In Love with This World But Telling the Not-Always-Beautiful Truth of It – Some Wisdom and A Poem from Ukrainian American Poet Ilya Kaminsky – Part of an On-Going Series of Poems Dealing With War and Its Consequences

Ukrainian American poet Ilya Kaminsky – Recipient of the 2021 Carnegie “Great Immigrant Awards”. Photo Credit: Carnegie Corporation of New York

In a Time of Peace

Inhabitant of earth for forty something years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open

their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.

It is a peaceful country.

We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to buy shampoo,
pick up the children from school,
get basil.

Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement
for hours.

We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.

We watch. Watch
others watch.

The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy.

It is a peaceful country.

And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.

All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt.

This is a time of peace.

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

Ilya Kaminsky from Deaf Republic, Graywolf Press, 2019

It is not surprising that I am featuring a poem in this blog post by Ilya Kaminsky, the celebrated Ukrainian American poet and Bourne Chair of Poetry at Georgia Tech, Not just because he has close ties to the Ukraine and is naturally outraged by Putin’s invasion but because of his 2019 book, Deaf Republic, that creates the horrifying “isness” of war in an imagined and un-named Eastern European city under invasion.

In a painful irony it is now, in real life, Ilya’s beloved Ukraine under that attack. But also notice, please, how Ilya tries to balance in his poem above and and in his life, a critical eye on our cultural and violent shadows with a lyric expression of love for this world. Please see, his three paragraph article below for how he explains the importance of this balance. Yes: How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

In my review of Ilya’s Deaf Republic I noted that the poems of war in an imagined country were book-ended by two poems set away from there, most likely in what is now Ilya’s home country, the United States. These two poems, We Lived Happily During the War and In a Time of Peace (featured above) feel like a call to arms. Not physical arms like guns and bombs but a call to arms metaphorically against complacency. About the need for us here in the West to really wake up to the perils not just overseas but at home. To hear Ilya in a March 2nd interview, talk about his poem We lived Happily During the War and his personal reflections on the war in Ukraine please click here.

Read More »

Load Poems Like Guns – A Poem by the Afghani Woman Poet Somaia Ramish – Its Heart Cry Against War

The  Gripping 2015 Poetry Anthology “Load Poems Like Guns” by Women Poets from Herat, Afganistan

Load Poems Like Guns

Load poems like guns —
war’s geography calls you
to arms.
The enemy has no signs,
counter-signs,
colors
signals
symbols!
Load poems like guns —
each moment is loaded
with bombs
bullets
blasts
death-sounds —
death and war
don’t follow rules
you can make your pages into white flags
a thousand times
but swallow your words, say no more.
Load your poems —
your body —
your thoughts —
like guns.
The schoolhouses of war rise up
within you.
Maybe you
are next.

Somaia Ramish, translated by Farzana Marie from Load Poems Like Guns – Women’s Poetry  from Herat, Afghanistan, Holy Cow! Press, 2015

What a poem. What a call out by an Afghani woman of poetry against war, the war she has endured and now, the war are witnessing in Ukraine. But first, I want to directly connect this poem to a poet who understands more than most, as a former citizen of the Ukraine and now of the United States, the importance of using poetry to speak out against war in whatever form it takes.

In my recent blog posts of February 26th, and February 28th, the first posts in my continuing series on poetry in the face of war, I mention the Ukrainian American poet Ilya Kaminsky. In particular, I mentioned in the first post his critically important poem We Lived Happily during the War. My larger and more comprehensive discussion of Ilya and this poem can be found here from a blog post I wrote in 2019.

Read More »

The “isness” of the Agony of Displacement – Part One – A Poem by Warsan Shire from Her New Poetry Collection

Somali British Poet Warsan Shire

ASSIMILATION

We never unpacked,
dreaming in the wrong language,
carrying our mother’s fears in our feet—
     if he raises his voice we will flee
     if he looks bored we will pack our bags
unable to sleep through the night.

The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus—yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can’t get the refugee out of my body.
I bolt my body whenever I get the chance.
How many pills does it take to fall asleep?
How many to meet the dead?

The refugee’s heart often grows
an outer layer. An assimilation.
it cocoons the organ. Those unable to grow the extra skin
die within the first six months in a host country.

At each and every checkpoint the refugee is asked
                                   are you human?

The refugee is sure it’s still human but worries that overnight,
while it slept, there may have been a change in classification.

Warson Shire from BLESS THE DAUGHTER RAISED BY VOICE IN HER HEAD, Penguin Canada, 2022

In her blood, and the blood inside her words, sings Warsan Shire’s refugee experience. You can feel it, taste it, smell it in the poem above, ASSIMILATION, from her recently published collection BLESS THE DAUGHTER RAISED BY A VOICE IN HER HEAD.

Warsan is a thirty-four year old Somali British poet, born in Nairobi, raised in London and now living in California with her husband and two children. She may not yet be a household name around the world but she might be getting close! And her new collection can only add to her public profile. To see my previous blog post on Warsan in 2020 please click here.

She first became a literary sensation on Tumblr and then her following grew as she became London’s youth Poet Laureate in 2014 but especially because of her collaboration with Beyoncè on the album Lemonade in 2016. According to a recent February feature in the New Yorker she has eighty thousand followers on Twitter and fifty-seven thousand on Instagram and those numbers are likely growing! But for me, I am less interested in the social media numbers than I am about the power and impact of her poems. How her poems, like ASSIMILATION, based on a foundation of fierce integrity and personal experience, give a crafted voice to experiences of war and dislocation that too many people all over the world are having!

One of the reasons ASSIMILATION jumped out at me yesterday was how it speaks to what more than one million Ukrainians are now experiencing. The devastation of displacement. I wanted to feature it in recognition of the devastating war in Ukraine. But Warson indirectly cautions me in a quote from the New Yorker article. It is a response to how her poem Home in 2015 became a viral sensation. Feel the impact of the first stanza, especially the phrase you only repeated twice and left hanging with a line break:
Read More »

The Never True of “Never Again”! To Highlight the More Than Twenty On-Going Wars in Our World, a Poem by UK Poet, Michael Rosen

UK Poet and Children’s Author, Michael Rosen (1946 -) This Picture taken in 2021 after the author survived Covid and wrote a new kids book!


Never Again

We say, “Never again.”

But
when people with power are pointing
in one direction
when many minds are pointing
in that direction
when the guns and bombs are pointing
in that direction
too,
it can happen again.
It does happen again.
It can be furious and chaotic.
It can be calm and orderly.
It can start with laws.
It can start without them.

The people who do it
can believe
they are saving their country.

The people who do it
can believe
that they are just getting
their own back.

That’s why
it can happen again.
It does happen again.
It has happened again.

Michael Rosen from On the Move –  Home Is Where You Find It, Candlewick Books, 2020

After a trip to war-affected areas of Africa in 2006 I wrote a chapbook based on the stories from the places we had visited – Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. The closest I have come to war and war zones in my lifetime. A number of the places we visited have been overcome with armed violence a number of times since. My chapbook is called Again, No More.

I ache to think of the echo of my title with Michael Rosen’s title of his poem, Never Again, from his searing 2020 collection On the Move with its remarkable illustrations by the noted U.K. illustrator, Quentin Blake. And horribly, not the title of Michael’s poem but its last line is once again having the last word: It has happened again. And, of course, it has never stopped happening around the world but the sheer scale and effrontery of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken my breath away.

Today’s featured poem feels most attached emotionally for me to the war in Ukraine. But let us not forget the many awful and bloody armed conflicts around the world happening as we speak. Currently, including last year and this year, there are twenty-one significant on-going armed conflicts listed by the World Population Review. This list includes Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen and the drug war in Mexico.

Read More »

A Love Poem to Lviv (Lvov, Lwowa) and Ukraine! And a Tribute (R.I.P.) to Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021) the Polish Poet, Born in Lviv When it Was Part of Poland

Lviv, Ukraine

To go to Lvov (Jechać do Lwowa)

To go to Lvov. Which station
for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave
in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September
or in March. But only if Lvov exists,
if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just
in my new passport, if lances of trees
—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud
like Indians, and if streams mumble
their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs
in the Russian language disappear
into thickets. To pack and set off, to leave
without a trace, at noon, to vanish
like fainting maidens. And burdocks, green
armies of burdocks, and below, under the canvas
of a Venetian café, the snails converse
about eternity. But the cathedral rises,
you remember, so straight, as straight
as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket
full of raspberries standing on the floor, and
my desire which wasn’t born yet,
only gardens and weeds and the amber
of Queen Anne cherries, and indecent Fredro.
There was always too much of Lvov, no one could
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,
grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered
everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills
revolving by themselves, in blue
teapots, in starch, which was the first
formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns
of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window.
The bells pealed and the air vibrated, the cornets
of nuns sailed like schooners near
the theater, there was so much of the world that
it had to do encores over and over,
the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want
to leave the house. My aunts couldn’t have known
yet that I’d resurrect them,
and lived so trustfully; so singly;
servants, clean and ironed, ran for
fresh cream, inside the houses
a bit of anger and great expectation, Brzozowski
came as a visiting lecturer, one of my
uncles kept writing a poem entitled Why,
dedicated to the Almighty, and there was too much
of Lvov, it brimmed the container,
it burst glasses, overflowed
each pond, lake, smoked through every
chimney, turned into fire, storm,
laughed with lightning, grew meek,
returned home, read the New Testament,
slept on a sofa beside the Carpathian rug,
there was too much of Lvov, and now
there isn’t any, it grew relentlessly
and the scissors cut it, chilly gardeners
as always in May, without mercy,
without love, ah, wait till warm June
comes with soft ferns, boundless
fields of summer, i.e., the reality.
But scissors cut it, along the line and through
the fiber, tailors, gardeners, censors
cut the body and the wreaths, pruning shears worked
diligently, as in a child’s cutout
along the dotted line of a roe deer or a swan.
Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched,
cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses
of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees
fell soundlessly, as in a jungle,
and the cathedral trembled, people bade goodbye
without handkerchiefs, no tears, such a dry
mouth, I won’t see you anymore, so much death
awaits you, why must every city
become Jerusalem and every man a Jew,
and now in a hurry just
pack, always, each day,
and go breathless, go to Lvov, after all
it exists, quiet and pure as
a peach. It is everywhere.

Adam Zagajewski from WITHOUT END New and Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002

Oh, how the image of scissors, pruning shears, are a shock wave in Adam Jagajewski’s signature poem published in 1985. How at the Yalta Conference in 1945 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill took scissors to a map of Europe and started cutting. Pieces of Germany to Poland. Pieces of Poland, now part of Ukraine, to Russia. Lviv, Lwowa in Polish, Lviv in Ukrainian,  Lvov, in Russian, became Russian and the Zagajewski family were dislocated from Lwowa to Gliwice. Lvivi is in Western Ukraine about six hundred kilometers west of embattled Kviv.

Read More »

Czeslaw Milosz – A Tribute – Part Two – A Poem to Honour the Men and Women in Ukraine in Wartime, February 2022

Ukraine in Wartime, February 2022. Photo Credit: State Border Guard Services/ Reuters

Here is the great paradox of poetry and of the imaginative arts in general. Faced with the brutality of the historical onslaught, they are practically useless. Yet they verify our singularity, they strike and stake out the ore of self which lies at the base of every individuated life. In one sense the efficacy of poetry is nil – no lyric has ever stopped a tank. In another sense it is unlimited. It is like writing in the sand in the face of which accusers and accused are left speechless and renewed.

 Seamus Heaney from Government of the Tongue in Finders Keepers, Faber and Faber Limited, 2002

from Six Lectures in Verse (Berkeley 1985)

 Lecture IV

Reality, what can we do with it? Where is it in words?
Just as it flickers, it vanishes. Innumerable lives
Unremembered. Cities on maps only,
Without the face in the window, on the first floor, by the market,
Without those two in the bushes near the gas plant.
Returning seasons, mountain snows, oceans,
And the blue ball of the earth rotates,
But silent are they who ran through artillery fire,
Who clung to a lump of clay for protection,
And those deported from their homes at dawn
And those who have crawled out from under a pile of bodies,
While here, I am an instructor in forgetting,
Teach that pain passes (for it’s the pain of others),
Still in my mind trying to save Miss Jadwiga,
A little hunchback, librarian by profession,
Who perished in the shelter of an apartment house
That was considered safe but toppled down
And no one was able to dig through the slabs of wall,
Though knocking and voices were heard for many days.
So a name is lost for ages, forever,
No one will ever know about her last hours,
Time carries her in layers of the Pliocene.
The true enemy of man is generalization.
The true enemy of man, so-called History,
Attracts and terrifies with its plural number.
Don’t believe it. Cunning and treacherous,
History is not, as Marx told us, anti-nature,
And if a goddess, a goddess of blind fate.
The little skeleton of Miss Jadwiga, the spot
Where her heart was pulsating. this only
I set against necessity, law, theory.

Czeslaw Milosz from New Poems 1985-1987 from New and Collected Poems (1931-2001), Ecco, 2003

In the face of human reality, which includes wars and violence, what can poetry do? And should it even bother? Poets have been asking these questions for countless years. And in light of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia a few days ago these questions are vitally topical and important. These words by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney quoted above give a powerful answer:

Here is the great paradox of poetry and of the imaginative arts in general. Faced with the brutality of the historical onslaught, they are practically useless. Yet they verify our singularity, they strike and stake out the ore of self which lies at the base of every individuated life.


Here are some other words that say poetry matters by the American poet Jack Gilbert from his poem: The Lost Hotels of Paris: Read More »

Writing Poems for Wholeness and Self-Discovery – A Richard Osler On-Line Session with Huge Thanks to Micheline Maylor and Mount Royal University – February 16th, 6:30 Pm Mountain Time

Upcoming On-Line Generative Poetry Session through Mount Royal University – February 16th, 6:30 PM Mountain Standard Time

ON THE TABLE IN THE ROOM IN THE DARK

house lies the book you didn’t know
you were looking for, opened to the page
with the poem about solace you didn’t know
you needed; at first the letters,
then the words, little by little
the lines disappear as you read them
in the light of the faint dawn that trickles in
between the venetian’s dusty
slats and unites you with someone
you didn’t know you are.

Ulrikka S. Gernes, trans. Patrick Friesen and Per Brask from Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, Brick Books, 2016

Tomorrow night 6:30 to 8:30 PM MST (5:30 to 7:30 PST) I will be facilitating a two hour on-line generative poetry retreat as described in the brochure above! This retreat is being sponsored by Mount Royal University in Calgary. Huge thanks to poet, editor, university teacher and former Calgary Poet Laureate, Micheline Maylor, for this invitation. The retreat is free and I am hoping it will be a lot of fun in the serious and revealing way writing new poems can be! To register please click here.

I have showcased the Ulrikka Gernes poem above from her 2016 Griffin-prize short-listed poetry collection above because I think it explains not only what can be revealed to us when we write a poem but what can be revealed to us when we write one. These can be equally surprising surprises! My most impactful poems seem to write me and not the other way around.  What a concept: that reading a poem, as Gernes says: unites you with someone/ you didn’t know you are. And I would add that writing a poem can unite you with someone you didn’t know you were or who didn’t remember you were!

I think of the retreat as a concert in words: the singing out of the words in the poems I share and in the two poems each participants will be invited to write! Some of the poets whose poems I will be sharing include Greg Orr, Gwendolyn MacEwan, Katie Farris, Patrick Lane, Caitlin Maude, Jelaluddin Rumi, Nazim Hikmet and Danez Smith.
Read More »

A Tail of Two Poems – A Reflection on the Search for Eternal Truths in the Poetry of the Nobel Prize Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

Lithuanian Polish Nobel Prize Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

5. Earth Again

They are incomprehensible, the things of this earth.
The lure of waters. The lure of fruits.
Lure of two breasts and the long hair of a maiden.
In rouge, in vermillion, in that color of ponds
Found only in the Green Lakes near Wilno.
An ungraspable multitudes swarm, come together
In the crinkles of tree bark, in the telescope’s eye,
For an endless wedding,
For the kindling of eyes, for a sweet dance
In the elements of air, sea, earth, and subterranean caves,
So that for a short moment there is no death
And time does not unreel like a skein of yarn
Thrown into an abyss.

Czeslaw Milosz from The Garden of Earthly Delights in Unattainable Earth (1986) in New and Collected Poems (1931-2001), Ecco, 2003

To capture moments, dear particulars, out of the flux of time and in that attention does something mysterious, or more specifically something of the lasting, the eternal, enter in?

So that for a short moment there is no death
And time does not unreel like a skein of yarn
Thrown into an abyss.

I ask this especially after spending many hours reading the poems of the Lithuanian Polish Nobel prize Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. And here, a huge shout out to the U.S. Community of Writers  and its director, Brett Hall Jones, for hosting a six week series of Milosz facilitated by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert (Bob) Hass. Third session, tomorrow! More than two hundred participants and some of them recognizable and noted Milosz translators and scholars.

This longing  of Milosz above does not take away his rigorous attention to everyday life as you see so wonderfully in his poem Earth Again, above. To the sensuous particulars of life. What the Nobel Prize Committee celebrated him for. It seems this is his way of trying to honour and make sense of human life where we all vanish. Who will remember us?  This becomes his job as a poet. The job of artists as he says in these lines from the long poem IV Natura, in his 1957 volume, A Treatise on Poetry: In sculptures and canvases our individuality/ Manages to survive. In Nature it perishes.

He seems to see two polarities in life and his struggle is to find a middle, I think. He defines these polarities in his remarkable long poem III The Spirit of History in his 1957 volume, A Treatise on Poetry.

In a dream the mind visits two sharp edges.
Woe to the unearthly, the radiant ones,
While storming heaven, they neglect the Earth
With its joy and warmth and animal strength.
Woe to the reasonable, the heavy-minded.
Their lies will  extinguish the morning star
A gift more durable than Nature is, or death.

Milosz, a man who says he was torn between wanting to be lost in endless contemplation, a radiant one, perhaps, and the need, to be forced back into the movement of history, its beauty and its violence. A man who seems to seek consolation even among seemingly inconsolable moments of history. He won’t look away. Especially where he had a front seat in such moments during and after the Second World War in Poland. This need not simply to mourn as he writes in his poem In Warsaw written in 1945 where he asks:

Was I born to become
a ritual mourner?
I want to sing of festivities,
The greenwood into which Shakespeare
Often took me. Leave
To poets a moment of happiness,
Otherwise your world will perish.

Put simply,  I think much of his poetry is a struggle between needing to celebrate an isness of beauty and life and what we can imagine could lie beyond it but also to acknowledge a becoming of history and time with its evil and violence. Milosz  witnessed the horrors and atrocities there in Poland: the Warsaw uprising and the total destruction of the city by the Nazi regime. Those atrocities, that destruction forced him to become a poet of witness. Something he did not want to be. But he was compelled to be.
Read More »

Poetry as Devotion, Prayer and Wholeness – The Poetry of Jennifer Grotz – And Quotes on Poetry by Rosemary Griebel and Juleta Seversen-Baker

 

Calgary poet Rosemary Griebel. Photo credit: The Calgary Public Library

Canadian poet and art and speech educator, Juleta Seversen-Baker. Photo credit: The Calgary Public Library

Poetry, in both its creation and the reading of it, insists on careful listening. Careful listening opens a space for the soul, for revelation, for wholeness. Poems are glimpses of wholeness.

—Juleta Severson-Baker, Calgary-based poet and educator who teaches at the Calgary Arts Academy and Mount Royal University.

Poetry matters because it is one of the most potent forms of prayer.

—Rosemary Griebel, a poet and former librarian at the Calary Public Library

 

American poet, university prof and translator, Jennifer Grotz, at the James Merrill House, 2020.Photo Credit: The Connecticut Examiner.

Over and Above

Because I didn’t want it to end
and because I was all alone again,
because in those seasons attention
was my only form of prayer,
I attended the summer rain.
When it pelted the lake like fingers
across a keyless piano, I attended
the fingertips’ perforations on the soft surface.
Inside a theater of quiet the trees made,
permeable, though, at least studded
by bird song, I attended the mosquitos
floating like eyelashes in the thick air.
And before turning back from the lake’s edge,
needing to confirm it still so,
I wrapped my hand around a cattail
and squeezed: spongy and veloured
as an espresso-soaked ladyfinger.
I grew in those seasons, said Thoreau,
like corn in the night. They were
not subtracted from my life, but so much
over and above my usual allowance.
Sometimes I imagined the rain was also
attending me, that I was its interlocutor.
It had been born, it seemed to say,
like any living thing, from certain
right conditions, it had gained force
as it grew and persisted to stay alive.
And the rain could pray harder
than me. It continued even when
I stopped listening, then started again.
That is how seconds, minutes, a whole
afternoon would spill out until there was neither
forward nor back only this other
kind of now, over and above, this thick
haze of humid heat gauzing the distant trees.

Jennifer Grotz (1971 – ) from the Yale Review, February 24th, 2021

I first met  the American poet and translator Jennifer Grotz quite by accident at a symposium on the 17th Century English poet George Herbert in Salisbury, UK in 2007. We chatted once waiting for a bus and she told me she had been a gathering of Polish poets in Poland the year before. I think it was the gathering in honour of  the Polish Nobel prize laureate, Czeslaw Milosz.  I had no idea she was an accomplished poet! And no idea the degree to which her poems feel often like prayer or invocations to God. Perhaps, considering Herbert was a famed devotional poet and Grotz was at the Herbert symposium, I shouldn’t have been surprised!

I have added the epigraphs above by my two friends, Rosemary and Juleta, who are also fine poets, as a way of focussing on how Jennifer’s poem above and indeed, many of her poems, focus on prayer, on wholeness, on paying attention and in that way can be read, by me, for sure, as prayers.
Read More »

To Celebrate the Wonder-Filled Life of Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) – A Poem of Jane Hirschfield and One of Mine

The Caligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh, from This Moment is Full of Wonders, Chronicle Books, 2015

A Golden Shovel to Celebrate the Life of Thich Nhat Hanh

The most beautiful place of Heaven is on Earth.

—Thich Nhat Hanh from This Moment is Full of Wonders, Chronicle Books, 2015

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

—Thich Nhat Hanh, ibid

And the most beautiful breath I breathe in is the
one I breathe in now, on the day of your death, and the most
beautiful Sun is the one that reached the most beautiful
lake I walked by today, its burning silvers, water and ice, a place
never commonplace but especially, not this day after weeks of
cold and snow and gray, its ten thousand tones of gray, and heaven
will be open for gray won’t it Lord? I pray it will be if it is
to be true that heaven is also here on earth but on
this day, no gray, only a sun sharing heaven in a lake on earth.

Richard Osler, previously unpublished, January 22nd, 2022

Caligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh, Chronicle Books, 2015

The extraordinary ninety-five-year life of the Buddhist monk and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, ended today in the village of Hue in  central Vietnam in the Tu Hieu temple, the temple he entered as a novice monk at age sixteen. His last years after a stroke were spent in Vietnam, a country that exiled him two-fold when it was North and South Vietnam. Both countries banned him. That ban, because of his peace activism against the Vietnam war, lasted for thirty-nine years.

My mindfulness practice this month is writing a poem a day with six other dear friends, the eleventh year I have written a poem-a-day in January, and, today, hearing of the death of Thich Nhat Hanh I though I would write a poem in his memory and honour. So, I picked up the gorgeous volume of his calligraphy and looked through the sayings and koans there and found this: the most beautiful place of Heaven is on Earth. What a great epigraph for my poem I thought and then I thought I could go one better, use that saying to make a Golden Shovel poem (a form introduced by American poet Terrance Hayes). Thich Nhat Hanh’s line can be found vertically by reading the last word of each line in my poem from top to bottom.

Read More »