own nature. It joins earth & heaven & human life & gives one sway over wild beasts & field stones.

Does the whole canto, does the whole of the Cantos, fall into ideograms in this way? I amn’t sure. The white space after “Amphion!” articulates the sequence, asks one to look at it as a whole that reflects back on itself, but it is the only such space in Canto XC, and I wonder whether, if Pound meant us to read the way I just have, he would have scored the verse a bit differently. Anyway, I’ve only barely scratched the surface here. I do sense though that in its several formal arenas—melopoeia, phanopoeia, logopoeia, mythopoeia—the poem is a unitary project. Pound against abstraction. A title for a final paper?

Yeah plenty of floundering here along with a few honest gleams. Curious how an anti-system is just another system. But if you can’t put your errors and strayings on display in a blog post — well then what’s a blog for? Scheduling this one for Dec. 30. Happy, if somehow you’ve made it this far, new years all.

UPDATE. And the image up top, here it is big –
7132 - big

Ryoji Koie. A six-fold paper screen. Ink on paper and gold ground. Japan, 2013. An example of the hibi deisui (blind drunk everyday) style. Don’t know if that’s blind drunk or blind, drunk. More on him here (scroll down some).

Kin in compost (II)

And another, found through Google, when I wanted to see if its searchy spiders had found this place, yet. What’s the odds of it? Another blog, begun in the spring of the very year, linking affections for compost and zen.

Click to embiggen to see lots of cool textural crap.

One diff, you might learn some from this one about actual composting, which here, you won’t, I don’t think so, no. The blog: zencompost.wordpress.com.

Creeley’s Pieces

Had a brief (5 min) but good (very) discussion in my afternoon section of this bit from Robert Creeley’s Pieces.


We’d talked about integrity of the line, its wholeness, and I asked whether these lines, short as they are, felt complete. Do they offer an experience that satisfies and then releases you to the next experience. I expected great resistance but they so got it.

One saw a telegraphic narrative of breakfast (cereal and coffee). Another one of lunch (a cup or a bowl of soup). Another saw a formal patterning that reminded him of the buildup and falling off of a short story (three letters, four letters, six letters—over two syllables!—then down to four).

And all of the resonances metonymic. A poetry of everydayness.

I can’t hear pieces as not also peaces.

As in, the mind of pieces, is a mind of peaces.

Very different from our sense of “going to pieces,” falling apart, fragmenting, disintegrating. Here, rather, that any part, however wayward, however bereft or stranded, is its own whole.

My old teacher, Daido Roshi, said to us often, You’re perfect and complete, just as you are. He was no softy, he was a dragon, but he said that. I remember one sesshin (meditation intensive) when I was in a hard way, I went in for dokusan (face-to-face teaching) and blurted out, tearstreaky and snotfaced, Perfect and complete under all the conditioning (dumb learned damage we carry), or perfect and complete with all the conditioning? With he said and rang the bell. Creeley’s Pieces brings me back to that.

A beautiful thought of Thich Nhat Hanh. There is no way to peace, peace is the way. Do I harm it, and I hope not, by this variance, there’s no such as peace, there are only peaces.

Creeley had no patience for any zen bs or so I’ve heard. And yet the most dharmic poet I know. Here’s Dogen’s “body and mind falling away”—

Here here
here. Here.

And here, the myriad ways of seeing water, Dogen says different modes of being have—

The bird
out the
window. She


The bird flies
out the
window. She


The bird
flies. She

A variance, for sure, on Williams’s old woman, those plums.

A cup, a bowl, a saucer, all full, not in the sense of bearing up some matter, though they might that also, but in themselves, present, there.

Two locust trees

To broaden our discussion of parts of speech, their places and powers, we read two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Locust Tree in Flower.” One goes this way.

the leaves

of wrist-thick

and old
stiff broken

loosely strung —

come May
white blossom

to spill

their sweets

and quickly

A very pretty poem about a pretty old tree. A lovely coined word, “ferncool,” whose extravagance only starts to look off in the light of the renunciations of the later version. Which goes this way.






This poem never fails to stun me. Ten Thirteen words on ten thirteen lines. (Oops. One line short of a sonnet.) All but three are monosyllables. The thing’s almost entirely empty. And out of that great narrow strait the poem blossoms endlessly.

And not a metaphor to be found here. All the power comes from metonymic resonance and a powerful torque applied to syntax.

For instance the strange construction


How can we be both among and of? Among means in the midst of but distinct from. Of means belonging to and identified with.

Are we thrown to a green we remain apart from? Or do we belong to a green we can’t get out of? Spring is the swell and swirl of the new it is and does. And so the poem dizzies, endizzes, lucky us.

Master Dogen said to his monks:

When you paint spring, don’t paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots — just paint spring. Painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It’s not yet painting spring.

The longer poem paints a pretty picture of a locust tree. The shorter invites us to be spring in the tree.

These thoughts, by the way, formed in collaboration with my students, who saw deep and well into this one.

POSTSCRIPT. Want a master class in revision? Track how the first version becomes the second. What words go, what words stay, how the words that stay drift into new places. The depth of the letting go here is astonishing. Nothing less than total.

Black Locust

Blake and the vision thing

Norman’s talk this morning has me thinking about Blake and vision and metaphor. The myth he made, I want to say from scratch, but in fact through some sly composting, offers to our minds four, I want to say worlds, but really, visions. Four ways of seeing that express themselves as worlds.

Blake felt sure one lives in such a world as one makes in mind. Thus the “mind-forged manacles” of “London.” His letter to Thomas Butts (previous post) lays the four out one way. In the prophetic poems he sets them before us as Eden, Beulah, Generation, and Ulro.

I asked this morning if “birds are forms of attention” is a metaphor or literal. Maybe the answer might depend on what realm one’s in that moment.

In Eden, the sentence is an insult to birds and attention. Not untrue but vulgar to say. In Beulah it’s a literal truth. In Generation it’s a metaphor. In Ulro, hell, it’s a lie. Them’s my thinks of an evening.

Birds of attention

One thing I love at Samish Island are the birds. Great blue herons, bald eagles, barn swallows, robins; all through a day of sitting your mind is woven into and out of by robinsong. And today, on the drive back, a redtail hawk on a power line, and the sheer abundance in the eye of two goldfinches on a wire fence.

An old thought came back, birds are forms of attention, sometimes the mind twits and chitters, others it floats on thermals, others it dodges cars eating road carrion.

When I say that, birds are forms of attention, is that a metaphor. I don’t think I mean it as one. I’m thinking I mean it literally.

If any thing is also every thing, then metaphor’s no longer a lie, but maybe too it’s no longer metaphor. It’s just a different mode of literal.

Blake’s fourfold vision in the back of my mind here — probably because Norman talked about Blake, his “Fly” and his “London,” this morning. More on that soon but first to the gym.

“The New Thing”

A link to Stephen Burt’s essay on the “new thing” poetry. Or the new “thing poetry.” Need to reread it, but what I remember is, how grateful I am to find a name for what I’ve thought to be up to.

He sets as an epigraph a favourite passage by a favourite poet.

The self is no mystery, the mystery is
That there is something for us to
stand on.
– George Oppen, “World, World —”

Oh and just for funs, since I’m about to head back down to Samish for the last of Norman Fischer’s dharma talks, let’s put Oppen beside Dogen.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be realized by the ten thousand things.
– Eihei Dogen

Grasses trees and broken bricks reach out to wake you up.