After posting my dream poem (below this post), I was reading in Edmund Wilson’s The Shores of Light and enjoying immensely his hard edged judgements and wise takes on the likes of Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken, Sherwood Anderson, W. H. Auden, Elinor Wylie, Edna S. Vincent Mallay, E.E. Cummings, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence and other writers of that era when American letters were finding a new footing. Wilson, besides his literary critcism, was a prolific writer on cultural life for The New Republic, and he captured the fleeting fervor surrounding communism and its prominence in American life during that era, which now seems the musings of a different civilization entirely.
Anyway, in the book I was surprised to see an essay on Dream Poetry.
Wilson wrote about dreams that produced poetry, citing examples, the most prominent of course was Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, which is said to have come to him in an opium-induced dream state. Most dream poetry is not high art, of course, and is in fact touched by an other wordly whimsy.
Wilson recorded one of his dream poems:
The human heart if full of leaks;
The human head is full of vapors.
The crows disband: the mandrake shrieks;
The scandal was in all the papers.
And this from an anonymous poet:
It’s white to be snow,
It’s cold to be ice,
It’s windy to blow,
And it’s nice to be nice.
And one by E.M. Forster:
I will put down Hastings, you shall see
Companion to India as a boat gnawed.
Forster’s is closer to most dream poetry, I think, in which the dreamer feels that the “as a boat gnawed” is touched by genius, only to awaken, recall the words, and shake his head in wonderment.
I wish Wittgenstein would have taken an interest in this phenomenon of language produced in a dream, rather than action stories, states of feelings, fantasies, etc.
Riding the Wind
In my dream
you gave me your
Book of Poems
“Read this one:”
The wind was Love
and what the was was
Well, yes – exactly – that is the problem.
All travelers experience it
at each step on the Way. Is it
here, there, up, down,
backwards, forwards, all around,
or somewhere else? How are we to know,
if it doesn’t tell us so?
We all have our maps, but they are the
artifacts rubbing our noses in it.
My worn map I drew myself. I traced
a line from Birchman Street in Fort Worth
through dark caves as a Boy Scout, to Saigon
(and flowing dresses) to Ubon and
Thailand’s temples to Third Street in Denton –
a college town – to Dallas (there’s the dead president)
to Arlington to Thailand again and Laddawan – to Denton
(the college town again) to Waco – a crazy town –
to Alpine and the airy Big Bend where I met and lost
so many friends, to here and now in Chiang Mai.
Ok, just breathe deep and let go.
That’s as close as I can get to it.
I found your clear, plastic ruler
between the pages of a book
I bought for $2. Oriental poetry.
Your straight lines in black, red and green,
the stars and brackets marking
the words of Li Po that fired your mind.
From the margins your ideas rise so clear.
“Do nothing – not nothing to do.”
Text and notes joining here and now
in my mind, measuring, marking
studying the way Li Po and you and me
joined mind to Mind.
It’s a matter of matter or so one thinks.
The half-full bowl and emptiness
are not one or the other.
Everything is like that.
Old babbling songbirds said it too.
If you want to know the Old Bowl,
know the songbird’s silence.
Red Pine, aka Bill Porter, has a couple of new books underway in various stages of completion. An article in the New York Review of Books runs down his latest activities, including the receipt of a Guggenheim grant, which is so well deserved.
In the NYRB article, he was asked by a Chinese man to explain what is Zen:
“Zen is like a cup of tea,” he replied “On one level you can see the teacup and you can admire it. You can look at the tea and admire it and its flavor. But then you have to drink it. When you drink it you have the real cup of tea. But what is it? It’s gone: it’s the memory of the taste, the sensation in your mouth.
“China has a great Olympics program but not everyone in China should train for six hours a day. Likewise, being a hermit is not for everyone. It’s like spiritual graduate school.
“You spend most of your time chopping firewood and hauling water. This becomes part of your practice. Many people go in the spring and leave in the autumn. They don’t have the spiritual practice to sustain them during the winter.
“A man, somewhat perplexed, stood up: “You are a westerner, of course, and in the United States Christianity is the main religion. But you practice Buddhism. Can you explain why?”
“Porter paused for a few seconds, sensing that the man might be one of China’s burgeoning ranks of Christians. Then he said, “Christianity asks you to believe in things that you can’t see: that there’s a god, that he had a son and so on. In Buddhism there is that too—there’s a paradise and so on. But in Zen Buddhism it’s mainly about your mind and your heart. You believe in something that is in your heart. That is something not abstract but real.”
Porter has completed a book on the Silk Road, and he’s working on another travel book about early Chinese poets.
Here is a short remembrance by Clive James on William Empson that was posted on Poetry.
I knew a cowboy in Texas named Bill.
I guess I wanted him as a Father.
But he was a loner. He wouldn’t drive
till after midnight. He liked empty roads.
This cowboy made moonshine
in the woods, kept a spiral notebook
in his khaki shirt pocket, read science fiction.
We’re reachin’ out from inside. We know there
ain’t no real heaven. But maybe
that’s still where we’ll all end up––out there.
How we’ll be…
He wanted to know where West was
or he got nervous. He couldn’t handle
compliments or prosperity.
He liked without better.
This cowboy was brave,
and knew not to show it.
But this cowboy wanted
reassurance too. He didn’t
want it from people.
He wanted it from the sky.
Minding My Time
Awash in mind time.
Mind’s always mattering:
Words always mattering
in Universe of Matter––
(not really for Roy & Laddawan
and the Thai band playing
Not to mind called self
that’s just the go-between
Big Self is every thing.
Knows like the bone in your
eye every thing’s just co-
existing meaning matter
at 1:18 a.m.
as a tiny candle lantern rises
golden in the night sky
like a star.
I call it A Rock in the Cosmos,
a rock on the ground with no name.
But let’s be real. It is a rock,
not a rock-on-the-ground metaphor,
not a descriptive target: a white, porous
igneous outcast atop a scaly wind-blown
nob here in the cowboy Big Bend
in mysterious Springtime. It
stimulates. Does it recognize
something of its firey history
or the bottom of the swaying Sea,
or a bit of a bright Star – its ancestry?
No matter, of itself it is enough.
Ok, let’s be real, it is a rock
on the ground in the Cosmos.
It is white, porous, igneous.
The rock can never know
the rising Sun, the waning Moon,
the ten thousand waves, but there
is this rock in my mind, too,
not on the ground, and this
mysterious non-stop, air-like chorus
accompanying all this and more.