Reviews

The wilds of Poetry

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THE WILDS OF POETRY:
Adventures in Mind and Landscape

by David Hinton
Shambhala Publications
Review by Peter Pitzele

A single word runs like a fissure through the short essays that introduce us to the poets collected by David Hinton in The Wilds of Poetry: Adventures in Mind and Landscape: “contact”. These poets, Hinton demonstrates, share a set of common philosophical assumptions that derive from the Taoist-Ch’an tradition, his field of expertise. That tradition entered the slipstream of American culture after the Second World War and affected the diverse fields of dance, theater, music, ceramics, the visual arts, philosophy, and poetry. Hinton traces the threads of influence and affinities among his selected poets, all of whom were wrestling with the American language to demonstrate into what he refers to again and again as “contact.” That is, the direct experience of the world unmediated by thought and interpretation.

In order to frame a context for this selection of poets and their poetry, Hinton describes the pictographic tradition of Chinese which, through its imagery, partook of the very world to which it responded. This ancient, unabstracted language made direct contact tangible because within its system, no first person singular divided the world into a subject and an object. No prepositions locate things, no tenses break up time, no specific word sequence must be observed. A line of Chinese poetry floats in simultaneous zones of possible order. Its very flexibility makes possible an interflowing “contact” between poet and world, world and poet. This is a poetry, Hinton says, of “mind rewilded, thought moving with the motion of natural process—and so, identity wholly integrated into the Cosmos is seen as an ongoing process of transformation.”  

In this sense, the terms “wild” or “rewilded” become Hinton’s cohering philosophical motif. Each poet demonstrates a different kind of temper and language, subject and method, but each is situated in a wild space outside of the normative conventions, and grammatical constraints, of the subject-object dualisms of traditional poetry. For example:

 

each thing, as it’s

uttered,

out of

its

 

breath,

smoldering, bud!

Almost every poem in this collection forces me to discard the critical approaches to poetry that I learned many years ago. Sensitivities to tone and rhythm, the traditions of versification, the use of words that play upon allusion and etymology, in short the entire critical apparatus by which poems have been “understood” by critics and academics for the past 100 years, means nothing to the poets of this wild school.

From The Wilds of Poetry

Who are we and where are we are the most profound questions possible, really, for at the deepest level they allow no answer. They simply pose the unsayable reality of contact, which is all question and all mystery—a moment in which the mind’s orienting certainties fail, even the certainty of self-identity, leaving one open to the experience of sheer immediacy.

—David Hinton

But if exegesis belongs to the very set of conventions this wild poetry seeks to escape, then how do we talk about particular poems to one another? I found myself struggling to appreciate many of these selections. There is a liberating moment when Hinton says of Charles Olson that “however interesting such poetry is theoretically, it is often quite simply boring to read.” I was relieved to hear this because this was my experience, and not just of Olson. Are there criteria of judgment beyond like or not like, engaged or bored?

Whatever their individual qualities, the poets in this volume gain significance by virtue of the compelling context of “contact” that Hinton creates for them. There is no doubt that this book fuses more deeply for me the practice of poetry and the practice of meditation. I am reminded that even in the ancient pictographic forms, the poetic language was limited in what it could convey of the experience of awakening. They were simply fingers pointing to the moon.

I believe there is another experimental and iconoclastic body of American poetry that needs to be read along with Hinton’s ‘wild men;’ the poetry written by women. One could not do better than read Alicia Ostriker’s landmark book Stealing the Language, The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America. She introduces us to poets and poetry every bit as convention-defying as that of the men represented by Hinton. Though no Taoist-Ch’an tradition informed these new voices, women shaped poetry to express the wilds of the body and the heart’s brave capacity for rage and compassion. They, too, wanted and found a language of “contact.”

So to whom might this volume be particularly recommended? I expect that Hinton hopes it will give poets, perhaps those with some experience of Taoist-Ch’an practices, a sense of a diverse, living, and home-grown experiment from which they can draw courage and example. That is what it has meant to me. Hinton himself is one such poet (his first volume of poetry is due to be published in February of 2018). The Wilds of Poetry in one respect sets a table for his own further emergence as a poet and to give context for the adventure of reading his contributions as well.

 

Peter Pitzele is a sangha member living in New Paltz, NY.

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Buddhist Economics

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BUDDHIST ECONOMICS:
An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science

by Clair Brown Ph.D.
Bloomsbury Press
Review by Lillian Childress

 

What would a world look like where the rules of economics were governed by Buddhist principles?

Clair Brown has set out to imagine such a world, drawing on her experience as an economics professor at University of California Berkeley and a longtime Tibetan Buddhist practitioner. Her book offers us the promise of laying out a road map to “an enlightened approach to the dismal science”

Brown walks us through a vision of economics based on maximizing collective happiness rather than maximizing profits: “In simplest terms, the free market model measures prosperity by focusing on growth in average income per person and in national output, while the Buddhist model measures prosperity by focusing on the quality of life of all people and Nature.”

Ultimately, however, Buddhist Economics leaves us with few tangible steps forward.

Brown focuses on mundane “save the earth” steps, putting her seal of approval on things we already knew were good: put on a sweater when it’s chilly, wrap presents with newspaper instead of buying wrapping paper. Some seem particularly unique to Brown’s socioeconomic bracket—“we drive less and lease a small electric car, driving our older Prius on longer trips.” On the whole, her suggestions for how to transition to a Buddhist economy lack the cutting insight that our economic discourse needs to transition away from the current model that is causing climate change at a faster pace than we can comprehend.


from Buddhist Economics

“In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with on another and with Nature, so each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning with the goal of minimizing suffering for people and the planet. Everyone is assumed to have the right to a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights. A country’s well-being is measured by the aggregation of the well-being of all residents and the health of the ecosystem.”

—Clair Brown


Moreover, Brown’s large-scale solutions lack the detail and the punch that we see in meticulously researched books like Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In her final recommendations for achieving an economy founded upon Buddhist principles, she urges us to promote sustainable agriculture, reduce waste, and increase access to potable water. What Brown fails to pay heed to is that we already know these things are desirable—we rely on experts like her to lay out a road map for how to achieve these noble goals. Thus, many of Brown’s proposals feel like they are Band-Aids on a greater problem. The call, for example, for more holistic economic indicators than GDP is a valid (and important) one, but still far from the revolutionary thinking it will take to get to the root of why—on a basic, spiritual level—we are led to over-consume.

Religion and spiritual practice can be integrated with economic thought, as we saw so artfully carried out in Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Inequality and Climate Change. What Brown fails to fully delve into is what the Encyclical articulates so well: the spiritual dearth that leads to unceasing consumption and greed and exactly what in our society is causing this dearth. As Pope Francis calls this modern ability to heedlessly over-consume “the throwaway economy.”

Calling the book Buddhist Economics is almost a misnomer, as very few Buddhist teachings, let alone original texts, are mentioned after they are cursorily introduced in the first few chapters. Brown seems instead to rely on a using a few sample quotes from modern Buddhist teachers and channeling Western-style mindfulness speak—at points, it feels as strange as if Pope Francis wrote his encyclical without a single reference to the Bible.

Ultimately, Buddhist Economics is a step in a direction we urgently need to turn towards: critical thought about how we can shift our economic system away from unbridled growth and consumption, and towards a system that equitably distributes resources and maximizes wellbeing for all. What we need now is the next step in the progression: decisive spiritual wisdom and concrete solutions towards these important goals.


from Buddhist Economics

“In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with on another and with Nature, so each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning with the goal of minimizing suffering for people and the planet. Everyone is assumed to have the right to a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights. A country’s well-being is measured by the aggregation of the well-being of all residents and the health of the ecosystem.”

—Clair Brown


Lillian Childress is a member of the MRO sangha living in New Haven, CT.

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A Plea for the Animals

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A Plea for the Animals

The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative
to Treat All Beings with Compassion

by Mathieu Ricard
Shambhala Publications

Ahimsa, the Sanskrit word for non-harming, is an elemental attribute of the Buddha’s teaching. The concept of “harm,” in and of itself, is not mysterious. It manifests when we needlessly inflict damage, pain, or suffering on any patchwork in the fabric of reality. Later Buddhism codified the notion of saving all sentient beings as an outgrowth of this non-harming. All beings with sentience or consciousness—or to put it in more biological terms, with a spinal column—are able to demonstrate their desire to live their own destinies, their own lives. And this is where Matthieu Ricard, former scientist now an ordained Tibetan monastic, begins his exploration of our relationship with the animal world: if we, not as Buddhists but as a species (a species of animal, in fact), place value on the moral sanctity of life, how do we continue to justify the imprisonment, torture, and murder of billions of fellow sentient beings each and every day?

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Social and Communal Harmony

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The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony

Edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Wisdom Publications

 

As we are often reminded, we do not get to pick the conditions of the time and place we were born into. I ask myself how can I use the conditions rather than let them use me? As the Buddha states in the Five Remembrances, “I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, actions are the womb, actions are my relations, actions are my protection.

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How to Take a Stand Without Taking Sides

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An Annotated List of Digital Resources for Informed Community Action, Resistance, and Renewal

I have never been one to get involved in politics. As a journalist I definitively steer clear of anything that could be construed as activism or partisanship. In Buddhism, taking action in the face of injustice can pose a similar question: how to do this in keeping with one’s bodhisattva vows of non-harming, yet without being partisan?

“When we engage with worldly politics, we try not to take sides,” Phap Dung, a Thich Nhat Hanh disciple, said in a recent interview. “It’s easy to choose a side, but as Buddhist practitioners we try to have more inclusiveness.”

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Good Karma

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How to Create the Causes of Happiness and Avoid the Causes of Suffering

By Thubton Chodron
Shambhala Publications, 2016fall16-good-karma

Despite the “how-to” title, this is not a conventional “build it yourself” manual for constructing a problem-free life starting with the usual messy ingredients like divorce, illness, or bankruptcy. Rather it is a penetrating meditation on an epic poem, The Wheel of Weapons Striking at Vital Points of the Enemy by the 9th century Indian scholar Dharmarakshita. It is hereafter titled (in the Tibetan style) The Wheel of Sharp Weapons.

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What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other

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What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice

By Wen StephensonSUM16_2nd_Stephenson cover
Beacon Press, 2015

Wen Stephenson shines a bright light on the emerging climate-justice movement in his new book What We’re Fighting for Now is Each Other. He weaves together the stories and voices of people who, having grasped the reality of climate change and its implications, are coming together in action. He integrates his passionate personal journey with quotes drawn from his conversations with more than a hundred people involved in the struggle for climate justice.

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The Intelligent Heart

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The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life

By Dzigar Kongtrul, Rinpoche
Shambhala Publications 2016SUM16_2nd_Dzigar cover

The transformative practice of tonglen, described as “the exchange of self and other,” is the subject of this book. The author, a contemporary teacher in the west with deep roots in Tibetian monastic training, takes us in a very systematic fashion through a series of lojong (mind transformation) teachings designed to help us diminish our own sense of self importance and shift towards extending bodhicitta compassion to others.

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Image Courtesy of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change

How to Let Go of the World

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Media Review: How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change

Directed by Josh Fox
Premiering on HBO, June 2016

In the beginning there was dancing. But before we get to that, we need to go back even further: In the beginning there was the Marcellus, a geologic formation of black shale that dates back to the mid-Devonian age and undergirds a wide swath of mid-Atlantic Appalachian terrain. Shale traps deposits of natural gas deep underground and it was this resource that in 2008 brought energy speculators to the rural homestead of Josh Fox. Eight years later, one can only wonder if the investors now regret having knocked on that particular door.

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