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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Autumn Dusk in the Mountains (Wang Wei)

A beautiful poem about the onset of autumn by the Tang poet Wang Wei.  In keeping with the Chan tradition, it is in the change of the season that the poet finds a deeper continuity in nature.

In the empty mountains
After a freshening rain
The weather has cleared
And now autumn is here

The moon shines brightly
Illuminating the pines
The clear water flows
Over a rocky stream bed

The bamboo rustles as
Washerwomen pass below
The bed of lotus stirs under
The fisherman’s boat

The idea comes to mind
As spring’s fragrance fades
Down through the generations
It’s only nature that remains


空山新雨後     天气晚来秋
明月松     清泉石上流
竹喧浣女     莲动
随意春芳歇     自可留

Keeping the Pine Barrens True to Its Name

Perhaps it's too soon to celebrate but according to reliable sources, the upshot of this week's meeting of the Southampton Town Board seems to be that the bulldozers for the luxury real estate development that would have been perched atop the Pine Barrens have been stopped dead in their tracks.  How often does that happen in this day and age -- that a big money real estate developer like Discovery Land Company doesn't end up getting its way?  Now the horseshoe crabs, striped bass and fluke that remain in Shinnecock Bay can swim a little easier knowing that they won't have to contend with the runoff from an 18 hole golf course any further fouling the waters of Weesuck Creek.

It has been a four-year long struggle that deeply divided our community. The developers spent lavishly trying to sway public opinion and gained some support particularly from local merchants and builders who stood to benefit most from an uptick in business.  But a large majority of residents in our town remained strongly opposed to the proposed development -- we the people of East Quogue have a well-deserved reputation as refuseniks, content with our tidal estuary as it is, ceaseless in its diurnal change, without need of help from Discovery Land or any other luxury real estate developers.

Many thanks to John Bouvier and Julie Lofstad, our local politicians who have shown real backbone in resisting all the pressure and blandishments that big money brings to this type of fray.  I also have new found respect for our local paper, The Southampton Press, which came out strongly against the proposed development notwithstanding the bait of full page advertisements being liberally thrown their way.  This poem is dedicated to them and all the others who stood up to stop the bulldozers and backhoes in order to keep the Pine Barrens true to its name.

Ode to Saying No (to the proposed PPD)

For Discovery shall
Hold no sway here
Nor shall luxury
Claim dominion
Over the Pine Barrens

Build as of right
Or leave it in peace
Let the tides alone
Speak about variance

Nor is there need
For abatement given
The fragile state of
Our wetlands paradise
Where all is but lost and  
Then again reclaimed 
Twice every day

What hangs in the balance
Is one of earth’s remaining
Sacred spots Achabaca
Weesuck Creek by name
Sanctuary to shorebird
And songbird alike
Retirees from the city
Distinguished members
Of the building trades
First responders and
Assorted Bonackers
And Shinnecocks all
With their competing claims

We have staked out 
Our lots on this sandbar
Forever certain that
Although the ground 
Continues to shift
Beneath our feet
We will forever resist
The notion that we
May attain any value
Through Discovery
If that means putting 
At risk this fragile beauty
With which we are
Otherwise sustained


Friday, September 29, 2017

The Smile of Nature

The other day Marissa was walking down the street in Riverhead when she noticed a butterfly perched on top of an orange flower growing alongside the sidewalk.  It looked as if the butterfly - an American painted lady I believe - was waiting patiently for Marissa to come along, ready for her camera close up.

Nature's Smile (photo by M. Bridge)

 I love this photo.  It makes me think of The Smile, the poem by William Blake.  So this morning it inspired me to return the favor with my own short reply called Nature's Smile, a short poem for Marissa and William Blake:

There's a smile of giving
And there's a smile of getting
And there's the Smile of Nature
In which both come together

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Short Listicle About Poetry

More and more I realize I have a fundamental problem accepting the prevailing pieties of modern American poetry.  Not only that but it seems as if my own ideas about poetry are not welcome within the mainstream of the American poetry community.  I call this my Don Share problem.  (Don Share, for those of you who don't know, is the highly regarded editor of Poetry magazine.)  I've tried sharing my views with Don and his response was short and sweet - he blocked me from his Twitter account so I can no longer so much as view either his poetic or prosaic tweets.

In response to this later day form of digital excommunication, I've put together this short listicle that sets forth a few of my own ideas about poetry, which I hope may serve as counter-programming to one of American poetry's most prominent gatekeeper's more widely held beliefs:

  1.   Poetry is not a religion; a poem is not worthy or due reverence for the words it uses or as   a sonorous thing in itself. 

2.     A poem is no more than an embodiment of what a “poet” happens to be thinking and feeling at any given moment.

3.     Although poetry is not a religion, writing and reading a poem may be or become an integral part of a person’s spiritual practice or life.   The same is true of any creative activity.  It is the activity of writing and sharing a poem that is endowed with spiritual significance far more than the poem itself.

4.     Poems are expressive not constitutive of meaning.  There is little or no difference between a poet and a poem.  

5.     All poems are provisional and experimental; they may be finished but never really complete.  Words are leaky vessels by their very nature inadequate when it comes to capturing or retaining experience, which is fleeting, and our life’s deepest meanings.

6.     The more truthful a poem the more it acknowledges its own fallibility; the less recited and anthologized the better.  Even a great poem may be considered wrongheaded and disposable similar to any other form of everyday speech.

7.     The lilt of a poet’s voice may be a dangerous thing.  (This applies especially to a great poet like you Dylan Thomas!)

8.     Language is not the solution but part of the problem we humans face; poems can help us to the extent that they make us more aware of the limitations of language instead of seducing us into believing the meaning we find in words or sounds can actually exceed what we are far more likely to encounter in silence’s depth.  

These views, I might add, are not exactly my own.  They have evolved out of my regular practice of translating classical Chinese poetry.  To that extent they represent my attempt to distill and express a theory of poetry and poetics, which is derived from a way of thinking about language, metaphor and meaning that may be quite unfamiliar to those of us reared in the western tradition, but nonetheless may prove extremely rewarding as an alternative path.  

Those of you who are interested in learning more about classical Chinese poetry can click here to sign up for a free subscription to my Tang Spirit newsletter, where the ideas behind this listicle are explored at more length.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autumn Butterfly (by Bai Juyi)

On our walk this morning Marissa and I came across several small butterflies busily extracting a few last drops of nectar from the purple echinacea in our neighbor's garden.  It reminded me of a poem called Autumn Butterfly by the great Tang poet Bai Juyi.  So when I got home I decided to extract a few drops of nectar myself by translating the poem, providing yet another example of the fortuitous synchronicity between Tang poetry and my life. 

Autumn Butterfly

Autumn flower - a spray of purple
Autumn butterfly – a yellowish muddle
Flowers droop even as the young butterfly
Flies playfully from east to west

Come sunset a cool breeze will arrive
One by one the flowers will lose luster and
With the chill of white dew in night’s depth
The butterfly will die in the cluster’s midst

Born in morning by evening comes death
The life of each being proceeds at its own pace
Have you not seen the thousand-year cranes
Perched so high in their pine tree nest?



秋花紫蒙蒙     秋蝶黄茸茸
花低蝶新小     飞戏丛西

日暮凉      纷纷花落
夜深白露冷      蝶已死

朝生夕俱死      各相从
千年      多栖百丈松