Spring & Summer Readings & Workshops

READINGS

 TEACHING

 

Reincarnated in the Same Body

photoI’m not that interested in whether reincarnation is “real.” As in the romantic ideations of former lives people spin that in some way propagate a wish for how they’d prefer their present life to be, i.e. “In my former life I was a ____________.”  Or, as a way of wiggling out of perceived shortcomings on this round – a get-out-of-jail-free card for the future, “Maybe I will be reincarnated as a ______________.”

I find it much more compelling to think of reincarnation as a system that reminds us that we’re constantly living and dying every day: dying, foregoing, surrendering, exfoliating, yielding, giving over, and, simultaneously, being delivered, renovated, refurbished, dumped off the bus, restored, redeemed, renewed – however you want to conceive of the ongoing ecology, the intracorporeal re-incarnation of the everyday.

Mark Doty’s poem, “Spent,” today’s poem-a-day on the Academy of American Poets takes up this ongoing rebirth, and asks the most challenging question,

“But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill”

which is, for me the main utility of an idea of reincarnation, that each time we’re “locked out,” we have a chance to come at it a new way – “Negotiate, submit?” – and be “reborn,” the encouraging proposition that in our actual lives we have the opportunity to keep trying something new, exhausting/”spending” ourselves into experience, and folding in what we’re just learning: the sporty combination of intention, agency, and manifold circumstance/chance that keeps things hopping.

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Projecting the Sacred onto the Secular, and Vice Versa

Today I kept mixing up the sacred and secular as I encountered each in signage.

First, on Church St. I caught out of the corner of my eye a van that I thought said Healing Hands, but what it said was Hauling Hands, El Amigo Hauling Hands.

And then later, walking down Gough St., just above my direct vision, for Mt. Trinity, I read, Mr. Trinity.  Mr. Trinity Baptist Church.  Which I think is a fine name for a church.

I Kinda Vow, or Ryaku Demi-Fusatsu, The Half-Moon Ceremony

This Text, The Ryaku Demi-Fusatsu, or Half-Moon Ceremony is inspired by the Full Moon Ceremony, or Ryaku Fusatsu, a monthy renewal of the bodhisattva precepts. On the evening or morning of the full moon, the assembly gathers to give voice to their intentions and to invoke the energies of the ancestral bodhisattvas alive within themselves.

The Village Zendo in NYC describes the ceremony as “an ancient Buddhist chanting and bowing ceremony of atonement and purification that provides us with the opportunity to acknowledge our deep karmic entanglements.”

Chanting the Gatha of Atonement is not about self-recrimination, but rather it’s a chance to accommodate one’s fallibility and give stuckness some room to find mobility. The word Fusatsu means, “to continue good practice,” or, “to stop unwholesome action (karma).”

In my own relationship with the sixteen bodhisattva precepts, I have found this ceremony very helpful and anchoring; voicing something so clearly as “I vow not to harbor ill will” is very useful in routing out where some residue of offense might be lingering, and in that room with others, it becomes possible to experiment with releasing into that vow.

My own relationship to the moon has long been one in which I’ve felt very attuned to its cycles, with my own patterns of accumulation and release paralleling lunar cycles. So of the many ceremonies that happen at SFZC where I lived for five years, I’ve felt particularly close to the Full Moon Ceremony.

One night, as I looked at a perfect half-moon above San Francisco, I imagined what a half-moon ceremony might entail, that such a ceremony, might explore the grayer areas of one’s relationship with the precepts, and play with the form of the chants themselves which are generally concise and just a few lines long, and become more conversational. I amused myself with the idea of a speaker getting carried away in working out loopholes and workarounds. It’s inspired by observing in myself and others the way that, as Blake suggests, to know what is enough you have to know what is too much, in other words, one way to be intimate with a precept is lean into it, to break it, or at least stretch it.

I wrote this in the fall of 2010, on the occasion of Skit Night at SFZC City Center. Abbot Ryushin Paul Haller gracefully consented to act as Doshi, or officiant. Paul Haller is possessed not only of deep reserves of austere reverence, but also impeccable comic timing.  I have never been disappointed when I have cast him in a role—not this time, and not when he played the role Shen Hsiu, the passed-over senior student in “Your Box is Full,” another skit, based on the Platform Sutra. He always turns in a performance marked by fidelity and precision and a subtly playful and exquisite delivery.

In this case, what I had in mind when I wrote it was that he would read the vow and then the assembly would chant it back. About a half hour before the skit, Paul proposed the innovation that for the longer ones, someone could take over the floor and deliver it as a monologue. We quickly found three people who delivered Precepts 3, 5, and 7 with great aplomb

Buddhadharma Magazine published the ceremony in January of last year and included wonderful illustrations by André Slob. Here’s #7, “Not praising self at the expense of others.” number7

So here is the audio for the Demi-Fusatsu, or the Half-Moon Ceremony: a half-a**ed, but still whole-hearted affirmation of the bodhisattva precepts.

The recording begins in the middle of precept 3.  The first half of Issho Fujita’s brilliant delivery of Precept 3 will be gone forever, but I’m very glad to have the rest of it all.

[See the Winter 2011 Buddhadharma or click here  for a pdf of the piece.)

 

some inflections of happiness

Thinking about various kinds of happiness for tonight’s event with Theresa Wong at Montalvo  in celebration of International Happiness Day.  I’ve enjoyed how this event has shaped my attention over these last few months.

We often think of happiness as a conditional state: When X happens I will be happy, or As long as X is happening, I cannot be happy.  But what if happiness can co-exist with otherwise unsatisfactory conditions?  That actually feels like a new thought (for me), or at least to think of it clearly feels new. It actually seems like this is a primary key to happiness, to inhabit the feeling in a way that is not contingent.

A therapist once asked me to write these words on a piece of paper:

i can be happy001_2

Clearly she thought I needed such a remedial measure.  And she was right. It felt like saying, I can be a giraffe. I was very much in the sway of some idea that I could not be happy if other people were not happy.  In order to help me write this sentence, she had me draw a pie chart to show where my attention was going. Most of it was going toward worrying about people in my family; some had bigger slices than others. Then she had me lift each slice out and entertain the possibility of not carrying that worry for them. And in its place, I could just say this sentence. It felt a little silly of course, but mainly it felt entirely new.  But my family is from another world, where we don’t say sentences like this!  Happiness is for other people!

Just to say that simple sentence felt like it took some degree of suspension of disbelief, just to try to say it.  It felt like claiming some lost luggage or finding an extra room in a dream. There’s an idea that there’s only so much happiness that complicates things too. But what if it’s not so exceptional, that it’s not something that even needs pursuit, but it’s always there and it’s a function of how available we are to it? This happens on a gross and subtle level.

It seems like a useful diagnostic: to say this sentence and notice where it snags. And that wherever that snag is, maybe that’s where the most necessary work is, as it is in some way impeding an availability to experience.

I’ve been thinking of some inflections of happiness, so I thought I’d name some here.

The happiness:

of a kindred curiosity:

i can be happy001

of hearing your name
name is ricky001_2of ornament morphic resonance001_2_2

of your sister giving you the exact book you wanted

peanuts

of being able to describe something and then see it come into beingchurlish001_2

of the problem becoming the solution

commonplace book003_2_3
of being able to offer help that is actually helpfulCPRdance thank you

of clear communication
does not work

of being awake early in the cityearly morning NYCof this horsehorse2

of a french fold

1074175217blue_feet
of 3D rhymezebraof coloreggs.of a cohortcourtyard three

of whispering & being whispered towhisper of full-body listeningtrieste listeners of working through the listtodo of pattern

Snail 41

of being alongsideslowblog grandpa

of placesheets.place of seeing what no one else sees sebastiangoggles of arriving at a formal solutionfourstrawsof being received 2 llamas

Things I am Taking Forever to Do

As I was brushing my teeth, which may be one of the last remaining unmediated liminal spaces through which an idea might have a chance of slipping, I had this idea of renaming the categories on my website to things that are more accurate and reflect more of my actual work. For example, a category called “things I am taking forever to do.” In this category (which constitutes the bulk of my work) of course, is in fact my website itself, so it will all be very meta. It made me feel weirdly happy to think of this. Something about naming a problem makes it immediately smaller. It also made it seem possible to actually just be done with these things.

This feeling of happiness is the happiness of the problem merging into the solution.  It reminds me of a time when I was seeing my friend Liz Eitt for a kind of body work to help with asthma. My doctor had casually recommended that I take daily steroids and I had no interest in that.  So instead I had to change my whole life. Some of it was changed for me.

Anyway, Liz had me hooked up to some kind of biofeedback machine that measured what I vaguely remember to be my “brain waves,” i.e. alpha, delta, and theta. I actually have no idea what that means and I am determined not to google it right now, because that is exactly why so many things  are unfinished.

Lets just leave it at that.

So Liz had me hooked up to this machine that was measuring my brain waves, and whatever was going on was not optimal.  I could feel that I wanted to be the best at having the right kind of brain waves but this was not happening.

But then this amazing thing happened. The whole time I had been lying on the table I had been trying to breathe around the wheeze, and I had this sense that this was my own problem that I had to work out how to breathe clearly. But then  I told Liz, I’m trying to breathe around the wheeze. And as I said this the needle registered the more relaxed brain waves. And there was also a steady tone. And Liz said, Tell me more about the wheeze. And so I talked about how there was this little catch in my lungs and about how it was feeling to try to breathe around it which of course made it much easier to breathe. And the whole time I was telling her about this, there was this steady state of whatever kind of brainwaves they were, the good kind.

So I thought a similar effect might come of keeping a running list here of things that are in some way still alive as ideas and intentions but that are taking longer than I would like.  I have some idea that by naming them here, I will actually be able to finish them. Or in some cases, decide not to finish them, or perhaps decide that they are in fact, finished.

I think listing 5 to start feels reasonable.

1.  Transcribing and posting Mattress Talks interviews.

2.  Getting all the audio and video for the Expert’s Mind and Nothing is Hidden talks and readings online.

(definitely a postproduction theme here)

3.  Making an anthology of poems called 300 Pages of Poetry for SFZC City Center. (which is at 300 Page Street).

4.  Making a version of On Growth and Form that is actually possible to reproduce. Here is an example of one of the pieces and why it is difficult to make a book that allows them to move sufficiently.

IMG_27425.  (this is in some way fun, naming these things) Making a reproducible version of The Snail book.

Here is a page from this book:

Snail 42

There are so many more, but this is enough for now.  It does actually feel helpful and more alive to name these things than to carry them around with me.  Also it’s nice to look at something in its unfinished state.

Spring Teaching Here & There

•Writing Studio

Weekly, Sundays 4:00 – 6:00

Each two-hour session includes generative writing, craft & process discussion, and workshop.

  • We focus primarily on poetry in the process & craft discussions, but writers in any genre are welcome.
  • The studio framework is designed to be “free-standing,” and welcomes both steady and occasional participation.
  • The studio welcomes writers of all “levels.”
  • Participants will have the opportunity to workshop a 1-2 page piece (any genre) for at each session.

Held at SFZC Conference Center, 308 Page Street (at Laguna, near Civic Center BART)

More info here

• THE SOUND OF HAPPINESS: A Voice and Poetry Workshop

Saturday, March 23, 2013, 1 p.m. 3 p.m.

SoundofHappiness13062I’ll be joining Cellist/vocalist Theresa Wong for an afternoon of vocal and writing exercises exploring the relationship of voice, language, and happiness. Theresa Wong will guide participants in vocal improvisations which explore how chance creates the possibility of creative freedom. And I will lead a series of writing exercises inviting participants to explore how uncertainty can be a ground of possibility and generativity in writing poems.

This workshop is suitable for all levels of experience and is open to all ages, including children.

This workshop is organized in association with Happiness is…, the inaugural exhibition for Montalvo Art Center’s new theme, Flourish: Artists Explore Wellbeing. Over the next twenty months join us in exploring the question: how do we live meaningful, happy and healthy lives

more info here

INSPIRATION AS A SUSTAINABLE PRACTICe: A Poetry Intensive

Sunday, March 31  10:00 – 5:00

Try to love the questions themselves. – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Stock cinematic visions of the creative process might suggest that inspiration seizes us in sudden gusts or that it’s a kind of lucky endowment.  But what if inspiration, as the painter Agnes Martin suggests, is always there, and our access to it is a function of our awareness? How do we cultivate the receptivity Stanley Kunitz points to when he recommends to poets that we become “a friendly host.”

What sparks a poem? Do poems begin in conversation? In close observation? In empathy? In what we try to avoid? What allows us to “finish” a poem?

This workshop will help us cultivate receptivity and agility  to respond to what draws our attention, and we’ll begin to assemble a “toolkit” of resources to help us enjoy the sometimes murky creative process.

The day will include several writing and process exercises.  And we’ll cultivate a supportive and responsive circle of listening & response for students to inquire further into their work.

There will be opportunities throughout the day to share work from generative exercises and each participant is invited to bring a 1-2 page piece for a 15-minute workshop slot. In addition to receiving close attention to the writing itself, participants can use this time to discuss a process issue in their work.

(lunch 1:00 – 2:00)

Fees:

Workshop only: $110

Workshop + 1-hour 1:1 session:  $140  (session to be scheduled later)

Registration limited to 12

Please email me below for information about how to register:  (Payment by check, cash, or Paypal is available)

Held at the SFZC Conference Center 308 Page Street

Two work exchange slots are available. Please email me below for more information. (six hours work exchange)

more info here

• SEEDS OF CURIOSITY: YOUNG WRITERS IN THE GARDEN

Monday, July 15, 2013 – Friday, July 19, 2013

9 a.m. – noon (Ages 9+)

Apr09_3 077BLURWriting and gardening both invite us to pay close attention to the world around us. Each day in our creative writing camp, we’ll explore Montalvo’s grounds and let our discoveries help to shape our writing! Activities include writing poems, stories, making a journal from found materials, planting seedlings, and papermaking. Students will read their work at the end of the week.

More here

 

Happy Birthday, Dorianne!

To celebrate Dorianne Laux’s birthday, here’s an excerpt from our Mattress Talk, [8/6/11], where she remembers noticing the thrill of rhyme, and recalls being a tiny Dorianne, listening to the contours of her parents’ voices.

DORIANNE:Language is an organic part of our being alive and it arose because we needed some way to commune, to whisper to each other about being alive.

GENINE:  And we also needed the salt passed to us.

DORIANNE: There you go. There you go. We needed the goddamned salt.

GENINE: It’s so handy

DORIANNE: Its such a handy thing, language.  It really is, isn’t it? I’m so glad we have it.  And it’s beautiful. Not only is it handy, it’s beautiful.  It’s very functional, and yet, at the same time, it’s this gorgeous art, in and of itself. It’s just beautiful.

GENINE: It just knocks you over, how beautiful it is. Good thing we’re on a mattress!

DORIANNE: The sound of it, the look of it. Everything about it is gorgeous.

GENINE: Can you tell me more about that? Can you remember as a child, having a meta experience of language, not so much hearing the content, but where you were just like, Oh my god, that word is incredible, where you we appreciating language as language?

DORIANNE: Well, yeah. When you first start listening to nursery rhymes. When you realize language rhymes – you can rhyme. That’s a huge moment, right? When you go, Ring and sing.  Oh my God! That’s just so amazing, and that you can play with it like a toy, like a little toy! We can manipulate it and make it do anything we want to! But also, one of the common experiences with language, is when we’re very young and you can  hear your parents talking in the next room. It’s probably very similar to being in the womb and hearing those voices, but they don’t really make any sense yet. It’s just a lull; it’s like the ocean, again, a very organic thing that’s happening.

GENINE: The hum of your valved voice.

DORIANNE: You’re in bed and you’re hearing your parents talk. You’re just hearing the lovely lilt of it. [ she makes the sound] It’s this beautiful music, and you want to be a part of it, and it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand. And that mystery of not knowing what they’re saying is a wonderful mystery. And you’ll never know what they’re saying. Even if you knew the words, you still wouldn’t know what they were saying.  I remember that, I remember listening to just the sounds of language and thinking it was so beautiful,

GENINE: That’s a wonderful image.

DORIANNE: or more the intonations, the ups and downs.

GENINE: The contours. Which has an interesting connection with Eliot, when he said, about The Wasteland, that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the languages that are in it, you just let it wash over you.  That’s an interesting bumping up against that childhood experience, overhearing just the contours.

DORIANNE: How comforting it is.

GENINE: It is, I remember reading before 9-11, maybe it was in that hotel in Kansas where people were trapped under rubble, and just the sheer fact of hearing the vague outlines of human voices.

DORIANNE: Wow.

GENINE: And of course, they stood for the possibility that someone would rescue them, but just also, just the talking itself.

DORIANNE: Till human voices wake us and we drown.

GENINE: That sounds like the perfect

DORIANNE: place to stop.

Thank you to McRoskey Mattress Company and to Southern Exposure Gallery/Alternative Exposure for their support of Mattress Talks

Poses Release Party: Thanks Everyone!

The Poses release party was so much fun.

Huge thanks all around:

To Bart Schneider & Catherine Durand of Kelly’s Cove Books; to Patrick Marks & Gent Sturgeon of Green Arcade; to Robin Azevedo & Robert Azevedo of McRoskey Mattress Co for generously providing the dreamy loft for the party; to Farnoosh Fathi, Alix Lambert, & Francis Richard for their beautiful readings; to Chester Arnold, for bringing his drawing group & to Tami Tsark, who modeled; to Bart and Chester for hauling eight easels up the stairs; to Dave Grenetz and Olga Zilberbourg for help with the projections & much more; to Joyce Brady & Heather Korn for lending their presence wherever necessary; and Southern Exposure Gallery for support of the Mattress Talks.

And many thanks to Evan Karp took these fabulous videos of the evening.

I was very happy to be reading with Alix & Farnoosh & Frances. It felt like the best way to celebrate the publication of my own book – to read with friends whose work means so much to me, and from whom I’m constantly learning.

Alix arrived, with her customary élan after a day of delayed flights that seemed to come right out of “A Day,” the piece she read from The Minus Times.  [which you can pick up at Green Arcade!]. We also screened some clips of some of her new work and also showed her Life360 piece about Stanley Kunitz. You can see more at Alix’s Vimeo page. 

I was thrilled to hear Frances read from her stunning book, The Phonemes. Patrick has some copies  Green Arcade. Go get one!

the phonemes

Farnoosh turned a bolt of velvet, an uncannily heavy standing wood frame, and some chairs into the Fal’ e Farnoosh an unprecedented oracular enclosure, in which people could listen to and read poems from her new book Great Guns, coming out from Canarium this spring. You can pre-order it here. And you should.  Well, even better would be to get it from Patrick, or some other in(ter)dependent bookstore, but whatever, just get it. You’ll find that you need it.

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a listener takes in the poem meant for his ears only at the sapphire curtain of the Fal’ e Farnoosh

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Chester Arnold’s figure drawing session

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left: Robin Macintosh, who designed the book she’s holding in her hands.

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Many thanks to Jim Keim for these photos

 

This party was conceived in conjunction with MATTRESS TALKS:  Interviews with Artists & Poets on Discomfort.

The following morning, Alix and I returned to McRoskey for a Mattress Talk, which will be available online soon.  And with Alix’s talk, we began the tradition that each person who is interviewed in the series will receive a pair of handknit socks.

IMG_5188
Support for MATTRESS TALKS is provided by Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Program.

FB event page

Many thanks again to The McRoskey Mattress Company, 1687 Market Street for generously providing their beautiful loft space for the party.

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