Norman Fischer, Michael McClure, and Leslie Scalapino were down at Stanford yesterday for a day-long symposium on Buddhism and poetry, sponsored by the Workshop on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.
[Is Stanford really "down"? I guess I always think of Stanford as "down" and San Francisco as "up." Does that make the East Bay "up and over"? Not very glamorous. Maybe we should take a page from the French here and start referring to the Peninsula as the Left Bank.]
McClure kind of blew the cover off the thing early by declaring that there was no such thing as Buddhist poetry. It would certainly be hard to imagine three poets with more divergent styles. Fischer's poems are loose and easygoing, with a kind of daily-meditation feel to them, often explicitly referencing Buddhist practice:
To find the mind that lacks something
Is to locate something that cannot be found
Anywhere, you can have it in your hand
But it will swell out of proportion
Just write a few lines after dinner
Or when you wake up in the morning
McClure's poetry, centered on the page with a vertical, scroll-like flow, has an urgent and elemental quality that seems to be striving for a pre-linguistic or even animal consciousness:
BIG DUMB ANIMAL STATES.
EYES. EARS. NOSE. LOVE. HATE.
REALMS OF BLUE VELVET.
ALL IS SURFACE.
THE MIND-HEART IS DEEP,
DANCING WITH SHAPES
Scalapino's is a discursive poetry of extreme self-consciousness, with overlapping narratives interspersed with metacommentary:
In crowd -- being stung as insult, one without motive, by a cattle prod; when one is not cattle. That other fawns on someone else then. The one stung had been cattle before, simply -- but not now. The person coming up and stinging with the electric prod to hurt on the one who's hideless -- which is as if blind flesh (not being at flesh where there are eyes is the flesh with the prod) -- in excruciating pain there
(Distinguish physical pain from the mind. Cannot occur.)
All three poets do have affinities with Buddhism; all engage in Buddhist practice, particularly meditation, to some degree (though Scalapino suggested that writing was meditation for her); but it was hard to say what each felt was "Buddhist" about his or her poetry.
More to come...