Monday, February 12, 2018

IN THE BELLY OF A PARADOX



"…because like Jonas himself I find myself travelling towards my destiny in the belly of a paradox."
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (Hollis & Carter, London, 1953), © By the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane

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Trimble : Here's to IMPERMANENCE!
Hemensley : Cheers! And Happy Birthday Bernard!
Trimble : Happy Birthday!
Hemensley : And to Thomas Merton!
Trimble : Cheers!

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Sat in the garden of the Peacock Hotel, down from the peak of Ruckers' Hill, opposite to what'll always be the Town Hall despite 'Northcote Council' no more, subsumed within Darebin (impermanence). I'm keeping the dizzies at bay, enjoying a pot of the local cider, Ken's on the Cooper's Pale. Barman asks me where the burr in my accent's from --Bristol? Hah, no! But it is West Country, i say. He lived in a village just outside of Bristol once, he says (impermanence). A lovely day for it today, he says. Twenty-two degrees, blue sky, sun, a breeze. Tell him i've just received email from Weymouth artist friend, Lucas Weschke, call him Cornishman, who imagined i'd be "reading this in a land of blue honey --here it is fucking miserable and my heart feels like January." I respond that i'll send him last vestiges of our 40 degrees with which to flay his winter miseries --tho’ neither of us exclusive of either's nadir...

Hemensley : MERT (--Ken noted the birthdate yesterday, 31st January, on Facebook. He asked Bernard, in passing, what he thought of The Seven Storey Mountain --B. replied he had the books but doesn't read very much of anything in recent years --I suggest a New Year's resolution for necessary rectification! Ken says Seven Storey not his favourite --like me enjoyed Asian Journal more--Ten years ago, en route London, I was in Bangkok with Cathy and went to the King's Palace and felt i'd been walking in Merton's footsteps when i read B's copy --disagreed with Merton’s disdain of the magnificent Hindu murals which he called Disneyland kitsch! --But before I can show Ken the Merton volume ive brought in my shoulder-bag, a loan if he wants it, he's offering me J P Seaton's translation of Han Shan --i love this one, he says (--Han Shan probably many poets, he says, --Shih Te also --people added to the poem through the years --like the Homer? i say) : "Here's a word for rich folks with cauldrons & bells / Fame's empty, no good, that's for sure"

I brought this, i say, first edition, The Sign of Jonas, Merton's journal, 1946-51. Ken reads a page, --he's a great writer, he says eventually… People forget Thomas Merton's a Christian, always a Christian, a monk --it was a hard life, --he wasn't a hippy! Laugh. Look at a passage in the introduction ---such clarity, says Ken (--what is clarity but a profound embrace of reality, and such an embrace charity? --brings to mind etymology encountered in the late 80s, that reading time's flurry of Heideggerrian language, Jan Gonda's Sanskrit commentaries, continuing elaborations from 60s/70s Anglo-American poetics featuring Olson, Duncan, Blaser, Kelly & co's Henri Corbin, MacNaughton, Thorpe, Prynne et cetera --but perception defined as "being rightly taken" which completely displaces any personal standard, relegates it to the casual lexicon --"being rightly taken" suggesting that what's NOT isn't 'perception' at all but another flake of illusion fomented both by the poetic & the everyday, --from "philosophy'''s perspective, --language & life floating between the inane & the banal) --prologue, p8 : "Stability becomes difficult for a man whose monastic ideal contains some note, some element of the extraordinary. All monasteries are more or less ordinary.The monastic life is by its very nature 'ordinary.' Its ordinariness is one of its greatest blessings. The exterior monotony of regular observance delivers us from useless concern with the details of daily life, absolves us from the tedious necessity of making plans and of coming to many personal decisions. It sets us free to pray all day, and to live alone with God. But for me, the vow of stability has been the belly of the whale…"

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Bernard & i call him “Mert”, which familiarity probably reflects the Counter Culture's wish to recruit him to the most agreeable aspect of his ecumenism, this time's hybridity always preferred to orthodoxy & tradition (until & unless of course the latter's deemed to be the hipper) --perhaps, tho, he always came across as 'human', responsible to the problematics of practice, therefore never prim or artificially pious --a poet, a writer, editor of famous little mag (Monk's Pond), artist, --a parallel life the which he ameliorated to his monasticism… As Ken said, Thomas Merton never not a Catholic --and the straying in Ken's case is Bukowskian, as reflection of daily circumstance, rather than the Buddhist temptation, pagan as far as old fashioned church would be concerned, the Buddhism of which Ken's a novice, our Brother Pots & Pans albeit issue of traditional Catholicism & later tuned-on by India including Bede Griffiths' spiritual common cause…

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That's why we honour & admire you, i say --because you do it! One has to acknowledge the actual experience --in all things. Ken deflects my honorific with chapter & verse about his constant straying, 'playing up' --but even this has a Beat Zen status --would you agree? he says (about the Beat Buddhists, which recalls Dave Ellison's & my DESPERATE MYSTICISM hilarity, serious all the same) --Some (Phil Whalen, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Joanne Kyger) walk the walk, but all of the others, in & out of formal practice, are touched by it forever --they live in its language, persuaded by it psychologically, aesthetically, poetically, practically --this domain of the post- & neo- religions, politics, poetics. And Kerouac's closest to that spiritual, psychological oscillation --high on the way of The Way, then strayed, fallen over --contradictory thus fallible, exemplarily contemporary, but not the career-success contemporaneity from which hype & glister our Jack ran. Ken says Big Sur's Kerouac’s best book, wouldn't you say? First Kerouac i read, at sea in 1965, i chime --but Big Sur, Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels, similar confrontation, collision, alternation of the dream & the drear, the dread, the 'slough of despond' . On same page Ken & i --not like some, --i mean, he says, the Buddhist thing is for the ordinary, for ordinariness…

(--begs question, i say: for us the daily ordinariness is where it's ALL to be found --for example, Ginsberg's beautiful Sunflower Sutra, that heightened & luminous experience in the railyard shared with Kerouac, --"i walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shape of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry. // Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees and machinery// (…)Look at the sunflower, he said, (…)" --Whitmanian this is, such retro-riff brilliant in & for the demand of 1955's NOW!)

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--some people don't get that, Ken says --they get it all wrong, they don't think they're ordinary, they want to be famous (--but finding their own difference & exploring it, as in Paul Celan's "each man's particular narrowness", dramatically opposes the inflation which characterises this time's 'celebrity culture' --ah yes, we agree about that)! --another cider, another Coopers, perfect little bowl of chippies & mayo --and present him with Jill Kamil's guide book to St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, and also Patrick McCauley's collaboration with Raffaella Torresan, The Sea Palace Hotel, his poems & photos, her paintings (--Raoul Duffy? says Denis Smith at the Shop next day --i can see, i say, --and Marquet?  --the little boats in the harbour...) [Later Ken messages me on Facebook regarding Pat & Raffy’s book, “Did I tell you I stayed in India at The Seaweed Hotel, on the beach at Kerala, at a place called Kovalam a sort of hippie paradise before I went to Bede Griffiths place...” Small world!]

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--Albert Marquet & i --exhibit 1: some poems in A Mile from Poetry (1973-4), after his Honfleur Harbour paintings --number 12 for instance, "at that sitting no yacht club though plenty / of tinsel & flag. generation or two & it owns one / sure enough (see the photo by any jack with guile / enough to cover his head with a cloth) // the little boats / the little boats / dead still" --initially welcomed by Adders but then used as cipher for my own sinking --"your little boats wont save you" he shot across the bows --Thank Heaven i knew where the life jacket was --swam with my little illustrated book of Albert Marquet into the international waters of which the Merri Creek was a vital tributary, --as far as the Oz Po salts would know i'd been lost at sea or like Robinson, shipwrecked! --twenty years, more? --hardly recognised when i returned! --exhibit 2: Marquet's erotic paintings which Paul Buck showed me in Maidstone in '87, --an immense compendium with the unlikeliest contributors such as Marquet --middle of the afternoon, balancing teacup & slice of cake, after walk around the partly flooded town, not only sightseeing the swollen Medway but the hotel where Jean Rhys once lived --you like her don't you? Paul remembered --portrayed, if nowhere else, in my book, Montale's Typos, in the prose-piece "England, River & So On (in the mood of Jean Rhys, after a theme of hers)" --for example, "I dreamt of being there again, & of looking thru the window, outside looking in, at her dresses on the bed, & her bib-&-braces. And the river just outside the hedge, the rushes, the submerged & sprouting stalks of this & that, greens, browns, greys, & rainbows there & gone, glints of red & turquoise; mud & shadows…" --brother B. published it, the first of his Stingy Artist editions, 1978 --quite a publisher, i impress upon Ken --
-- To Bernard! in unison salute --on eve of Ken's joining the Theravadans --
K H : And Mert!
K T : Mert!


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[February 1-11, 2018]

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