When I was a boy, my dad waved his hand across his tall book case & said, Son, any book of mine you’re free to read. In the Army Now – 5th shelf up, 8th in from the right – was one he’d written, still a classic. And there I also found bound transcripts of talks by Krishnamurti. Plus a book of haiku. So a seed was planted & I became a man of letters. Thank you, Dad.
My mom was a fan of Thurber and subscribed to The New Yorker. I liked reading J D Salinger’s stories there, & also the little fillers, at the ends of articles, with quotes from items in the news, with their wry, acerbic comments. That’s where I learned a certain sense of literary discernment. Thank you, Mom.
I feel my life blessed to have been born within reach of living teachers. My first experience of meditation was at a Quaker retreat in 1964 and is still there in my bones. Paul Reps showed me Zen at a little shop on Sunset Boulevard a couple years later. In San Francisco, I was trained in zazen by Dainin Katagiri Roshi. And I count myself fortunate indeed to have heard first-hand the chuckle in Alan Watts’ voice, to see the twinkle in Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s eye, and to dance to the endless songs of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, may their memories be a blessing. My root teacher now is Vietnamese pacifist Zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh and am honored indeed to be ordained in his core community and to teach his in his lineage. Our sangha continues to make refuge for me, as I hope I for it. Thank you.
My father again comes to mind when I think of my dear writing guides. Dad once told me to think of every word I write as if they were going into a Western Union telegram, each costing money, and so to breathe warmth into each. In school, my mentors were Jack Hirschman, Robert Creeley, and Lew Welch, whose friendships endured beyond the walls of academe. George and Mary Oppen befriended me in 1969 and grounded me in the meaning of a life as writer. Later, Joanne Kyger took up some of the slack. Translating poetry from all the great Chinese dynasties with C H Kwock opened my eyes to my gift at this, which also gave me an amazing initiation into Chinese Zen. I continue to learn from my approximate peers Juan Felipe Herrera, Stephen Kessler, Terry Kistler, Ishmael Reed, Steven Silberman, Al Young, and Paul Vangelisti. Thank you.
Instead of selling newspapers when I was a boy, I was taught calligraphy by Sam Schweitzer, the Scribe of Laguna Beach, for whom I wrote names for plaques. Later I learned Renaissance humanist running hand via Lloyd Reynolds. There’s nothing like seizing the means of production of the oldest of human technologies. While in school, Brett Rohmer initiated me into the black art of fine handset printing, and many related arts. My writing has blossomed under the editorship of Nancy Owen Barton, Abe Chapman, Caroline Pincus, Jerome Rothenberg, and most of all through the veterans’ writing sangha established and maintained by Maxine Hong Kingston. And I cannot communicate the alchemy of seeing my manuscripts transformed into print by Guy Bennett, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, John McBride, Jack Werner Stauffacher, and others. Thank you.
Please don’t be mislead here. Everything is a teacher. A doggy’s wagging tail. A hummingbird’s pausing. A 2-year-old’s joy.
After many many many years of study under many many many teachers I’ve come to learn the greatest teacher, the true authority, the ultimate author of wisdom, is the Inner Teacher.
And it’s always important for me to know I have a reader. I do want to know more about you. Meanwhile, I offer you a poem, as a teacup of the ocean of my keen respect and esteem.
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?