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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 70 |buddhadharma These days, it seems like the title of every fifth or sixth dharma book to hit the new-arrivals shelf is part- nered with a second topic: Buddhism and Parenting; Buddhism and Business; Buddhism and ______ (fill in the blank). Well, poetry is one realm whose intersec- tion with the Way can strike a perfect X. And now there’s a new book to map an erudite, up-to-the-moment, delightful, diverse, sturdy, challenging, needful tour of this robust interpenetration. It’s called The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry – a riff on, say, The Oxford Anthology of Swiss Poetry – and an apt title, as it’s published by Wisdom Publications. The editing honors are done up royally by poet-trans- lator-essayist-teacher Andrew Schelling, who conceived the project twenty years ago, and anything borne in the blood, breath, and bone (not to mention mind) for that length of time cannot even be creased in such a short space as this. Instead, please consider just one haiku, which like a dewdrop can reflect all the night stars. As Schelling points out, this Buddhist form (upaya: skillful means; or art) now ranks as “surely the best known and most practiced form of poetry on the planet today.” As well, it bears “universal identification with Zen practice.” Haiku’s inroad into American consciousness not only parallels a growing awareness of dharma in the West, but it sometimes pulls the cart, opening the gates for newcomers to the Way. (I remember dis- covering haiku when I was about eight; then Zen at age eleven.) Indeed, Western awareness of buddhadharma has often been borne on wings of poetry, which is the foundational premise of the Poetics Department at Naropa University, where Andrew Schelling teaches. Here’s a haiku, from his book, writ- ten by Michael McClure for fellow poet Diane di Prima: AROUND THE EARS a puff of cherry blossom smell Without damage to this lovely blos- som, we can see several things going on in there that offer us glimpses of the mutual interpenetration of poetry and dharma. Subject-wise, cherry blossoms are revered for reminding us of the evanescent beauty of the impermanent moment. A quick impression here might suggest a mix- ing of the senses (synesthesia – asking us to hear a smell, say), but a deeper look reveals proprioception: our sense of our body in space. The poet suggests the sen- suous thrill of a breeze playing near his neck, plus its fragrance. Experience is thus locatable, as anyone can appreciate who’s done a body-scan meditation. Or noted an itch, without scratching. And it moves through time with a thoughtful rhythm. This is only heard through being vocalized; but when read aloud it is not the same as: “Around the ears a puff of cherry blossom smell.” Instead, it says, “Slow down. Stop. Listen deeply.” “Puff” can rhyme with “of.” And the “e”-vowel in both “the” and “ears” might harmonize. Please hear too the silence enabling all this to take place, an emptiness akin to a spaciousness of mind. And, spatially, doesn’t the poem look like a living thing – like a blossom, or a person? Could that word “around” almost swivel on its neck, to savor the ambient ambrosial smell ahead? I’m struck by how fresh an expression of haiku tradition this is. Old pot, new tea. But, then, isn’t our practice of the Way also translation? The root of “trans- late” means carrying over, as from an- cient times to this present moment. Just as poetry has hastened buddhadharma’s acceptance in the West, so too has the poetic art of literary translation: getting it right, right down to the very words. gaRy gach is auThoR of The comPleTe idioT’s guide To undeRsTanding Buddhism, ediToR of whaT Book!? Buddha Poems fRom BeaT To hiPhoP, and co-TRanslaToR of 10,000 lives, By ko un. the wiSdom AntholoGy oF north AmericAn BuddhiSt Poetry edited by Andrew Schelling wisdom Publications, 2005 416 pages; $22.00 (paperback) reviewed by Gary Gach mAke it new