Composed by emperors and scholar-officials as well as peasants and farmers, poetry was the means by which they expressed their happiness and sadness, political anger and courtship.
Chinese poetry dates back to the Hsia dynasty (2205 BC), however the first known anthology of Chinese poetry date back to 600 BC. Chinese poetry, much like Japanese poetry, has gained wider popularity in the West over the recent years. There are several reasons, with the major one being accessibility. Chinese poetry is amazingly humanistic and commonsensical. Whereas European poetry tends towards flights of fancy, wordplay and the supernatural, Chinese poetry is firmly entrenched in the terra of life.
The book Ephesians in the Christian bible makes it quite clear that women are subservient to men. Being a feminist I found this a little hard to swallow during my three years at The Master's College (a private Christian college). I found myself continually questioning things that seemed unfair or geared towards a different era and culture. I always felt awkward walking among women who agreed with the inequality in a male/female Christian relationship.
Once I stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity I finally started to enjoy being a woman. I realized that my dreams do not consist wholly of getting married and having children. Although many Asian cultures practice the traditional family roles, I found it quite inspiring that one of the seven main elements of Buddhism was Egalitarianism. Meaning, women are just as capable of enlightenment as men are. I believe that if we took Buddhism and put its elements into practice in today's society we would only be benefiting our children and ourselves.
Looking to Buddha and his teachings seemed odd to me as a white American female. I found it difficult to open my mind to eastern thought and I kept wanting to argue Buddha's logic with Christianity. However, once I sat down and finally began to really think about what he was saying, it all fell into place. It starts with following the Four Noble Truths:
1) All life is suffering (dukka)
2) Suffering is caused by desire (tanha)
3) Suffering can only cease if desire ceases
4) Follow the Eight-Fold Path
Overcoming dukka and tanha through the eight-fold path:
1) Right thought
2) Right conduct
3) Right speech
4) Right livelihood
5) Right effort
6) Right mindfulness
7) Right concentration
8) Right understanding
And using it as a map to direct our lives, we can only make things better for ourselves. "The 8-fold path can be grouped into 3 groups. The first is "Morality". The idea here is to live a life where one tries to constantly practice kindness and love, and to live life such that one's conscience is clear. That comes from our practice of Perfect Thougths, Perfect Actions, Perfect Speech and Perfect Livelihood. Basically, we live life to the best that we can.
The 2nd group is "Concentration". With a clear conscience cultivated with "morality", we cultivate our minds so that it'll be calm, peaceful and concentrated. This comes from our practice of Perfect Effort and Perfect Concentration.
The 3rd group is "Insight". With a very strong, calm, concentrated and peaceful mind, we learn to work with ourselves, to gain insight into ourselves, to eventually overcome all our problems and all the unsatisfactoriness in our lives. This comes from our practice of Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Understanding. " (http://www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/fournt.html)
When I first looked at the eight-fold path I thought that it was practically impossible to carry out, however, many of the things on there are things that we do everyday anyway. Right conduct involves no stealing, no killing, no intoxicants, and no immoral sexual acts. Some of these may be very easy, and others extremely difficult. I believe that religion cannot all be done for you. There must be some sacrifice and work on the believers part or it is not actually pertaining to your life. How can you say you truly practice something if you aren't doing anything different?
Buddha asks us to focus on ourselves and have continuous self-examinations, and awareness, he asks us to act out of love and have a steady effort. He preaches self-discipline and no slander, which leads us to be kind to one another and ourselves. This is what I want for myself. This is what I want for my children: A society that doesn't long for genetic engineering but a society that continues to better itself through its actions toward one another. It starts with controlling our road rage and being nice to the person who cuts in line at the gas station. It starts with less "one night stands" and more meditation. It starts with what I need to work on not with something I find wrong with my neighbor.
It is possible to integrate this into our society. I believe it is. I believe by offering yoga classes and a class such as Asian thought at the local junior college is a pretty good start. Buddhism should not be dead to America, it should be offered as an alternative to our tired and overworked religions such as Catholicism or Christianity. We should delve in and seek to understand what has not been placed in front of us. We cannot simply accept one religion as truth when we have not studied or put into practice other religions.
I believe that as a woman and as an American we need to search for different views on society and do all that we can to better ourselves. If enlightenment is possible, then we should overcome our ignorance and strive to understand what holds us back.
UNIVERSAL PRAYER By SRI SWAMI SIVANANDA
O Adorable Lord of Mercy and Love !
Salutations and prostrations unto Thee.
Thou art Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.
Thou art Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute.
Thou art the Indweller of all beings.
Grant us an understanding heart,
Equal vision, balanced mind,
Faith, devotion and wisdom.
Grant us inner spiritual strength
To resist temptation and to control the mind.
Free us from egoism, lust, greed, hatred, anger and jealousy.
Fill our hearts with divine virtues.
Let us behold Thee in all these names and forms.
Let us serve Thee in all these names and forms.
Let us ever remember Thee.
Let us ever sing Thy glories.
Let Thy Name be ever on our lips.
Let us abide in Thee for ever and ever.
When I was around 9 years old my grandma and grandpa suddenly got heavily into transcendental meditation. This was funny because it didn't seem like either of them. She was an intellectual and high-minded person, but also somewhat appearance-conscious and high-strung, and the whole Eastern spirituality thing seemed very earthy-crunchy for her.
But it was clear that she was the one who was all fired up about this new thing, whereas grandpa was just going along for the ride. It wasn't easy to imagine him getting excited about meditation, but it was easy to imagine him doing it. He always seemed to be in a meditative state anyway, as he sat watching Mets games on TV with his pipe in his mouth.
The cool thing is that they insisted on teaching us kids -- me, my siblings and cousins -- how to meditate. And they made us take it seriously. They asked each of us to make up our own mantras, and they told us never to tell our mantras to anyone else, because that would compromise the intensely personal relationship between each of us and our mantras. I asked grandma if she and grandpa knew each other's mantras and I was surprised that she said no, they didn't.
Haiku poet Basho born in Ueno, 30 miles southeast of Kyoto
Enters into the service a local feudal lord; begins composing haikai
Left the feudal family and disappeared for five years, taking on the name Sobo
His worked appeared in numerous anthologies; many believe he was in Kyoto studying poetry and Zen
Published "The Seashell Game", which was the record of a haiku contest he supervised
Began taking on students
Published "Two Poets of Edo (Tokyo)" with another poet
Worked as a minor official in the waterworks department
Published "Three Poets in Edo"
At the age of 34, was recognized as a master and a group began to form around him
Began to deepen his studies of Chinese poetry; shaved his head and became a lay monk
Withdrew from public life, moving to a modest gamekeeper's hut; it was here that he was given a large banana tree (a basho tree), which became the name he is best known by
A tremendous fire destroyed much of Edo and Basho's home
His students rebuilt his home; began the travels that occupied the rest of his life; his mother died
His travel journal, "Journal of Weather-beaten Skeleton" was published
Returned to his home in Edo
Set out on another trip which resulted in "Notes in My Knapsack" (also known as "The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel") and "A Visit to Kashima Shrine"
At 45, sold his home and journeyed north; created his masterpiece "Narrow Road to the Far North"
Began developing the c0ncept of "sabi", solitariness and loneliness that results in lightness and intense concentration
Returned to Edo
His health began failing him; introduced a new poetic ideal called "karumi" which he described as "like looking at a shallow river with a sandy bed"
Basho died; his death poem:
Sick on a journey,
my dreams wander
the withered fields
Born in 1118 to a fairly wealthy family, Saigyo was named Sato Norikiyo and grew up as any semi-aristocratic child may: studying martial arts and training to serve the emperor. During his teen years, he became a private guard to the emperor Toba who had abdicated his throne.
At the age of 22, Sato pulled a 180-degree turn. He quit his cushy government gig to enter the religious life as a Buddhist monk. No one really knows why and there are many theories. But one thing's for sure: for somebody with his background this was the equivalent of tuning in, turning on and dropping out.
On young herbs, thinking of the past"During the late 1150s, Japan was undergoing a serious social upheaval. Warrior clans living in the outer provinces rose to power and overthrew the former government, which Sato was allied with.
Sad the haze in the meadows
where I pick young herbs
when I think
how it shrouds me
from the faraway past
To Sato, as well as many other Japanese, this period left them with a feeling of foreboding and eminent demise for the civilization's culture. They believed the revolution was a sign of what the Buddhists call Mappo, or the End of the Law. Their only salvation would come through the Amida Buddha, who would take all those who have faith to the Pure Land or Western Paradise.
This caused many to abandon their "urban" lifestyles, withdraw from society and take more hedonistic approaches to life.
After becoming a monk, Sato took the name Saigyo, which means "Western Journey". For the first few years, Saigyo resided in mountain homes close to major cities. Later on after be became more accustomed to the lifestyle, he spent much of his time at Shingon sect's home on Mount Koya or Mount Yoshino, famous for its flowering cherries.
Mountain Path, Fallen Blossoms"He spent much of his time writing poetry (generally in the accepted 31-syllable style) and keeping in touch with poetry circles around the nation. Saigyo was a controversial character, as many Buddhists disapproved of his focus on literary pursuits over his religion.
of cherry petals
starting to scatter
how hateful, tramping through it
over the pass from Shiga!
During his life, Saigyo made a number of trips around Japan to visit particular shrines and temples known for their scenic beauty. Saigyo became better known throughout the territory during these travels. During one visit, he was summoned to the home of the founder of the local shogunate. After a conversation relating mainly to martial arts, Saigyo was presented with a silver image of a cat. As he left the domicile, he handed the silver cat to a child playing nearby.
Saigyo's extensive travels inspired verse on the pull of the secular world, old age and death, and the beauty of nature. The "Sankashu" ("Mountain Home Collection"), is his major work and is a high-water mark for Japanese poetry. It is organized by topic ("Spring", "Love") with no composition dates.
In the "Sankashu", Saigyo was able to go beyond his previous, more conventional prose and create a new style that became characteristic of the 12th century. Previously, Japanese poetry focused on a limited number of themes and the language was very mannered and shallow. Saigyo introduced successfully a wider range of themes and colloquialisms to the art.
"Frogs"Before the "Sankashu", Japanese poetry had twice reached such a peak of artistic achievement: the "Manyoshu" ("Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves") in the 8th century, and the "Kokinshu" ("Collection of Ancient and Modern Times") during the late 9th centurty. The poetry of the "Kokinshu" influenced Saigyo greatly.
When we flood
the mountain paddies
grown over with sedge grass,
what joyful faces
on the croaking frogs!
The "Kokinshu" style of poetry focused generally on a single image with the remainder of the poem given to the poet's reflections on the image. It also is characterized by word play and, as stated previously, very mannered language.
In the "Sankashu", Saigyo's style allows for a greater number of images, layered in prominence. Saugyo's work opens with an exclamation by the poet in a conversational style of language, followed by an explanation for the exclamation.
Saigyo, who always longed for human companionship, forced himself to endure long periods of isolation. In his poetry he openly expresses his feelings of loneliness. This is why his poetry differs so greatly from other Buddhistic Chinese and Japanese poetry: it has a personal warmth whereas the former is often detached.
Does the moon say "Grieve!"In 1190, at the age of 73, Saigyo died in his mountain temple home of Hirokawa-dera, south of Osaka. To this day his grave in the temple grounds is the site of various ceremonies celebrating his life and literary achievement.
does it force
these thoughts on me?
And yet the tears come
to my reproving eyes
With the moon shines
without the smallest blemish,
I think of her
and my heart disfigures it.
blurs it with tears
Much of his work has been judged inadequate and downright bad, but for someone who wrote literally thousands of poems, this is to be expected. However in his best works he presents himself exposed to the world, tender, naked and aware of the pain of life and the suffering of man.
New Year's Day
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average
O flea! whatever you do,
that way is the river
Issa was born Yataro Kobayashi in the mountain village of Kashiwabara in central Japan. His was a family of farmers with literary tastes. At an early age, Issa lost his mother and gained a stepmother. Issa and his stepmother got along terribly and at the age of 14 his father hired him out as an apprentice in Edo. His advice to his son upon his leaving was: "Eat nothing harmful, don't let people think ill of you, and let me soon see your bonny face again."
For his first 10 or so years in Edo, little is known of his activities. Around the age of 25, he emerged, studying haiku and publishing poems under a man named Chikua, who claimed an attachment to the tradition of Basho.
While studying and imitating Basho, Issa formed his own style by "reaching back past Basho to get to Basho." Or, as Issa himself phrased it through, "countrified haiku."
Don't kill that fly!
Look it's wringing its hands,
wringing its feet
(Approaching a village)
Don't know about the people,
but all the scarecrows
Issa was championed in the group and after Chikua's death, Issa became its master. His leadership was not appreciated as many considered him a rebel and a year later, at the age of 29, he resigned his position.
Following his father's advice, Issa returned home. Soon thereafter, in the tradition of Saigyo, Basho and Buson, he set off on a ten-year journey, tracing their travels. He shaved his head and wore priestly garb. He also officially took the name Issa, which means "a cup of tea" or "a single bubble in steeping tea." He was financially supported by his father, but earned money by teaching at villages and correcting verse along the way.
He made three specific trips over there ten years and published his travel journals. In 1801, when Issa returned home, his father died. In his will, his father left Issa everything upon the condition he settle there and marry. However, Issa's stepmother and stepbrother contested the will and were supported by their villager neighbors. Issa's journal during this time was published under the title, "A Journal of My Father's Last Days", and has been described as being in a style similar to Balzac.
From "A Journal of My Father's Last Days":
Clear ... as today was the anniversary of the death of the founder of our sect, Father was up early in the morning, and had begun to perform his ablutions. I thought this would aggravate his fever, and tried to stop him, but he would not be dissuaded. Turning to the household statue of the Buddha, he began to read a sutra as was his usual custom. His voice was barely audible. I felt depressed as I gazed from behind at his ravaged form.
With my father
I would watch dawn
over green fields
During the next eleven years, from 1802 to 1813, he was involved in litigation over the will. Issa split his time between his home and Edo, where he taught students and composed the bulk of his work. In the end, in a surprising turn of events, the two warring parties decided to split the house down the middle and live side-by-side.
Issa married a local farm girl named Kiku, which means "chrysanthemum". Their marriage was to be troubled from beginning to end. Over the four years of their marriage, they gave birth to and lost two sons and one daughter. None made it past a year. In 1819, as Kiku was giving birth to their fourth child, she died. Her infant son died soon after.
In a dream
my daughter lifts a melon
to her soft cheek
what they look like
Four years later, at 63, Issa married again but broke off the marriage. He married a third time in 1825. In 1827, his home burned down and then in November, quite unexpectedly, Issa died, leaving a young pregnant wife. His death poem:
A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
His daughter, Yata, survived and inherited the rebuilt home, which still remains in her family today.
A tethered horse,
in both stirrups
Field of bright mustard
the moon in the east,
the sun in the west
Buson was born in 1716 to a fairly well-off family. As is the case with ancient Japanese poets, little is known of his childhood. It is known that he lost his parents at an early age. Around the age of 20, he left his home village of Kema to study painting and poetry in Edo.
It is interesting to note that in China, painting was not considered an art like poetry. Painting was considered a trade and a good way to make a living. The Wenjen painters of the Tang dynasty revolted against the over-commercialization of painting and, in the process, elevated painting to the level of fine art.
This same approach was taken by Japanese painters like Buson, who adopted the wenjen sensibility to declare their own freedom from commercialization.
Buson obviously was not just limiting himself to painting. He had always written haikai and used painting as a way to finance his life as a poet.
Around the small house
struck by lightening,
A urine-stained quilt
drying on the line
Around the age of 26, Buson set off on a pilgrimage across the country. This was a common practice for many Japanese, the equivalent of the modern day "finding of oneself". During the ten years he wandered, he put most of his efforts into painting as he traveled, but little of his painting (let alone poetry) survives.
He followed Basho's travels through the northern land of Japan and even made illustrations for Basho's book, "Narrow Road to the Far North." He shaved his head and dressed as a lay monk. He did not lead a monastic life, however, as he had a fondness for drink and geishas.
At the age of 36, Buson settled down in Kyoto. Over the next ten years he firmly established himself as the preeminent painter and poet in Kyoto. Sufficiently established and financially secure, at the age of 47 he married. However, this did not quench his tastes for liquor and the aforementioned geishas.
The mad girl
in the boat midday;
you are the slaves
A student asked Buson what the secret to haikai was and Buson replied, "Use the commonplace to escape the commonplace." Buson, however, was not the most congenial teacher and friend as is evidenced by his statement that, "on the whole, it is a bother to keep up relationships with people in this world."
When he was asked to head up the haikai school of Hajin in Edo, he responded with this statement:
"These days, those who dominate the haikai world peddle their different styles, ridicule and slander everyone else, and puff themselves up with the title of "master". They flaunt their wealth, parade their ignorance, and promote themselves by arranging their students' innumerable wretched verses in anthologies. Those who know better cover their eyes in embarrassment and are ashamed of such behavior."
After some prodding, Buson did take on the role of "master" at the school.
stuck to the soles of his sandals,
there's joy also
Buson's work as a haiku poet truly blossomed around the age of 55. He was the acknowledged haiku master and made a sufficient wage as a painter. Books of his poems began being published, including "Light from the Snow" in 1772 and "Around Here" and "A Crow at Dawn" in 1773.
In 1783, at the age of 67, Buson passed away from chest pains. But like the master Basho before him, his life ended with a final haiku, entitled "Early Spring":
In the white plum blossoms
night to next day
"There came a day when the clouds drifting along with the wind aroused a wanderlust in me, and I set off on a journey to roam along the seashores."
Prologue to Narrow Road to a Far Province
In the early centuries of Japanese history, there was a strong tradition of pilgrimage, particularly among poet-monks. This can be seen as a parallel to similar movements in medieval Europe and in America.
Some of the best known poet-monk-travelers include Sogi (1421-1502) and Saigyo (1118-90), as well as the Chinese poet Li Po (705-762). But it was the Japanese poet Basho (1644-94) who perhaps had the greatest influence on those who followed him. This is because Basho is credited with reviving an art form that was expiring to superficiality at the time -- the haiku.
Born outside of Kyoto, Matsuo Kinsaku was the son of a low-ranking Samurai. Little is known of his early years. However, after writing verse as a child, Matsuo moved to Edo (present day Tokyo) where he worked towards establishing himself as a writer. He quickly became a central figure in the burgeoning literary scene of Edo, writing numerous hundred-verse renkus (with another poet), presiding over haiku contests and producing anthologies of verse.
By the age of 34, Matsuo was recognized as a master and a circle of poets began to form around him. Ironically, it was at this time that Matsuo began to recede from the scene. He moved to modest dwellings -- a gamekeepers hut -- outside of town. It was there that he received an unexpected gift that changed him -- one of his students gave him a banana tree, or basho. The banana tree is a broad-leaved plant that tends to dwarf other plants around it. It also was an exotic tree, uncommon to Japan. Perhaps for these reasons, from that point on, Matsuo (who had used other pen names before) became known simply as Basho. Every hut he inhabited the rest of his life included a basho tree and he often traveled carrying one with him.
Basho's studies had begun to widen, encompassing much Chinese literature. He also shaved his head and began work as a lay-monk. He developed a love for solitude and it was then that his true poetic form began to present itself. He began to combine his influences, particularly the traditional forms of Japanese poetry with Zen-inspired aesthetics.
In his lifetime, Basho wrote well over one thousand haiku and numerous travel sketches of his pilgrimages. Here are several examples:
Banana leaves hanging
Around my hut-
must be moon viewing
Listen! A frog
jumping into the stillness
of an ancient pond!
On the dead limb
squats a crow-
Skylark on moor-
how many under
the pine-tree Law?
Four temple gates-
under one moon,
and plumb scent
The crane's legs
have gotten shorter
in the spring rain
behind the mirror
all day the gate-
I herald dawn
It's not like anything
they compare it to-
the summer moon
rice field, ocean,
Not one traveler
braves this road-
Squalls shake the Basho
night my basin echoes rain
All through the night
I listened to the autumn wind
in the lonely hills
Ah me! What a time
to rain-the night of Harvest Moon.
Oh, fickle northern clime!
Sadly, I part from you-
like a clam torn from its shell,
I go, and autumn too.
First winter rain-
I plod on,
Traveler, my name
Sparrows in eaves,
mice in ceiling-
Reeling with sake
and cherry blossoms,
a sworded woman in hatori
Boozy on blossoms-
in a world of one color
the sound of wind
A snowy morning-
chewing on dried salmon
Much is known of life as a poet as his followers took care to record as much about Basho has they could. They sensed his mastery. And in his last nine years of his life he experienced his most fertile period as a poet.
During this period, he also began his period of life on the road. He gave up virtually all his possessions and took to countryside of Japan. He kept record of his travels in what he called his "sketchbooks". These included everything from direct recordings of the day's events, to haiku composed along the way, to fictionalized stories that he thought of as he traveled.
Basho achieved a realization during his travels, a satori where he sensed muga, which is the elimination of the self and the absorption of the self into what one is writing about. Of course, the master himself put it best. One of his disciples, Doho, wrote: "The master said, 'Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo stalk from a bamboo stalk.'"
Basho taught that the poet should always detach the mind from the self and enter the object, "sharing its delicate life and feelings."
Each time Basho set off on a pilgrimage he would sell all he had, fully expecting that each trip would be his last. He referred to it as setting off into eternity. But each time he returned safely, with sketchbooks full of newly composed haiku and travel stories. And each time he returned, his disciples would provide him with a home that included basho trees planted in the garden.
In 1694, Basho truly set off into eternity, this time on a trip to Japan's southwestern provinces. He grew gravely ill shortly into his trip and died of dysentery at the ripe old age of 50. He was buried in a temple at Otsu overlooking the lake he loved to gaze at, Lake Biwa.
This was his final haiku, written for the friends he was staying with at the time of his death:
Sick on a journey-
Over parched fields
Dreams wander on
A detailed Basho lifeline is here.
During the Heian period of Japanese culture (700-1100), it was a social requirement to be able to instantly recognize, appreciate and recite Japanese and Chinese poetry. It was around this period that short forms of poetry (tanka) grew in popularity over long forms of poetry (choka). The rigid lifestyles of the time carried over into art; every poem had to have a specific form. The approved form was the 5-7-5 triplet followed by a couplet of seven syllables (this was the Japanese equivalent to the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare's England).
From this form developed the renga (linked verse) and the kusari-no-renga (chains of linked verse). These forms were used almost as parlor games for the elite. However, in the mid-sixteenth century there began a rise in "peasant" poetry. It was then that Japanese poetry underwent a rebirth in which the staid forms of the past were replaced with a lighter, airier tone. This new form was called haikai and was later named renku.
Haikai consisted of a beginning triplet called a hokku. The hokku was considered the most important part of the poem. It had two principal requirements: a seasonal word (kireji) and a "cutting word" or exclamation.
The poet Basho infused a new sensibility and sensitivity to this form in the late seventeenth century. He transformed the poetics and turned the hokku into an independent poem, later to be known as haiku. Basho's work focused around the concept of karumi (a feeling of lightness) -- so much so that he abandoned the traditional syllabic limitations to achieve it.
In "On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho", Lucien Stryk wrote:
"Basho's mature haiku style, Shofu, is known not only for karumi, but also for two other Zen-inspired aesthetic ideals: sabi and wabi. Sabi implies contented solitariness, and in Zen is associated with early monastic experience, when a high degree of detachment is cultivated. Wabi can be described as the spirit of poverty, an appreciation of the commonplace, and is perhaps most fully achieved in the tea ceremony, which, from the simple utensils used in the preparation of the tea to the very structure of the tea hut, honours the humble."
Basho also was one of the earliest proponents of spontaneous prose. He believed in and preached the concept of Shasei (on-the-spot composition and tracing the subject to its origin). To give an idea of his influence, a contemporary school of haiku, Tenro, is popular all over Japan. It includes some two thousand members all over the country who meet at designated temples to write as many one hundred haiku a day. The goal is to attempt to enter objects and share the "delicate life and feelings."
Since the time of Basho, the history of haiku mirrors the Zen ideal that it oftentimes relates. While it has gone through many transformations, developments, and revisions, good haiku today is surprisingly similar as to when Basho developed the form in the seventeenth century.
So what should haiku accomplish? What should it provide the reader? According to the classic haiku poets of Japan, haiku should present the reader with an observation of a natural, commonplace event, in the simplest words, without verbal trickery. The effect of haiku is one of "sparseness". It's a momentary snatch from time's flow, crystallized and distilled. Nothing more.
Of all the forms of poetry, haiku perhaps is the most demanding of the reader. It demands the reader's participation because haiku merely suggests something in the hopes that the reader will find "a glimpse of hitherto unrecognized depths in the self." Without a sensitive audience, haiku is nothing.
There is a growing tradition of western Haiku, and Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac have brought about a new awareness of the possibility of modern Haiku.
It took me a while to figure out how to memorialize William S. Burroughs.
There's something about Burroughs that makes words seem ridiculous, especially trite sentimental words about death. This is the writer, after all, who'd coined the phrase "Language is a virus." When Burroughs' fellow Beat writer Allen Ginsberg died a few months earlier, the emotional response flowed easily, as Ginsberg's own literary style was warm and highly personal. With Burroughs it would be more tricky.
I had gathered a few pieces that I wanted to work with. The first was the transcript of a telephone interview conducted by poet and Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, which Lee had sent me along with three surprisingly great photos he'd taken when visiting Burroughs at his home in Kansas. The second two were short tributes I'd solicited from two writers who'd known Burroughs personally, Robert Creeley and Carolyn Cassady -- not because the pairing of these two people had any special significance in the life of Burroughs, but mainly because I happened to know both their e-mail addresses. Carolyn Cassady's reply was extremely curt and not very complimentary to Burroughs, but I considered her point of view as valid as any other, and it did not seem unfitting that there should be some divisiveness within a memorial to this highly controversial personality.
The fourth piece is, I think, the most remarkable: a personal account of the Tibetan/Egyptian-inspired after-death ceremony, a bardo, conducted by Burroughs' closest friends and partners shortly after his death. This was written by Patricia Elliott, who'd been Burroughs' close friend, and who originally posted it to the BEAT-L internet mailing list.
Unsure how to make these pieces fit together, I finally decided to follow Burroughs' own example and give up on trying to
reconcile the individual parts. Burroughs had found meaning in the "cut-up" style of writing, in which sentences and paragraphs from various sources are spliced together intuitively but not logically, often revealing hidden meanings within. Getting into the spirit, I took inspiration from his title "Naked Lunch" and Ginsberg's related title "Reality Sandwiches" and decided to call this whole project "Sliced Bardo". That's it, and here it is.
As James Grauerholz says in the final section, facing the fire: Let's burn it.
"Give the director a serpent deflector
a mudrat detector, a ribbon reflector
a cushion convector, a picture of nectar
a viral dissector, a hormone collector
what ever you do, take care of your shoes"
-- Phish, "Cavern"
"If I don't explain what you want to know
You can tell me all about it at the next Bardo"
-- David Bowie, "Quicksand"
Many thanks to Lee Ranaldo, Robert Creeley, Carolyn Cassady and Patricia Elliott.