(from unpublished manuscript, “The Zen of Christ”)
Like Nietzsche Said. Rilke’s the poet of Autumn, right? Like Nietzsche said Wagner was its composer. Who does not, upon taking up with the medium in earnest, wish to be only the poet of Spring?
Poetry Seeks. Poetry seeks, or should seek, its irreducible minimum; the least that is still the necessary and not merely some kind of minimalism for the sake of minimalism that is really a minimal derived of antipathy for the perceived excesses of the alternatives. (Art derived of antipathy, however brilliantly executed, will never achieve what art derived of revelation can achieve—namely that deep penetration to the soul of the occasion.) In some cases the necessary minimum might be those myriad mansions within the house of our Father that schematizes infinite Being in all its honeycomb complexity.
Isn’t Anything. The poetry itself isn’t anything. No reason to name names, here. It represents or alludes to an intellectual stance or position. Its virtue is all implication. It points at something but it is not itself something. Apparently the sensibilities of its readership are dulled enough to the visceral engagement with the divine that true poetry effortlessly induces that this pointing presumption of superior poetics is sufficient.
To Reach a Poet. To reach a poet, one must climb down the ladder of her poetry into the root cellar where her soul (like, perhaps, a spring picking of gooseberries) is preserved.
Children. Poets are so very serious in their play, as children are, but without the mitigation of innocent ambition.
From You. “From you I am learning about poetry, how it swirls and turns over like the leaves that swirl and turn over when the wind catches them up and cups and caresses them and brings them close before letting them go.” “From me, you are learning this?” “From what you are when my hands…” “Don’t say it!” “From what I can feel when you are tumbling, loose-limbed, soft, toward release…”
Small Things. It is the echo of the small things, down through the ages, across cultures, that holds out the promise that our humanity will overwhelm, in the end, our inhumanity. Basho’s frog that leaps with a plop! into a pond. The footprints of Issa’s sparrow that had hopped on the terrace after its bird bath. The tiny immutable memory of mountain crossings in the primitive depths of our ancestral minds.
The Dragon. Issa writes: The distant mountains/ are reflected in the pupils/ of the dragonfly. The dragonfly is literally “the dragon.” That creature who crosses over worlds. It is not that the poem is metaphoric, it is that the poem, despite the appearance of detail, is simple to the point of emptiness.
His Wife. Issa writes, of his wife, Kiku, that: My Kiku / doesn’t care tuppence/ How she looks! There are so many compliments in the poem that one cannot begin to draw them all out. The haiku poet, the haiku, reckons the thing as it is, accounting the spiritual harmony that irradiates the condition, making of beauty something else again. This is also a poem, one might say, of sexual happiness. “The lineaments of gratified desire,” writes Blake. One might think of “his” Kiku, rising tousled from the bed upon which they have been making love. Of her, then, pinning up her hair, wrapping a robe about her, and going out to market to get food for that evening’s meal.
Snail. Issa writes: Look snail,/ Look, O look,/ At your own shadow! Art is the shadow that remains to tell us that swiftly or slowly, well- or ill-wrought, we are all moving toward death. And, too, the form of a snail is perhaps the most uncannily psychic reduction of man’s condition to its core elements: protective shell; soft, amorphous being; antennae.
Chrysanthemum. Issa writes: Chrysanthemums bloom,/ And make, with the dung heap,/ A single picture. We are born from our own mothers out of muck and by-product. Any one of us might bloom like the Chrysanthemum and say thereby to reflect the bodies of the heavens, but that would just be art, talking fast. Zen is beyond art. Issa is beyond art. The poetry of Issa is irradiated with the spirit of Zen. Zen is not a tradition or an intention. Zen is not a practice. Issa writes: The dew is scattered,/ And today once more/ The seeds of Hell are sown. Neither is this Zen, but neither, either, is it poetry. It is like the wheel of a cart, fallen and left in a field. It will remain there in snow and when the springtime comes, spring shoots may sprout through and about it.
Blyth on Issa. Blyth says of Issa that he had “happiness, or rather blessedness.” A fine distinction, inasmuch as happiness can be achieved by dint of will, but blessedness is something bestowed. Blessedness does not ensure happiness. Blessedness ensures only that in one moment or another, ongoing, one will have the satisfaction of bearing witness the divinity with which the world is charged. Chasing the wild boar! writes Issa, Voices at night!/ Rushing through the pampas grass!
Modest. The ambition of the true poet is unspeakably modest: to write, right now, in utter abandon and vulnerability, one true lyric. (As it is the modest ambition of one aroused to sexual fever to achieve release.)
The Trouble. The trouble with loving a poet is he will never go farther than his language can carry him, like if a deep sea explorer were to sail off, dressed in full regalia, then refuse to go overboard.
Your Muse. “She is your muse,” says Simon. “Yes!” I exclaim, “that’s putting it exactly as it seems to me!” The excitement of one’s own truth being named by another is the very core of what is called “the experience of poetry.” That is to say, the experience of poetry is an interiorized resonation with the sense of what is called a poem. Which is further to say that a poem is only secondarily a structure of language; that, certainly, the sophistication of its language is neither more nor less indicative of its virtue, probity or force.