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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
73 summer 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Asacultural phenomenon, Western Buddhism has always been highly self-conscious. Issues of translation, of religious renewal and decay, have been part of the discussion from the start. Despite this, Western Buddhist prac- titioners have been curiously uninter- ested in culture, preferring instead to see the dharma as a set of scientific procedures that will produce desired impacts on the psyche. But the fact is, religion is culture, not science. In this light, I’m especially delighted to have in my hand the new Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, a founding document of Western Buddhist culture. To be sure, I am prejudiced: a work- ing poet myself, I not only knew and admired Philip Whalen, I was his friend, and I have missed him daily since his death in 2002. Still, his importance as a Western Buddhist poetical pioneer is well-enough established that I can be AN AmericAN BuddhisT PoeT The collecTeD Poems of PhiliP Whalen edited by michael rothenberg Wesleyan university Press, 2007 932 pages; $49.95 reviewed by norman Fischer Zoketsu norman FisCher is a soto Zen roshi in the lineage of suzuki roshi and the founder of the everyday Zen Foundation. he is also an author and poet; his forthcoming book is titled Sailing Home : Using Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls (simon & schuster). forgiven for emphasizing it again now, in light of this new, wonderful, thick, beautiful volume. What is an American Buddhist poetry? It’s obviously not enough merely to reference Buddhist terms; in order for the work to reflect Buddhist perspectives, through and through, they must be deeply imbedded in what’s writ- ten, as form, as attitude, as structure and substance. As American Buddhist poets go forth with their projects, they will inevitably be building on Philip’s work. More than any of the other Beat writers, among whom he is always included, Philip was a master of form, a bold, if humble and unselfconscious, innovator. His generational American fore- bears, Pound and Williams, had already broken with conventional English verse, forging a poetry that was hard-edged Reviews JoHNSUIter