The Buddhist Poetry of Joanne Kyger

It’s April and that means it’s also National Poetry Month.   An opportunity to remember the Buddhist inspired poetry of Joanne Kyger, who passed away March 22 at age 82.

Kyger became interested in Buddhism when she was living in San Francisco during the late 50s and involved in the Beat Generation poetry scene there.   Her obituary in the NY Times quotes her as saying,

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara. Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

She met fellow poet/Buddhist Gary Snyder in 1958, and in 1960 they went to Japan and got married.  They also went to India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky and met with the Dalai Lama.

Upon her return to the U.S., she published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web.  Kyger went on to publish more than twenty books of poetry and prose during her life.

Her work was a mix of dharma and the Beat Generation scene that became a part of the whole counter culture scene during the 1960s, including experimentation with psychedelic drugs.

Robert Creely said of Kyger, “There is no poet with more whimsically tough a mind… She’s the best of the west.”  And David Meltzer:  “No other poet of my gen­eration has been able to make the pleasures and particu­lars of the ‘everyday’ as luminous and essential and central.”

Basho Says Plants Stones Utensils
     have individual feelings
     similar to those of humans   
 
A zillion little butterfly thoughts
      simultaneously flap.

You are the sum
      of all you ‘know’
        and the more you forget
          the more ordinary
             you are really nothing
                 special   so why
                    all the anxious push-push
                      just hang

the clothes on the line
   Put the black ones
       in the washer
         Feel the myriad little bits
             of sensation
               that make up emotion

                            As the Sun
                           rises high
                         in the sky
                     so does the arrogance
         I’m still  waiting
           for the ‘Buddhist’
              poem to arrive

                 Darn it takes so long
                      for the Dharma
                      Up in arms
                  on the moral high road
              wanting to sum it up
          and END it

April 2002

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Daniel Berrigan: A Dark Word

Those of you who have been around awhile and had some exposure to the counterculture of the 60s will certainly know the name Daniel Berrigan, Roman Catholic priest and peace activist.  He died Saturday at the age of 94.  Arrested many times, as recently as 2006, he was once imprisoned for two years after he burnt draft files during a protest against the Vietnam War.  One of his partners in crime was his brother, Philip, who also served time in a federal prison.

You can learn more about Berrigan in this NY Times obituary.

According to Wikipedia,  until his death he taught at Fordham University and served as its poet-in-residence.

It seems apropos in the wake of his death and on the last day of National Poetry Month to present this poem by Daniel Joseph Berrigan:

A Dark Word

berriganAs I walk patiently through life
poems follow close –
blind, dumb, agile, my own shadow;
the mind’s dark overflow, the spill of vein
we thought red once but know now, no.

The poem called death
is unwritten yet.  Some day will show
the violent last line,
the shadow rise,
a bird of omen

snatch me for its ghost.
And a hand somewhere, purposeful as God’s
close like two eyes, this book.

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Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoThese lyrics to a 1949 song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson, are offered to commemorate National Poetry Month, the opening of the 2016 baseball season, and this day 69 years ago when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history by playing in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it’s a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Jackie-Robinson_Stealing Home2bDid you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain’t all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie’s real gone.
Jackie’s is a real gone guy.

 

Most of you know about Jackie Robinson, but you may not be familiar with Buddy Johnson, an African-American blues and jazz pianist, bandleader and songwriter.  His biggest hit as a tunesmith was Since I Fell for You, a standard recorded by many artists over the years, my favorite being Lenny Welsh’s 1963 hit.

Now, the best known recording of Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? is no doubt the one by Count Basie, done at the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, with “Taps” Miller as vocalist.  According to the Library of Congress, this version “has become synonymous with the song itself.”

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Bardism

It is not an actual word, but I like to call it “bardism.”  You know it as poetry.  I am a believer in bardism, and to me it is a free form of art.  Edgar Allan Poe said, “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”  But, as you are aware, for some time now, words have not needed to rhyme in order to be poetry.  As far as I’m concerned, poetry can be almost anything.  Bob Dylan claims that “a poem is a naked person…” and some poets, like those in Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland, “don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be.”  That’s bardism.

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoEach April, the Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month, a celebration of  poetry in the United States. And each year since I have been blogging at The Endless Further, I have joined in by offering posts on bards and bardism.

According to the Academy, the goals of National Poetry Month are to:

highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets

• encourage the reading of poems

• assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms

• increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media

• encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and

• encourage support for poets and poetry.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month.

I thought I would start the month off with something from the first poet whose work truly inspired me, e. e. cummings.  As I wrote in 2013, “His ‘[in-just] spring’ was the first poem I read that really suggested the possibilities of poetry . . . I think I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, and I loved the way the words were un-capitalized, run together, out of order, and arranged so unusually on the page . . . He wreaked havoc with the form of poetry and the structure of the sentence, he fractured spelling, ect&ect. His Influence on modern poetry is immense . . .”

It being Spring and all, it would be nice to post cummings’ ‘in-just spring’ but the format cannot be reproduced in WordPress (at least, I have not figured out how to do it), so I offer the following instead.  It is from his 1940 collection, 50 Poems, a piece simply titled 38:

cummings-barn2love is the every only god

who spoke  this  earth  so  glad  and  big
even a  thing  all  small  and  sad
man,may  his  mighty  fortress  dig

for love  beginning  means  return
seas who  could  sing  so  deep  and  strong

one queerying  wave  will  whitely  yearn
from each  last  shore  and  home  come  young

so truly  perfectly  the  skies
by merciful  love  whispered  were,
completes its  brightness  with  your  eyes

any illimitable star

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Five Years

A selfie of sorts.
A selfie of sorts.

April 13th marked the five year anniversary of  The Endless Further.  During this half-decade, I have posted a lot of poems but very few of my own.  Today, however,  the last day of National Poetry Month 2015, here is some poetry by yours truly.

silver lake

that summer morning when we sat
outside the café in silver lake
and talked over coffee
that turned cold too quickly

a soft gray haze lay over the hills
a breeze lifted her hair
then the sun, breaking through,
touched her hair to gold

I had already fallen under
the arch of her smile

she said
no one owes an artist anything
the world owes us all

a patron is someone
who supports your art
without fucking you

there was something discarnate
in how she subdued passion
with her intellect

she was all light and mystery
and like a brief song or warm coffee
it lasted only a short time
like a dream

whenever I think of her
I also think how dreams
parallel our reality

my dream is my nightmare
my nightmare is my dark journey

sometimes after such a journey
I awaken under some bodhi tree
in the light of the morning sun
with the world touched to gold

 

nuit de noel
(christmas eve)

you drove into three parked cars
one after another
because you were angry
that I was tired of your complaints
and bad behavior
and I wanted to leave

you don’t seem to understand
that you should have some regret
about what you did

rocking on your haunches by the fire

you should have stayed in paris
I should have stayed away

because one rose is as good as three
because a Saturn without rings is on your sign
not mine

and you think that pulling off the bark
Is caressing the tree

the girl as a future schizophrenia
straying on the pacific rim

pitching her dreams into the sea

 

san rio

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
swinging in dreams
the moon sings radiance
until the dawn

the music sambas
past midnight
and all your cares
fandango away
young girls tiptoe
through embraces
while old men
test their wives

well-lit boys
in search of adventure
gamble with their mananas
and everyone’s so at ease
dancing starlight
never counting the time
because

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
falling in slow motion
the moon sings celestial
until the dawn

© 2015 dmriley

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