Sunday, December 5, 2021
Dream of the Apocalypse
Saturday, October 16, 2021
We Have Met the Aliens ... And They May Be Us
This morning on my dog walk I listened to a not-so-recent episode of the Ezra Klein show in which two scientists heatedly debated the risks and rewards of human attempts to make contact with alien civilizations. (You can listen for yourself here.) The nominal news hook for this show was last year's release of a Pentagon report that begrudgingly conceded the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation as evidenced by inexplicable supersonic beeps and blips showing up on Raytheon's most advanced detection systems. It's both interesting and comical to hear these two men of science go at each other, somewhat like watching Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd on a rerun of Saturday Night Live, only with all of human civilization hanging in the balance; even when the experts talk, they can't help but project our best and worst fears onto the very notion of aliens.
But listening to the debate, it occurred to me that there is an altogether different explanation for these military sightings of UFOs traveling at warp speed through our airspace. What if the aliens showing up on the radar are simply human-made aircraft from the future? If human civilization lasts long enough to undertake interstellar travel, then surely time travel might also be on the agenda. And as anyone who grew up reading science fiction well knows, one of the first rules of time travel is not to interfere with events as they unfold in the past, for fear of upsetting the chain of causality that supports the eternal present. This then would explain why the Pentagon finds it so difficult to make contact with these so-called aliens. We have met the aliens ... and they are us. Somehow we must find a way to convince our future selves that we mean them no harm and they can approach us at no risk to us or themselves. Given the rapacious way in which we are despoiling the planet, this may not be an easy case to make. But so much hangs in the balance if we ever hope to arrange a rendezvous with our future selves, more mindfulness in the present is surely the best possible route.
In other words, projection may be warranted, though somewhat misunderstood, as an altogether appropriate response to such alien sightings.
@ezraklein, in case you happen to stumble across this blogpost, I have a modest request: would you please ask the NYTimes advertising department to find a sponsor for your show other than Facebook? Much as I have enjoyed listening to your podcast, you can't help but put your credibility at risk to the extent that Mark and Sheryl continue to subsidize your musings.
Friday, October 8, 2021
In the Springtime of Decay
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
The Algorithms of Fate
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Of the Subtle Body
Monday, October 4, 2021
Beyond All Poetry
Saturday, September 18, 2021
The Translation Game
One way to understand translation is that it's the opposite of writing or its mirror image. When you write, you start with a truth that’s inside you, and you use language to try and expose it to the outside world. When you translate, you start with an outside truth that’s given to you, and you must internalize it through the medium of language. Translation in that way is just a deeper form of reading, an attempt to go beyond a shallow understanding of what someone else has said by memorializing it in words that ring true to your own ear.
Red Pine, who is one of my favorite translators of Chinese poetry, has said that there are as many translations of a Chinese poem as there are translators. That's really a definitional observation and leads us to the understanding that there is no such thing as a definitive translation. To take this thought a bit further, translation is certainly not a science, nor do I think of it as an art so much as it is a fundamental part of the human condition. We are forever translating, whether we realize it or not, the web of language that surrounds us into our personal idiom.
We pursue truth the way a hunter chases after game, except that truth is far more elusive than even the fleetest doe or buck. No matter how many arrows we shoot, they always fall short of the mark, until we learn to shoot in the dark and with no arrows at all take aim. Writing and translating happen through the medium of language but the truths we pursue reside in wordless silence and ultimately that’s where they always remain.
My new book of translations of Chinese poetry
called The Poetry of Awakening is now available
in paperback. You can find it on Amazon (if you
don't mind abetting monopoly power) or on Barnes & Noble.
* * * * *
"There's something wrong here. Translating Chinese poetry isn't supposed to be this much fun"
-- Red Pine
When I finished the manuscript for this book, I sent a copy to Red Pine and he was kind enough to provide me with this blurb quote. My editor, Marc Estrin, decided not use it on the book jacket because he thought it didn't recommend or illuminate the book to potential readers. This is one case in which I find myself disagreeing with Marc. Red Pine's blurb reads to me as high praise, at least when I translate it into my personal idiom. Translating these poems was close to pure delight for me, and I hope at least part of that joy comes through for readers.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
I Hear the Spinning Earth (for @duanetoops)
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
The Poetry of Awakening
Every day the same routine, as Layman Pang put it, only with myself in harmony, not right or wrong but abiding. Today's routine is only different for me because it's the publication date for my new book, The Poetry of Awakening, an anthology of Tang spiritual poetry, The collection includes translations of 78 poems by more than a dozen Daoist and Buddhist poets, illuminating this unique tradition in which poetry merges with spiritual practice. Layman Pang's poem about his daily routine served as the inspiration for me over the last half dozen years, as I plugged away reading and translating these wonderful poems.
I'm deeply grateful to Marc Estrin and Donna Bister of Fomite Press for their patience, encouragement and invaluable help, without which I would most likely never have seen this project through to completion, and most certainly never would have been able to produce such a handsome book. This is the first time I have had the chance to work with a publisher in producing one of my books, and despite all my misgivings about losing control over the process, there's no doubt it pays to have the very best professional help.
Some but not all of these translations have already been published here on my blog. But in case you're interested in having a copy to carry along on your next mountain trek or meditation retreat, you can buy it now on Amazon (if you don't mind abetting monopoly power), or pre-order it from Barnes & Noble.
Here's an excerpt from the preface that explains a bit about what I find so compelling about this poetic tradition:
The poems I've chosen to translate and bring together in this collection were written in China during the first millennium of the Common Era. They include poems by a diverse group of writers, many of them Buddhists of one stripe or another, others Daoists or fellow travelers of the Buddhist faith. But even among those who identified as practicing Buddhists, it may be misleading to suppose much commonality of faith: Buddhist spiritual beliefs and practices in China evolved considerably over the course of the centuries in which these poems were written. Some of the poets collected here were renowned and avowedly secular, while others lived as reclusive hermits, and still others took up orders and lived as members of a monastic community.
Diverse as this grouping of poets may be, and divergent as their life experiences and doctrinal beliefs were, the poems here represent a singular and quite remarkable poetic tradition, which I refer to as the poetry of awakening. The common aspiration was to express through poetry the nature of spiritual awakening, as they experienced it in their own lives. These are personal poems, deeply felt, which makes them accessible, even thought they speak to us from a distant time and strange culture, and address the loftiest and most abstruse of themes.
At bottom, this tradition rests on an unresolvable paradox. The assumption (often explicitly stated) of these poets is that the experience of spiritual awakening is incapable of being expressed in words, no matter how artfully a poem may be crafted. The insights possessed by the awakened mind and heart simply fall beyond the capacity of language. Why write such poetry at all, then? Part of the wonder of this tradition is the continued striving to give voice to the inexpressible. The tension wrapped up in this paradox confers to the poems' spiritual depth and power.
Something else I find distinctive about this mode of living and writing is the fusion of poetry and spirituality into part of an integrated practice. At their best, these poems are not simply exercises of poetic imagination, nor are they merely descriptive of the poet's spiritual life. They seem directly integrated into the process of spiritual exploration and experience. Poetry becomes the practice.
Sunday, September 12, 2021
With a named storm
500 miles offshore today
The whole lawn is trembling
Quivering with pleasure really
In response to the stiff breeze
Its the affinity between
All living things
The same wind that
Lifts the dandelion spores
And choeographs the dance
Of the trees
Beguiles the whole world
Into a new form
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Poem for a Cloud Passing Overhead Near the End of Summer
Saturday, September 4, 2021
After the First Death
Friday, September 3, 2021
I Slowed for Death
Saturday, August 14, 2021
What's Vladimir Doing Here
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
For the Love of LIfe in All its Forms
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Poem Composed in a Bed of Clover
Friday, May 14, 2021
On the Ferry
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Spring Candelabra (a love poem to my favorite tree)
Friday, April 9, 2021
A Light Rain in Early Spring (by Han Yu)
Thursday, March 25, 2021
A Single Spring (by Han Shan)
Thursday, March 18, 2021
The Dream Machine
Saturday, March 6, 2021
Spring Scene (by Du Fu)
This Du Fu poem (written in the mid 8th century) captures the mood of the moment for me -- the return of spring in a world that has not yet emerged from a period of disruption and ruin. Why write poetry at a time of seeming social collapse? Is it a sympathetic fallacy to suppose that a millennium or so hence someone may understand that much better how they are feeling?
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Ode to My Tinnitus
|Marcelo Zissu's Brain|
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Singing Alone in the Mountains (by Bai Juyi)
Friday, February 5, 2021
Four Poems by Rose Ausländer