November 22, 2011
Here are some poems related to Wanderings from One Hundred Butterflies. Hope you enjoy:
WALK WITHOUT ARRIVING
Every morning I walk up
the long road into the mountain,
every evening I walk back down.
One day a friend comes to see me.
“If you keep this up,” he says,
“you’ll never get anywhere.”
You know, I think he’s right.
a strange bed
my heart more broken.
a little further down the road.
Just when I was feeling lonely
the wind played a little joke
on some leaves
A gentle rain
penetrates stone —
let your fingers
drizzle into our world.
Faded screens, torn mats
the old man
made a bowl
of his heart
and served me tea
If you like these poems and would like to order the book, just go to Book Titles up above and click on the link to the book.
November 14, 2011
I don’t really know why, but in recent weeks I’ve been thinking more than usual about what we do and how we do it. This morning I remembered that I made the little drawing up there at the top of today’s blog as last year’s birthday present to myself to remind me that the way I live actually has an effect on the world – one that I have to live with, too.
All This and Karma, Too?
It makes me smile to see that drawing again, and, as one thing tends to lead to another, seeing it engendered another recollection; namely, one of the best, if humourous, definitions I’ve ever heard of the word karma. So many people toss this word around like so much perfume or cologne, but in general I think its meaning may not be so clear. Anyway, someone once told me there was an old Chinese saying that defined it perfectly: Spit straight up, learn something new.
Then, in that delicious never ending chain of associations the mind seems fond of, I also remembered one of the poems in One Hundred Butterflies most people seem to like, which goes like this:
Don’t eat so fast.
When you use your sticks
you frighten the rice.
Just after the first edition of this book was published, I sat at the dining table with my dear friend, Kaz Tanahashi . Kaz is a master calligrapher, a painter, writer, translator of significant Buddhist texts, and, at the age of seventy-eight years old, he continues to travel the world for months at a time working for peace.
Anyway, as we sat at his table drinking tea, Kaz asked me to read him one of the butterfly poems, so I read him the poem above. Kaz was so surprised to hear the poem, he burst out laughing and said, “Oh! With just a few words, you’ve destroyed my entire culture!”
I took it as one of the greatest compliments of my life, and laughed hard, too, but in all honesty, I’d prefer not to destroy cultures, any more than I want my sticks to frighten rice, not now and not the rice my grandchildren eat seven generations from now, either.
If hindsight is ahead in this great all inclusive moment called now, then one of the great miracles of human understanding and awareness is our ability to see into the future right where we stand at any given moment, and use hindsight now. It seems worth considering, anyway, worth practicing. If you’re reading this note I feel certain you already do this somewhat, so let’s keep going, together. And, let’s make more silly signs and poems that make us laugh, appreciate and see what we are.
Thanks for reading along. If you enjoy this and can think of someone who might enjoy it as well, please send them the link. And, of course, please feel free to comment to let me know what you’re thinking, too.
November 3, 2011
At the LA County Museum of Art exhibit which pairs Monet’s paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen, with Roy Lichtenstein’s post modern take on Monet’s subject matter:
The Viewer Completes the Painting, the Reader Completes the Poem
What seems most important to me is that both painters were more concerned with the act of seeing than they were with the object seen, which emphasizes the subjective experience of “art”, and makes the viewer an active participant in the making of the so-called art itself.
This calls to mind poet John Keats’ sense that ‘the reader completes the poem’, a statement that continues to resonate with me all these decades since Diane Di Prima first mentioned it to me re her Keats essay.
As I understand his sensibility, Keats didn’t just mean that at the end of the poem the reader discerns or gives a meaning to the poem, personally derived from the act of reading, though certainly that’s part of Keats’ statement. But beyond that sense of how ‘art’ ‘works’, I think Keats knew that the reader actively co-creates the poem letter by letter, syllable by syllable, word by word, phrase by phrase, line by line. How? Through the interactive process called reading which, for a reader, is the mirror of what Monet and Lichtenstein found of great interest in the experience viewers had of their art ie seeing.
Is Perception Delusion or An Agent of Change?
Viet Namese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said to us “perception is delusion”, pointing to the human tendency to believe one’s personal apprehension of the world as Truth, a major source of both joy and suffering as most of us well realize. But, since it is preciously difficult to perceive in a way that is not personally, subjectively determined – we must work with what we have, always trying with a given modesty to perceive beyond perception, see beyond seeing, know beyond knowing.
Scientists in the latter part of the twentieth century quantified the curious fact that the act of perceiving actually changes the object perceived. Amazing, no? Can it be true that we change what we hear or see simply by the fact of such hearing or seeing, tasting or touching etc? The scientists say yes, and invite us to read the research and ‘do the math’.
Okay, then – both the delusion of perception, and the ability for perception to effect what is perceived, are on the same table for examination. And to raise the stakes, the painters and poets also point to the interactive, one might almost say interdependent relationship between a work of art and the one who perceives it. (Are you really helping Beethoven in his famous Fifth Symphony “knock on the door” in a way that only you can hear? And has dear Ludwig helped, in some modest but not insignificant way, to make you the woman or man that you are simply because those four famous notes are part of your mind?)
Aw, Go On: Leave the Bread on the Table
If we withhold the usual rush to judgment and agree not to draw a single conclusion, things may go better. So let’s leave the bread right there on the table, so to speak, beside the butter, the butter knife, the napkin, and the glass of water. (Did you notice how those words created pictures in you, quite particular to you, as you read them, and how on a different day, or even at a different time of the same day, you might see those word-inspired images differently? Which is something Monet knew and played with, by the way, and why he painted the Rouen Cathedral thirty times from different angles at different times of day in different seasons.)
One of the great benefits of withholding judgment, I find, is that it allows me to keep the door open and become more interested and maybe even more skillful in something; in this case, then, it’s in the act of seeing. In hearing, tasting, touching, smelling and knowing. To become the genius of our own faculties, after all, is part of what might be called an important part of the art of living, [ American poet William Carlos Williams wrote that he was ‘the happy genius of his household’ ] and certainly each of us has the inborn ability to do our best at becoming more skillful, more open, aware and alive at that. So maybe that’s the experiment after all.
And, speaking of experiments, here’s a photo taken by my friend and incredible photographer, Tom Vinetz, after he convinced me that it would be truly weird, not to say wonderful, if I was to walk around Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice in one of his never-to-be-outdone hats. So I did, and I must admit, it was not only fun, but I got to look like one of the “good guys”, which I always wondered about. Next time, he promised, I could try the black hat variety – but that is for another day.
As always, I welcome any comments or discussion. And, if you’d like to be alerted to further posts in this forum for writers, please just go to the bottom of the page and fill in yr email address where it says Subscribe2. Thanks.