Sunday, June 17, 2007


Melbourne, May 9-12,'07

Dear Bernard, My month came & went --April "with his schowres sweete" etc., "Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages" as Chaucer says --but Taurus, my constellation, has a little way to go yet. English Spring, or how it used to be pre-Climate Change, and Melbourne Autumn have some similarities. The sunshine in the backgarden, where I sat for an hour before the breeze sent me back indoors, is blissful after the burn of Summer, just like sunshine in England after Winter cold.
I'm rereading that part of TDB before Ray's stint with the Fire service --when the trio have returned from their first trip. Japhy & Smith have been joined by Alvah (Ginsberg) & Coughlin (Philip Whalen) for talk & wine. Coughlin urges his fellow devotee recite the Buddhist stories. They're drinking and Japhy, inspired, lays down his vision, the vision, his social programme if you like. And it truly is the vision of our time, you & me in the middle of it.
'"Give me another slug of that jug. How! Ho! Hoo!' Japhy leaping up : 'I've been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that's the attitude for the Bard, the Zen lunacy bard of old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refridgerators, tv sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deoderants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures...'" (pp76-77)
The argument, of course, is between those who do & do not "subscribe to the general demand". If there were millions of "rucksack revolutionaries" (and maybe there were, from the Sixties to the present?) would the general condition have been transformed? Japhy's wish for "a floating zendo, where an old Bodhisattva can wander from place to place and always be sure to find a spot to sleep in among friends and cook up mush" (p77) is closer to the reality I suspect. Thus the Counter Culture : alternative societies within the general subscription society. So Japhy's the social revolutionary and Smith sympathizes but contributes the compassion (as the good conservative should) : "Only one thing I'll say for the people watching television, the millions and millions of the One Eye : they're not hurting anyone while they're sitting in front of the One Eye. But neither was Japhy..." (p82)
Smith's narrative swings harmoniously between Zen Lunatics on their dharma bum and the world as it is (as it always was and will be). Recall the start of chapter (actually, more like rave or riff) 24, p125 : "If the Dharma Bums ever get lay brothers in America who live normal lives with wives and children and homes, they will be like Sean Monahan [Locke McCorkle in real life](...) a young carpenter who lived in an old wooden house far up a country road from the huddled cottages of Corte Madera(...)[living] the joyous life in America without much money(...)" (Kerouac's sexism reflects that time's conventional paradigm; women were part of the equation then but generally lacked their narrators. Impossible not to think of men & women now since the upheaval of the Sixties & the Feminism of the Seventies. "Lay brothers & sisters" everywhere...) Who would have believed, though, that in the West, in our time, Buddhism, for one example of an alternative perspective, would become mainstream?
The closing paragraph of the book has Ray offering a prayer to his fire-watching mountain-shack before he "turned and went on down the trail back to this world." Where we are --having our cake and eating it too! --in this world.


(14/3/07) The Governor's sketch of Han Shan & Shih-te, laughing loudly, Ho! & Ha-ha! (in Snyder's preface to Cold Mountain Poems) is the template for Kerouac's TDB. All there in the ancient Chinese pair's fleeing society the moment freedom was felt to be threatened --hiding in the mountains, disappearing into the cave of the remotest world as well as the world at large) --exactly how Japhy & Ray Smith are meant to be in the novel. Hoo! shouts Japhy. Ray adopts the exclamation. "Hoo" announces & punctuates --the glee of being in the world. The scholarship, the wandering, the drinking & partying , the confrontation with ultimate questions in the silence of the mountains --Japhy as Han Shan, Smith as Shih-te. Plain as plain can be!
Yet although Smith/Kerouac could imagine himself the senior partner, especially as Americana Catholicism brushes off that old Dharma --echo of Alvah earlier in the book, dismissing what real-life Ginsberg will clasp full-on in years to come --it's a conceit. More likely the older amigo's life-experience inflecting whatever can be said of Mahayanna versus Zen for example. Undoubtedly, in terms of Buddhist story rather than natural mysticism, Japhy appears to be Smith's master in the book.

(19/3/07) Pound's superiority as translator according to Hugh Kenner, introducing the Collected Translations, is the ability to transpose his own voice upon the ancient text : "Pound after twenty-four centuries lends Confucius his voice." Indeed --and that is the signature of our time. Yet what emerges as a danger after only a few decades of the Poundian influence is the flattening of topical langauge (that is, of expression specific to its time) in favour of what is recognizably "our own". No historical personality, simply our own reflection. The example Kenner offers to advantage Pound over Waley sems to me defficient if only for one crucial word, namely the "way". Referring to the way, Pound reports : "He said : The way out is via the door, how is it that no one will use this method." Method? What happened to The Way, one of the world's most poetic cosmologies? Method? The word reeks of the mechanical, the systematic, the utilitarian. Who couldnt prefer Waley then : "The Master said, who expects to be able to go out of a house except by the door? How is it then no one follows this Way of ours?"
Kenner's put-down requires him to caricature : "Arthur Waley sensed a sage embroidered on tapestry expounding the Way." After reading John Walter de Gruchy's Orienting Arthur Waley : Japanism, Orientalism, and the Creation of Japanese Literature in English (Hawaii,'03), I think I sense the Modernist reflex against the aestheticism of the late 19thCentury & Bloomsbury in Kenner's representation. And I naturally hope it isnt also bullish sneer at whatever's less than red-blooded vernacular --queer & Jewish, look out!
De Gruchy's contrast of Waley's criticism of Japan, informed by superior scholarship & linguistic acumen, with the Japonism of so many Western literati between the World Wars, is salutary. How blinded one can be by partisan enthusiasm in poetry as in politics, and be led past the pretty flowers sure enough but ultimately right up the garden path!
This isnt a belated denigration of Modernism --our times' great adventure after all --but merely a questioning of some of its idiom & its disguised prejudices. Thanks to de Gruchy, Waley's back on my desk, squarely, as are (wait for it!) Laurence Binyon & other earlier translators so temptingly cited!

(8/5/07) Re- the revised/expanded edition of Red Pine's Collected Songs of Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon, 2000), I enjoyed the confirmation contained in Bill Porter (Red Pine)'s introduction : "If China's literary critics were put in charge of organizing a tea for their country's greatest poets of the past, Cold Mountain [Han Shan] would not be on many invitation lists. Yet no other poet occupies the altars of China's temples and shrines, where his statue often stands alongside immortals and bodhisattvas. He is equally revered in Korea and Japan. And when Jack Kerouac dedicated The Dharma Bums to him in 1958, Cold Mountain became the guardian angel of a generation of Westerners as well."
John Blofeld's description, in his introduction, of the Taoist feeling for & about life is surely written with a wide grin --it tickles my heart as I read. The relational people most of us are, living in the pragmatic world as we do, arent entirely lost when we're charmed by truths & tropes of the absolute! "You are going to give me a 32-course (plus side-dishes) Chinese banquet? Thanks, I'll enjoy that. We have only a bowl or two of inferior-quality boiled rice for dinner? That will go down very nicely. We have nothing on which to dine? Splendid, we shall have more time to sit outside and enjoy the moonlight, with music provided by the wind in the pines."
(9/5/07) I'm rereading, after many years, David Young's Five T'ang Poets (Oberlin/Field, 1990), especially his little introductions to each poet (Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Li Shang-Yin) which describe their lives and discusses the rationale of the translation within the context of the history of each poet's translation. His courtesy is gratifying. Distinguishing "accuracy and scholarship" from poetry in his criticism of another anthology and promising to "rescue my four poets [five in the 2nd edition] from the often wooden & dogged versions of the scholars", Young hopes he might "take my place with other poets -- Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder, in particular, along with Arthur Waley, the scholar who translated like a poet -- who have worked in Chinese translation."
A nonsense to talk of rehabilitation with respect to Waley but necessary --and I'm regailing myself as much as anyone else --to maintain the whole field of reference against the distractions of fashion.

(15/5/07) Regarding your closing remark, "But the spirit is there". I'm sure that it is. When mobility has been restricted, as it actually has for you, then spirit is almost everything. It would be trivialising for me to say that "everyone's restricted" in the face of your circumscription. But you are the Abbot of Goldy, you have your library of literature, poetry, philosophy not to mention your music collection. You have the run of the kitchen and you must know your Radipole & Chafey's walks like their official warden (or poet)! Thing is to sow the seed, grow the dream, keep your spirits up!

Love, Kris


Weymouth / England
May 2007

Dear Kris, I'm anticipating a letter from you soon. Your last got to me in four days. That's some speedy snail! I still prefer this form. No PC, e-mail, etc, for me thus far. I've said it before --I'm not convinced -- which irked you. But maybe I'll go electronic sometime. Anyway, there's no substitute for the books you consistently send. Keep 'em coming.
Talking of which, Zaza [Monique, sister] visited and brought me a couple of presents today (13th May) -- a jar of amazake (made from millet, which I prefer to the brown rice variety) and a book from Waterstone's bookshop in Dorchester. She said she just had to buy it for me. Whilst looking for something else she saw Poems of Thomas Hardy (selected and introduced by Claire Tomalin, Hardy's biographer). I was very pleased to receive it. Do you know it's the first book of his poems that I've ever had in my possession? I've been meaning to get into Hardy since I moved to Dorset twenty-two years ago. Maybe now I'll make a start. But he's not thus far moved me the way the Powyses have. And he's not moved me the way Kerouac and TDB etc has. But he is someone with whom I'd like to feel more at home. By the way, printed on the bag in which the Hardy book came was a quote from Hemingway -- "There is no friend as loyal as a book!" And books sure are amongst my best friends.

Re- Dogen / Shobogenzo
"People have sometimes regarded 'Uji' as his unique discourse on the theory of time. Theory of time, my foot! It is his trying to explain reality in a way that people could understand. As Koho Zenji said to me, Dogen was no more interested in time, as such, than the next man. He was trying to point out that everything which is present is part of a flow, and everything which is in the future is part of a flow. And, he was telling us not to get caught up in periods of time, not to get caught up in appearances, not to get caught up in anything -- just be one with the flow that comprises all of existence."
This is what Jiyu Kennett says in Roar of the Tigress, vol 2. She goes on to say that unless you discover this for yourself you'll have a hard time understanding what Dogen is going on about. It was a great relief for me to read this as I was teetering on the brink of giving Dogen a wide berth, giving up on him. But I'm restored.

I bought a beaut of a book recently on handbuilt shelters called Home Work, by Lloyd Kahn. It's published by his own press, Shelter Publications, out of Bolinas, California. And I was most pleased to see in it the house of one of his neighbours -- you'll be delighted as well -- Joanne Kyger. Them Dharma Bums and their friends and neighbours get everywhere dont they? Kahn writes -- "Joanne Kyger is my neighbour, a poet, and an elegant lady. Her house, an old cottage she bought in 1970, reflects her travels to various parts of the world and has a wonderful feeling inside. Everywhere you look are things of beauty : a Tibetan tanka, a Balinese painted calendar, lots of paintings, dozens of baskets, healthy green plants, Japanese vases and laquered plates. There's a mirror from Guatemala, the smell of incense, and a book-shelf with hundreds of books. The old water-stained shingles on the roof show through in the living room, and there's a woodstove for heat."
Is that a bit like your cottage in Melbourne? Poet's hideaway? Tin roof. Bookshelves and paintings. Taoist/Zen Lunatic's retreat? We need such places.
Home Work contains "100 photos and over 300 drawings, all illustrating buildings assembled with human hands -- a Japanese-style stilt house accessible only by going on a cable 500 feet across a river; tree houses, bottle houses, bamboo, yurts etc." Fantastic. A book to get me thinking and dreaming. As I said -- books are amongst my best friends! And these places are what you mention in your last letter (20th May) -- Japhy's "floating zendo".
Pleased that your letter came eventually and at the same time as the Five T'ang Poets which you sent separately. Two packets on the same day. It beats anything by contemporary poets I might read. This is what does it for me. Thanks so very much. I enjoyed Clive Faust's poems you photocopied for me, one for Cid Corman and one for Philip Whalen. Exemplary construction. And of course I appreciated the cutting from The Age on Bill Mollison.
I don't have the new edition of Red Pine's Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, but I do have three copies of the original first edition (1983). I will get the new one, complete with photos. I must mention David Budbill whom Copper Canyon publishes -- an American modern-day equivalent of our favourite T'ang poets. The New York Times Book Review said, "When Budbill's on his mountain, he longs for the city, and vice versa. Fame, wealth, and sex are false gods, he insists, but he hastens to add that he still, at times, craves all three. These are not new ideas -- a list of references in the book shows how strongly he's influenced by the classical Chinese poets -- but they find fresh expression here, thanks to Budbill's good humour and gusto. " (Copper Canyon 2006-07, Fall/Winter catalogue.)

(25th May) I have just two books bedside at present -- Five T'ang Poets and The way of a Pilgrim. I've taken to reading them aloud to mama. Poor thing, she's not at all well and rests and sleeps a lot. But I try to keep her interest alive by reading to her. Kerouac would've loved the latter (as well as the T'ang poets of course). He did have his Bible which he read -- "I took out the Bible and read a little Saint Paul by the warm stove and the light of the tree. 'Let him become a fool, that he may become wise,' and I thought of dear Japhy and wished he was enjoying the Christmas eve with me. 'Already are ye filled,' says Saint Paul, 'already are ye become rich. The saints shall judge the world.'" (TDB, p99.) Yup, Ray Smith would've loved The Way of a Pilgrim -- the Pilgrim is a sort of Dharma Bum.
Christian? Buddhist? Buddhist and Christian? Ray has doubts but ultimately transcends everything. "Then suddenly one night after supper as I was pacing in the cold windy darkness of the yard I felt tremendously depressed and threw myself right on the ground and cried 'I'm gonna die!' because there was nothing else to do in the cold loneliness of this harsh inhospitable earth, and instantly the tender bliss of enlightenment was like milk in my eyelids and I was warm. And I realized that this was the truth Rosie knew now, and all the dead, my dead father and dead brother and dead uncles and cousins and aunts, the truth that is realizable in a dead man's bones and is beyond the Tree of Buddha as well as the Cross of Jesus. Believe that the world is an etherial flower, and ye live. I knew that I also knew that I was the worst bum in the world. The diamond light was in my eyes." (TDB, p100.)

Thich Nhat Hanh is very keen on practicing with both traditions, Christian and Buddhist -- "(...) parents should encourage their children to have two roots and to have both the Buddha and Jesus within their life. Why not? (...) It is just like cooking. If you love French cooking, it does not mean that you are forbidden to love Chinese cooking (...) You love the apple, yes, you are authorised to love the apple, but no one prevents you from also loving the mango." (Going Home : Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, Riverhead,1999; p202.)
Me? I've got plenty of time for all of it. Everything. Multitrack. Not single track!

Love, Bernard

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