Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stone Buddha by Karma Tenzing Wangchuk

We all know the old saw: form dictates content. By extension, artistic concept also dictates content, arguably in more restrictive way. I'm not much for a whole particular set of poems about "blah," especially if the poems are all written by one poet. Even more especially when the form is haiku.

There you go, my quirks, laid out on the line, for all to see.

And for one to prove decidedly erroneous.

That one is Karma Tenzing Wangchuk and the volume in question is Stone Buddha, put out by John Martone's exemplary tel-let press. Each volume from this press is unique; as you may see above, Stone Buddha is handmade, with a sort of papier-mache cover, front and back of which has a whole leaf (actually, the back has leaves) embedded beneath a thin layer of handmade paper. My cover, which has traveled back and forth in my satchel from work to home, is beginning to fray a bit. Two little tiny ends of leaves disengaged from the cover and now adorn the desk where I sit.

It feels as though the book wishes to return from whence it came and how very right that feels.

The poet's concept or conceit is that each poem is about or addresses a stone buddha. In his short but prescient foreward, Stanford Forrester observes that, utilizing this single object, Tenzing looks at "Time, impermanence, temporality, existence and many other concepts are explored playfully in these pages ..." I would only add playfully, yes, and very seriously also. There are over 50 stone buddha poems in this wonderful little collection. Here's a few that grabbed me and wouldn't let go:

no thought best thought stone buddha

see no evil here no evil speak no evil

----------stone buddha

the wind
not always at his back
----stone buddha

losing weight
one grain at a time-
stone buddha

like everyone else
empty of self-substance-
stone buddha

stone buddha-
never a thought
for himself

In the first one-line ku, immediately the blending of humor and seriousness is apparent. A poem of a mere six words is working on 3 levels that I can discern: a riff off the famed Beat Writer mantra "first thought, best thought," the fact that in meditation the ideal state is to cease thought or break the cycle of obsessive thinking, and, of course, lumps of stone don't think, I think.

The second ku plays off the famed pictorial proverb

and, of course, is once again literal. Still, the literal is the embodiment of the principle, again as in the first.

The third reminds me of timelessness and change - in terms of a lump of stone, it may be only one grain at a time, but like all things, including man, it tends to entropy, no matter how slowly. Buddhism does have a response to entropy; at least a handful of my own ashes will be sprinkled in the garden. We all reincarnate somehow; I tend to lean to the literal and, well, there is really nothing quite like a fresh, off-the-vine garden tomato.

The fourth ku has some deep philosophical resonance and, I suspect, is the one many people might have the most trouble buying, philosophically speaking. Still, again the goal of Buddhism is no-self and, though we are all very conscious of ego and"who we are," perhaps it is a lesson being taught here by Master Stone Buddha.

The last of my favorites from stone buddha takes us back to the first: no thought, never a thought. The literal again brings the humor, resonance elicits the depth.

I'm not sure if there are any copies of stone buddha available if you are interested or what they might cost if they are. If you are interested, try contacting John at the above link at tel-let. Meantime, here's another stone buddha poem I found at Mann Library's Daily Haiku. Click the previous and next buttons for other poems by Karma Tenzing Wangchuk - there is still another stone buddha poem, it is one of my favorites and it's not even in the book.


This week's featured broadside is #140, October 2004, entitled For Cid by Alan Catlin. For Cid is a 7 poem suite in memory of Cid Corman, who had recently died. Broadsides are available for $1 apiece or, for this featured series, a simple SASE. They may also be purchased 3 for $2: here are the details. Finally, enough with the jabbering, already: here are 3 little beauties from that collection:

So still this night
a lone dog’s bark
is swallowed by the moon

A fade of light in tall
marsh grasses-still

water thick with refuse;
nothing moves.

Deer prints in fresh
fallen snow-

frozen scat where he
stood-no path forward

or back

--- Alan Catlin

And caught by the precise eye of Master Issa, that which isn't even there:

bush clover sprouting--
when people aren't looking
the deer eats

translated by David G. Lanoue



Charles Gramlich said...

I especially like the "losing weight one gram at a time." That one is quite deep.

Ed Baker said...

W O W !

no separation/differentiation
on all levels/links

between mind and heart

when these guys do this?!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

That is a good one, Charles.

Not sure, want to say 2003 but I'm at work so will need to check at home, where the presently sits, marching inexorably, one gram at a time.

Jim H. said...

These remind me of a long ago spring day when my daughter was in elementary schoo. Her class visited the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center. Instead of just wandering around, the teacher had each student "interview" one or two of the sculptures for about 10 minutes and write down the short dialogue. The results were striking in their depth and simplicity.