WHAT BOOK!? — Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop

Back in 1989, I’d noticed a renaissance of spiritual poetry, going on underneath the radar. Two obvious landmarks were the growing popularity of Mary Oliver’s superb, deepening, nature-based reflections, & Coleman Barks’ renditions of13th-century Persian mystic Rumi. More everyday examples included poems and fragments of poems popping up in email and on refrigerators & buses likewise with the mercy of sincere, insightful contemplative inflections. I’d also include in this quick list the emergence of haiku as the 20th century’s most universal genre of literature, alongside the Blues.

So I began collecting poetry influenced by Buddha…  & then compiling, collating, culling  — like setting up a huge cork board on which to thumbtack notes & xeroxes & hand-copies from pocket notebooks  … then stand back & see how it all  took shape. My range began with midcentury (hence “Beats”) to contemporary (hence “hiphop”).

The garden grew & grew to include poetry by veterans and kids, neo-Dada Fluxists & Zen priests, Nobel laureates & vegetable grocers. Ultimately, it encompassed 350 selections from 125 contributors … lyrics from Country ‘n Eastern troubadors & list poems … non-intentional poetry & calligraphy & journal entries (¿another form of calligraphy?) … guided meditations & Zen koans … arias & conceptual art … … … within a umbrella of thematic arrangement including silence & song … Nature the Original Teacher & ancestors along the path, Buddha & living teachers … social engagement & creative innovation … … … + ( bonus ) a mini-course in poetics by dharma lion Allen Ginsberg ( Mind Writing Slogans & Mind Writing Exercises ) …

Now, my sangha at the time was called the Community of Mindful Living. We’d meet weekly in a cottage in Berkeley, behind a former church converted into offices for Parallax Press (formerly for North Point Press).  This is the publishing arm of my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. ( They practice what they publish.  If you phone, for instance, they stop at the sound of the bell, enjoy conscious breathing + a bit of mouth yoga [ smiling ] … ) Well, out of boundless gratitude, I dedicated my labor of love as a gift to the press, the sangha, and my beloved Teacher.

American Buddhism has certainly been borne on wings of poetry ( from The Light of Asia [1879] to The Scripture of the Golden Eternity [1960] … & on out, right up to the present moment ). Here’s that bird in hand, plus some tweets in the bush.

Hear the voice of the Bard harmonize with the voice of the Buddha … underneath the words … … for brain, breath, & bone to sing  … heart, mind, & body as one.

O taste & see !

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