Dharma Poetics -1

We feature today transcription of a lecture given by Allen at the Naropa Institute, July 13th, 1982 on “Dharma Poetics”.  This was the seventh in a series of several talks presented by various speakers on “Dharma Arts”. Gratitude (as ever) to Randy Roark for his original work on preparing the transcription.

AG:  Dealing with ground I tried to present a series of slogans that have accumulated in the 20th century which are known, actually, by most professional poets and which have to do with training of attention – mind training, basically – parallel to the celebrated Buddhist slogans on mind training.

To run through them, or the main ones really, rapidly:  “No ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams; “No ideas but in facts,” William Carlos Williams, “The natural object is always the adequate symbol,” Ezra Pound, “Direct treatment of objects,” Ezra Pound, “Things are symbols of themselves,” Chogyam Trungpa, “Details are the life of prose,” (Jack) Kerouac; “Don’t stop to think of words but to see the pictures better,”  (Jack) Kerouac.  “If you stop, don’t stop to think of the words but stop to see pictures better.”  I forgot the exact phrasing of it- [Editorial note – Number 22 of Kerouac’s “List of Essentials” reads as follows –  “Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better.“] .If when writing you stop, stop to see the pictures better rather than figure out a word.  “Pay attention to Minute Particulars/Take care of the little ones,” (William) Blake.

The focusing of the mind on breath in meditation practice leads to a precision of awareness of where you’re at – in other words, at least you know you’re breathing and you can always come back to that as an Archimedian point or kind of an invisible point that doesn’t take up too much room in the mind.  You can always come back to that and then take your bearings from that or rest in that and not need bearings, really.  In a sense if you’re dealing with poetry you can always come back to the place where you are, to the phenomenal universe and appreciate it or take note of it or see detail in it.  And if you do come back in the course of composition of poetry to the place where you are, either in your mind, by observing your mind, or in the space around you – either inside space or outside space – you always have the chance of being somewhere and starting off somewhere.  And if you do grasp it or stay “close to the nose,” which was another slogan [Editorial note – from William Carlos Williams], you have the possibility of at least having a model in front of you that you can be precise about.  You can draw details from the natural world – either your mind or the external world.  So there is a possibility of getting detail -things, facts, minute particulars – without having to… like rolling off a log, basically.  I mean, there’s no big problem about it because it’s right there in front of you.

There is a problem (of) how do you select the detail among the myriad multiplicity of detail, since obviously you can’t describe every leaf on a tree.  And that’s very easily solved by the process of elimination.  It’s whatever you notice is what you notice.  Whatever you write about is what you write about, so to speak.  As long as you (have) mind at rest in the space where you’re at.

But what I was going to get into at this point, after sort of a very brief reference to the notion of precision detail rising out of what you might call vipassana practice of “No ideas but in things,” … are you following the language, the non-Buddhists here?  Vipassana – anybody not know what that means?  Raise your hand please.  So vipassana is primary practice of meditation as is practiced in Zen and in Tibetan style where you sit and your attention is on the breath – you’re following your breath one way or another.  So you locate your attention in your…  or bring your attentiveness back to the breathing.  Just to make a long story short.  Will that do for vipassana?  No?

to be continued 

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