Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reactions to Watts on Writing: a Reader Generated Post

I'd like to begin this post with a big thanks to all who regularly read and to those who contribute via the comments and emails. I think what follows will speak to how fine those contributions are.

In a recent post, I quoted Alan Watts on advice to writers, with a tip o' the hat to Neil Gaiman. Reader reaction to the post was every bit as interesting as the quote itself, setting off a cascade of reaction that expanded and clarified some thought.

I also received a question from San Francisco via Scotland (thanks, Rita!) as to whether Watts really said this at all. As I've not been able to independently verify, I've sent a query off to Mr. Gaiman. We'll see.

If anyone else can confirm or refute, that would be just great.

Always so much harder to prove something didn't happen than it did, said the librarian to the world.

Ed pointed to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones as another essential source of writing wisdom/inspiration. Here is a set of quotes from Goldberg on GoodReads that speak to the point.

Aditya conjures this great Charles Bukowski quote:

Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: "Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: 'What do you do? How do you write, create?' You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: 'not' to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."

Donna sent along this wonder full lecture of Watts on Haiku:

And Pat remembers a great poem by Gary Snyder:

How Poetry Comes to Me
It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

Lyle has both a favorite Watts quote and a great Bukowski ancedote, the latter in reaction to Aditya's comment:

One of my favorite Alan Watts quotes, a very brief one, is a quick moment from an interview with Robert Wilson, given at the front of an edition of Zen and the Beat Way. The snippet of dialogue goes as follows:

Robert Wilson: What is Zen?

Alan Watts: [Soft chuckling.]

Robert Wilson: Would you care to enlarge on that?

Alan Watts: [Loud laughing.]

And the Buk:

The item in one of the other comments here about Charles Bukowski ("Don't try") brought to mind another Bukowski moment, of sorts -- in The Poet Exposed (a book of photographs of poets by Chris Felver, who has photographed quite a few), the page for Charles Bukowski has no photo of Bukowski, only a photo reproduction of a short handwritten note that reads "No visitors," with Bukowski's signature at the bottom.

Finally, Merrill's deep reaction to Watts' "bird flying over us" provoked this reaction from me:

Full moon shadow the passing wing


vain mankind--
idling away this night
of winter moon
translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 128 songs


Michael Dylan Welch said...

For more on Alan Watts and haiku, please visit "Haiku Missionary: An Annotated Response to Alan Watts' 'Haiku'", online at


Ed Baker said...

here is my advice / method:

turn your inside outside
& your outside inside
repeating (continuously) until both your inside
your outside become asparagus

this method is not as easy as it (at first)

especially if you are a stone & live in a pond . ...

Graham Nunn said...

The lecture on haiku is incredible. Thanks so much for posting this.

Ed Baker said...

to add just a tad more
as I re:called a few moments ago
- like it was 1960

that there is a chapter/section in D.T. Suzuki's
Zen and Japanese Culture

titled "Zen and Haiku"
whchch I've not (re-) read in over
what ? 45-50 years !

I just might settle into his book after I finish this Jean Arp's Collected French Writings


ps.. don't correct spelling of "which" which jus might be a 'minimalist' ;concrete' abstract haiku ?

Don Wentworth said...


Thanks for the excellent alternative view to Watts on haiku ... fine work.


Don Wentworth said...


Thanks ... I think it's pretty good myself.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Cheers, Ed ... and, of course, I have never dreamt of correcting your spelling ... ever ...

Michael Dylan Welch said...

Yes, D. T. Suzuki has an extensive section on haiku (51 pages!) in his book *Zen and Japanese Culture*. It was first published in 1959, so Alan Watts's essay on haiku came out first (first broadcast on KPFA in Berkeley in 1958), but it wouldn't surprise me if they had been talking with each other about haiku (they did know each other). Suzuki, of course, is buried in Kamakura next to R. H. Blyth, and the two were good friends. You can feel the influence of Blyth in Suzuki's coverage of haiku -- a text that probably deserves more recognition than it has generally received for its influence on the birth of haiku in English. Indeed, after Blyth's four-volume *Haiku* set (1949-1952), the years 1957-1959 were watershed years for haiku proselytization, with Alan Watts's "Haiku" essay (and broadcast on KPFA), Harold Henderson's *An Introduction to Haiku* (1958), Kenneth Yasuda's *The Japanese Haiku* (1957), and the prominent growth of Beat poet interest in haiku. The highly influential Peter Pauper Press books of haiku translations also started appearing around 1958. At this time, haiku was heavily in the "Zen" camp (thanks chiefly, I think, to Blyth and Suzuki), a distortion from which English-language haiku is still recovering.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Don. At end of day today I found a response from Michael Dylan Welch on word pond's September 26, 2011 posting of the Alan Watts lecture on haiku with my own extrapolations added to the tea, with a link to his strenuous annotated response to this very same Watts lecture. So, I reposted the lecture on word pond and posted Mr. Welch's fine piece. I then found a link to your Watts posting today on a recent piece you did at Issa's Untidy Hut, in my email, so here I am. And, Watts has doubled here, there, and perhaps everywhere? After all, the title of his last complete work was "Cloudhidden: whereabouts Unknown". I think we've found him today passing over as you wrote in your beautiful monostitch response to Merrill Gonzales' earlier words for Watts. Didn't know I'd be in a seance today. Woke me up! Mucho robusto thanks.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

You know how a sculptor will say he just bashes away all the stone that isn't the figure?

Well, 'tis possible to go to the page and scratch away all the white stuff that's covering the poem.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

A poem by Adam Zagajewski, one of my favs, forwarded along by an interested reader, re: photos of poets:


Poets photographed,
but never when
they truly see,
poets photographed
against a backdrop of books,
but never in darkness,
never in silence,
at night, in uncertainty,
when they hesitate,
when joy, like phosphorus,
clings to matches.
Poets smiling,
well-informed, serene.
Poets photographed
when they're not poets.
If only we knew
what music is.
If only we understood.

Adam Zagajewski

Ed Baker said...

Cid early on was a friend of Paul Reps in the 50's

who was Paul Reps was (as I recall CC writing me) that

Reps was first one to "do" (American) English hakai / Zennish haiga ..

my Reps "stash":
-Zen Flesh and Bones
-unthinking plays
-10 ways to meditate
-gold and Fish Signatures
-zen telegrams


I got tears in my eyes
the Good one
re: those circles of friends

gyring out & out..

there was also a close group
in Europe
around 1912 - 1956

who were also very "into"
Eastern Culture ....

Kandinsky, Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Modigliani, Taeuber, etcs...
(we now call the DADA-ist)

now ? we 'communicate' bad-&-fort

merely & ad nauseum
imitating imitations who imitate Immotators

Mike, thanks for the (refreshing) bit of info I (sort of) knew it

never did hear from you re: that book of mine that you "won" at that Bend event ...

when will TUNDRA be back ?

Ed Baker said...

more than 30 years BEFORE Blyth et al

a writer moved to Japan and married the doughtier of a poor samurai and wrote much much much about Japanese culture and myths and stories and poetry...

and ws, most likely the "plinth" that these guys stood upon

Lafcadio Hearn who moved to Japan (Tokyo) in 1890 or before... taught English for $$$ income and, during a very cold winter spell
married a Japanese girl to stay warm ! He ws even adopted by a Japanese family

I'm sure that everyone interested in japanese literature & etcs who went to Japan knew Hearn.

bypass your Google Search and go directly to :
The Selected Writings of Lafcadio Hearn

Malcolm Cowley (no 'slouch' either) did a terrific introduction to Hearn & his writings)

check out LH's Kwaidan & his Japan : Stories of Japanese Life

most of his writings re: Japan ... published around / in that 1895-1902 range....

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks again very much for the big picture context. I really appreciate it very much.

You would not throw out all thoughts of Zen influencing haiku, just restore a balance?

Or am I wrong in that assumption.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Yes, you started all this going (a second tip o' the hat your way). I'm reading Suzuki now (Zen and Japanese Culture) in conjunction with a reading group I'm in that is taking on Blyth's 4 volume haiku set.

A group seance - a fine analogy to life there, sort of are we a parcel of butterflies dreaming we are people ...

Happy you liked the monostitch.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


There is a poem inside that poem ...


Ed Baker said...

ah ..... yes . "just restore the balance" ?

that "balance" be-ing (only) two elements as all art,
poetry, nature, etc

are made up of only two elements :

the inside and the outside.
where content / essence creates-determines .... form


if only this full moon could (unconditionally) read this poem/metaphor which 're:guards' her :

full moon
this lust

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


More big picture POV and also very much appreciated. Thanks for all and particularly for Cor on Hearn. Just great.

Will have to dust of my Reps - never any dust on the Hearn!


Michael Dylan Welch said...

No, Don, I wouldn't throw out all thoughts of Zen influencing haiku (in fact, it's vital to its aesthetics and history), but would want more of a balance. Blyth over-Zenned haiku, and Watts and Suzuki contributed to it, as did the Beats, so I do believe thinking of haiku as a "Zen art" is a "distortion" of haiku. But many so-called Zen aspects of haiku (simplicity, suchness, etc.) are part of its appeal to me. Nevertheless, my perspective is that calling contemporary haiku a Zen poem is like saying sonnets are Christian. Of course not.

I'm now (re)reading D. T. Suzuki's writing on haiku. Paul Reps is also a favourite, and yes, one of the haiku pioneers (also in haiga), but he also wrote many short pieces that are not haiku, and never differentiated between them. Wonderful spirit, wonderful poems, but Reps leaves the reader to decide, if at all, whether a poem is a haiku or not.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Michael - I had a feeling that was your perspective. I just put the volume with Suzuki on haiki on hold at the library.

Great to have this extended discussion from multiple points of view. Something new each day ...

Ed Baker said...

yeah ... nice discussion blooming....
two 'pay-attention' attitudes
much appreciated.

now,, we talking' same book ..

Zen and Japanese Culture
Suzuki's 'tweaked' 1959 MJF Books Edition
a re-do of his 1938 edition ?

where-in he adds much "stuff"
check out the section (Japanese) Love of Nature
here is something interesting (at least to me)... a poem/piece by Ryota (sorry 'bout the dash over the "o")

In the June rains,
One night, as if by stealth
The moon, through the pines.

(now, translation by D.T.S.' friend Basil Chamberlain (who I've come across/read before but can't recall where or when)..

Suzuki leads the reader (such as we are) into it with:

"The 'haiku' as it stands in Japanese is no doubt unintelligible to most English readers [ & remember, he is speaking of the 1938 'readers'], while its Chinese translation in four lines [by Chamberlain], with five characters to each line, gives a fuller idea:

'Tis midsummer, and my grass hut is dreary;
Every evening I fall asleep to the sound of rain.
Suddenly the full moon hangs [in the sky],
And the shadow of the pine tree on my garden."

HOLY COWS ! ain't that an 'hoot' ? might as well be reading Walt W (who for want of a proper form rambled on and on, ad nauseum)

and 'march time" in step with the herd....

Anonymous said...

Don ~ I like your parcel of butterflies in a seance. Happy thanks to you for tipping your hat my way. You never forget & there's nary a a dulled moment at Issa's Untidy Hut! :-))

Ed Baker said...

here is something.... looks like there is a film/biography "out there" re: D.T. Suzuki :

Ed Baker said...

to continue
here is a bit (outtakes) of that Suzuki

notice Atkens hear/here saying:
"he would stand IN FRONT OF OUR CLASS and .."

and that 8 + hour of filming that was reduced to 45 mins by (who?) NBC ..


that or a similar "take" re Buddhism was done via

Mystic Fire Video by Robert Thurman (the dad of Uma

-this "uma" not being the goddess Uma of my visual book UMA (with the two dots over the "U")..



off to write a letter and mail off a little drawing to my
new 'friend" .... What's Her Name !

Michael Dylan Welch said...

Yes, Ed, same book -- D. T. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture, published in 1959, a redo of his 1938 book. The haiku content is new to the 1959 book, as he explains in the intro. So that haiku reference you quote would seem to be his 1959 audience, not 1938 (and I think the later audience found haiku in Japanese *more* intelligbile -- or I hope so).

Ed Baker said...

et al

not to kick that dead horse who peed on Basho
as he slept in that stable ..


1938 2012
to me


i was born April 19, 1941
(before the atom bomb !)

1938 I was almost "there"

71 years later ?

not ne
cessary any

differentiate ...

nor count any

Poet Hound said...

I haven't commented in a long while, my apologies there. Wonderful post, needed to see the inspiration on writing today, thank you!