Stray thought on the Heart Sutra

Home from a reading. Had to say no after to someone I love but not in that way. Hurt; the world hurts. Met a guy there, another practitioner, he’s giving a class on the Heart Sutra at the local Shambhala centre, I might check it out.

I walked home, got home, had to pee, went and peed. Stood there peeing and the Heart Sutra said there’s room for this, me with my dick in my hand, and the little piss bubbles breaking in the toilet, and my cat in the tub waiting impatiently I knew for me to draw more water for her to lap up, and the bit of sway in my stance from having drunk too much, and the sadness in me from having had to let someone I like, no, love, down, and the balls I felt in me for having had the whatever to do so anyway, and the joy alongside that that she liked and trusted her own affection well enough to say so to me regardless my answer. And then I was crying and there were all these forms mixing and crossing and the Heart Sutra said it’s okay like this.

Don’t even know how to put it. When you chant

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form

you don’t think, piss bubbles breaking into smaller bubbles in the toilet basin, or, sadness I feel at not having felt what someone wished I felt for them, which is a clean sadness, not the bitter sadness I would have felt if I’d dissembled. You don’t think, cat impatient in the tub for you to run the tap because for what ever effing reason that’s how she drinks water except as soon as you run it she jumps out of the tub. You don’t think, these two and a bunch of others all intersecting wildly and the whole of it and each portion of it. But – did everyone else know this already? – that’s what the lines mean. Form is form. No one is left out. The photo is my teacher and his teacher. Muge Daido Daisho. Taizan Maezumi Daisho.

 

Student work: Poems with no metaphors in ’em

The exercise: Compose a short poem with no metaphor or simile in it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with metaphor. Some of my best friends are metaphors. But we in the West are metaphor junkies, thank you Aristotle (“to be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far, a sign of genius”). So it’s good now and then to go dry. What can you do minus that junk? How do you make a poem work without yer fix?

Hello, syntax and line. Hello, metonymy. Hello, objectivist mode, basically, though I save that for elsewhile. And coinages, hello too! Language is full of forces we are totally out of control of and yet surf fluently in our wake and sleep with astonished ease. Tweak them just a bit and you draw them into awareness and that’s poetry. (See what went on there with wake, e.g.? Didn’t intend it, just saw it and commented latterly, and that’s prose.)

Enough preamble, on to some student work.


Here’s one by Steve Lemma – excuse me, that’s “Goldenrod Steve” – that’s quite careful, in a seemingly careless way, with the composition, the putting-in-places, of its syntax – fragments and all. It also has an admirably various line, not just its length, also how little or much torque it asserts upon the syntax of the thought passing through.  

Subtle
fading
ink running down the wrist.

Specifically!

Subtle fading
blues.

Darker than
the
car,

Lighter

than
your irreparable attitude.

Welcome to this side of the world,
kid.

You may n
ever make it back.

The under
belly is hungry
almost
as much as me.

I think a couple of the moves here, re: the line, are stretches, but that’s less important to me, as teacher, than that he’s messing around, trying stuff out. (BTW, I’m counting the comparisons as not similes, since they compare extant objects in the poem’s field, to others the same.)


First aside. “Go dry.” Is that metaphor or metonym? How about “that junk”?


Another one, by Rob Jones – turns out no one wants to be anonymous, why was I doing that, don’t remember, probably had a good reason that’ll come back to bite me – short and sweet –

FREQUENCIES

That ringing,
A sound
I will never hear again.

The frequencies

Heard less
And less frequently,
As my eardrums become less taut.

My proposal to Rob was, cut the last line. With that line the poem is nailed to its occasion. Without it, the occasion’s forgot, and the language can widen beyond whatever thought happened to incite it. (This is an curious case of what Richard Hugo called the “triggering subject” showing up in the last line. But one feels it was held in reserve all the poem long – I’m suggesting, hold it in reserve even longer, till the poem is fine without it.)


Second aside. Compose, not write, because as I did say later, they mighta done a visual poem, and solved their problem right there. I give maddeningly open exercises. But in them every word does matter: “embody spring” means embody spring; “myth consciousness” means myth consciousness. Why so uptight? In the poem, too, every word matters, otherwise no word does, in which case, stop.


Here’s another, by Alex Hastings, who has a very Creeleyan ear for speech under pressure – pressure of strong feeling dimly understood (TOTAL INSIGHT MOMENT: Creeley was an avatar of Shakespeare), and she’s been learning how to get, not just the dimness, also the understanding and the strength, onto the page, by way of line, syntax, the tortured dance of them.

Legs
crossed over
cheap carpet, we
blink at our
each tired
faces and pick
another
fight.

Change the slightest thing here and you wreck it. For instance, fix the syntax, “each other’s tired / faces” – wrecked. The contortion of the syntax there recalls me to how my powers of language flee me when I’m in a fight with someone I love and who says they love me but isn’t seeming like that. I mean, oh my students, you can create great storms of emotion in a poem without ever naming an emotion. Also, FYI, without many adjectives – “cheap,” “tired” are the only here.


Third aside. Since I went to Urban Dictionary (“elsewhile”) – the poetry of that. Our natural unconscious and dionysiac poetic fluency. And let’s aleatorize the fuck out of it. My pasketti is boiling so let’s be quick also. Random number generator to choose letter then entry. Let’s say thrice and see what comes.

 “Zombie company.”

1. A technically bankrupt company that is kept alive with large infusions of government money for the sake of “stability” in the U.S. financial system. 2. A large financial company with negative net worth that continues to operate, despite having no clear path to solvency. 3. The UnDead of Wall Street.

“rrrrrrrrrrs”

what stoner says when mad

stoner 1: rrrrrrrs, i need money to buy weed, but i smoke weed because i have money.

preppie boy 1: wait…..what?

gpoyefd

Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself Every Fucking Day

I see a picture of someone who is asleep in class, “GPOYEFD”

So I was real worried, around word two, how I was going to get a poem out of this, but GPOYEFD saved the day. Does this not come together as an incisive remark upon the tedium a certain once awesome post-apocalyptic fantasia has come to?

AMC ODE

Zombie? Company.
Rrrrrrrs.
Gratuitous picture of yourself,
every fucking day.

I go back and forth on the comma. Imagine it spoken by a career extra.


Coupla more. This by Lauren Edison, who like Alex is working in a short line, not quite as enjambed, and not quite as spare of sense data, but headed in that dir.

DEPRESSION

I wake
to a preset tune
and white plaster walls.
Barren, save for shadows.
I blink. Rollover.
My screen says 7:00
January 18. Monday.

This wall, too, is barren.

Lauren’s syntaxes are intact, untorqued – she looks for what can be got through denotation and lineation within the rules of normative syntax, inhabited austerely. I am on her case about titles.


And one more, from Haley Kenville, which I suddenly now realize is her myth consciousness poem, that I was looking for in the exercise she submitted for that assignment, and was kinda hard on. (I’ll do a post on that ex., I hope.) Hear myth mind in that third bullet point?

In Order;

• Call ahead,
they’ll want to know you’ll be early
• Roll in late with hair
still wet from shower.
• Saturate trees with buds, so
they are prepped for your petal
firework finale
• Reign. Relax.
They have been waiting for your ascension

Not sure what she’s doing there with punc but that last line rocks my world. Because of the indefiniteness of the “you” – possible because the poem has let go of its inciting occasion – it points to me and to you, and anything green in anyone, even as it also calls to the Persephone-figure (as I read her) of the poem’s surface levels.


Last aside. Realizing once more how much of my teaching style comes from my Zen training. Don’t feed the ego – affirm the person. Cultivate intuition, spontaneity, not-knowing. Nourish faith in their inborn abilities, empathy, insight. And, be always poking, wherever they’re at rest, unsettle them.

And, to that last, I am always causing problems – as if my students didn’t have enough problems already? One asks me a question, and instead of answering him, I respond with a question. Then, as he’s working towards an answer, I interrupt him with another question. I must be maddening.

The intent’s generous – how can I in this moment help you further your inquiry – but I’m a limited human being. Right this moment anyway I’m feeling my limits. Often the generous is mixed up with stress or my own shit or simple fatigue or I’ve got a tummyache. I’m not often the Platonic ideal of Socrates the method seems to want.

Dude. Zen, Plato, you should ride a motorcycle, and then maybe write a book.

What am I here to say. I’m grasping towards a place where fucking it up somewhat is still okay. For them or for me. Hurting other people heedlessly is not okay – don’t do that in my classroom. You’ll hurt other people, I have, you will, but not heedlessly, please. Also, don’t be lazy – this is the Zen training coming in – treat this as the matter of life and death it is (OMG did I write that, do I believe it, I do). Other than that, be free.

And with that, my dream syllabus, any course

Don’t hurt anyone heedlessly.
Don’t be lazy.
Treat it as a matter of life and death.
Other than, in that, be free.

this post must come to an end. Oh and here’s Bodhidharma for ya.


bodhidharma2a

Spring and All and all

One week in, both my classes, and they’re so nice! In a life that feels, gonna just say it, a bit thin for human company, my teaching is textured, rugose. They go by fast, these students, even those I connect with beyond the usual. (They’ve got lives to get on with, yo?) But in their meteoric transits through, briefly they’re as if my kids – kids I never raised, but get to feel tender toward a spell, aren’t they.

Didn’t think to go there. (Even the ones who don’t remember my name. The ones whose names I have to reach for. Somehow, and more than formally, them too. What is that?) (A leopard makes a rhizome with a newborn baboon. Our instincts, drives, are endlessly various and flexible; are originally free; hence, maybe, art.*) (There’s a thesis for you – interspecies bonds and art happen by the same mechanisms.**)

My mind goes this way, these ways, thanks to William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, first text of our rhizome workshop, whose motive is life and more life, life in nooks and crannies, life in standing water and sickbeds. Spring and yes are synonyms.


It’s late, Sunday tracking to Monday, so just this, second para:

There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world. If there is an ocean it is here. Or rather, the whole world is between:

Consider how odd that is. Intimacy with the world is intact. Consciousness of intimacy with the world is intact. There’s a barrier, and it’s constant, but it’s not anywhere you’d think to posit it. More than intact, maybe, inviolable, and yet, a barrier, a constant one.

And more – the barrier between you and your awareness of intimacy with the world – is the world. How are you not intimate with that?

Dharma of a red wheelbarrow. Why the participle glazed matters, why the prepositions, their stationing in mental space, matters.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens


And a key to Paterson. I think so. Williams is a shitkicker, but his question’s a loving one, why don’t we treat each other more tenderly as we might? That’s not rhetorical – if it were it’d be schlock. He’s really asking. He puts a life’s energy into asking.

He moved me to ask it too. I tend to ask in the first person singular, cuz the plural feels presumptuous, though as I’ve looked at my poetry this weekend, I’ve had fears of narcissism … I, I, I, the vowel in die, the vowel in live (adj.) …

In which vein, this little one came yesterday, out of crumpled disjecta, I see a bear cub, but that may be my pareidolia talking.

 

Disjecta scan 1.jpg


* Check out that link! See if you don’t think art is incipient there. In the leopard’s uncertainty – do I nurture or do I pounce. In its unfitness – how will it feed its new charge. And in its untowardness – it’s ventured where it should not have. Those are three of the uns of art, yes, no?

It’s broken, I mean, into a new space, which it, and the baby baboon, and the forest, and 2 million YouTube views all honour in their ways.

As I do you by tapping “Publish.” G’night.


** (Next morning.) Try this. Art is second-order play. Art is when play becomes the content of new play. Which could be why it feels to us both vital and inutile, and why its nature slips out of our grasp, and why we’re tempted to think of it as transcendent, when in fact it’s supervenient …

Down boy. You’re supposed to be lesson planning.

 

A taste of rhizome mind

From Poetics of the Rhizome. A course set to start soon.


Before the World Wide Web, there was a worldwide web. Human beings are recent guests in that web, guests often rude and destructive, but sometimes stunned with awe, or love.

[T]he Great Subculture which runs underground through all history … [a] tradition that runs without break from Paleo-Siberian Shamanism and Magdalenian cave-painting; through megaliths and Mysteries, astronomers, ritualists, alchemists and Albigensians; gnostics and vagantes, right down to Golden Gate Park.
                – Gary Snyder, “Why Tribe”

Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couch­grass, or the weed.… The wisdom of the plants: even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else – with the wind, an ani­mal, human beings…. “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us.”
                – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

I would describe poetry as ecology in the community of words.
                – Jed Rasula, This Compost

[T]he separate perspectives of my two eyes converge upon the raven and convene there into a single focus. My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive … each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent way, and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces.
                – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

This old plum tree is boundless. All at once its blossoms open and of itself the fruit is born. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain…. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit. Furthermore, the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.
                – Eihei Dōgen, “Plum Blossoms”

Most of each thing
is whole but contingent
on something about
the nearest one to it
                – Fanny Howe, “The Splinter”

Common threads here are multiplicity and interdependence. There’s no one way to be human. There’s no one way to be a poem. There’s no one way to be at all! And no one way to say so.


Plum Blossoms - detailMy students are you reading. Winter is coming. You’re gonna be asked, early on, to write spring. The image atop is Red and White Plum Blossoms by Ogata Kôrin. You can read a nice treatment of it here.

Here’s what Dōgen Zenji, my teacher’s teacher’s teacher, and on, has to say about painting spring:

When you paint spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – just paint spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It is not yet painting spring.

It is not that spring cannot be painted. My late master, old buddha, he alone was a sharp-pointed brush that painted spring.

So be the sharp-pointed brush painting spring. Or whatever.

 

One more for Elise Partridge

Hello friends. A three-way conversation between Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, and myself on the life and work of our loved friend Elise Partridge has now gone live at the Winnipeg Review. It’s to be found here.

And, if you’re curious, I wrote a bit about the challenge and wonderment of the conversation itself here. You can read some more about Elise herself here. And Barb’s wonderful blog is here. Steph doesn’t have a blog but here’s her publisher’s page here. Enjoy, please, do.


I hope Elise’s spirit won’t mind me appending this.

I was invited to a celebration of Rosh Hashanah tonight and we were asked as part of our lovely evening to express an intention for the year to come. Mine was, to be more patient with others and myself. What’s this have to do with Elise? She wasn’t especially patient with herself or others. In fact I loved her impatience, it was was wise, it was holy! At least when she was skewering someone’s pretensions it was, very.

But my impatience is most often crap. (And that, that’s impatience with impatience. Yeah baby gotcha.) And I’ve just now started sitting zazen again, after years off the cushion, and I’m feeling what a difference it makes to be okay with not getting it exactly right all the time. And a little bit more patient with me, I’m a little more so with some other, too. Does seem to go that way.

Came as this a few ago

TD 90V - imageKshanti paramita = the perfection of patience, or patience beyond patience. Patience so sunk in itself you might not recognize it as patience. That was Elise, too. Barb, Steph, tell me, wasn’t it?

Out of the mouths of nieces

By Isabel, age 10, nature poet in the key of blue.

From stoneWrites her dad (my bro): Asked if she had written a poem, Isabel answered, ‘No. It’s just words that were in my head.'”

My work as a teacher would be so straight & simple, if I could just put this at the front of the room, point, quote that, and go.

Sheeee-it, my work as a poet would be so straight & simple, if I could about forget making poems, & just put some words in my head on some pieces of nice paper.


P.S. Am I just being a foolish uncle or is it kind of exquisite how that raindrop hangs from that that more-than-line but not-yet-branch? Light as air and heavy like a pear.

Student blog: Mind, Drips

Here’s one more for you of an evening. Student blogs I mean. An ode and owed to coffee. Rich in a compost sensibility and not just because coffee grounds make (I’m told) a fine generative soil.

Comma in the name, that’s punc that don’t punk nor get punked.

Lots I enjoy here, but maybe most of all, the quality of attention everywhere in evidence – let’s call it a wakefulness, in the spirit of coffee, noticing minutiae, taking pleasure in, say, the fleeting flowers of foam a barista draws atop your latte, not because she has to, nor even just because she can, but because she can offer.

And chooses to. We’re back with Imagination, living always and only as imaginations, plural, demotic. NO PLATONIC CHICKENS HERE. Just lots of heartful cups of coffee. (A mischievous link in the spirit of Alex’s blog.) (‘Cept I just spoilt it by saying so.)

No words for this. Guess that’s what got me making picture and thing poems. And yet we need to keep finding and failing to find the words for it. Worlds rely on it. E.g., the pic above.