Monthly Archives: February 2013

Reflecting on Reed Bye’s Contemplative Poetics

Because the theme of Bombay Gin 39.1 (January 2013) is “The Contemplative as Transgressive,” I thought I’d offer an interpretation of Contemplative Poetics, based on my course work with Reed Bye at Naropa University. The following are excerpts from an essay, “Transitioning Inbetween to Open Space: Three Gates of Contemplative Poetics.

Contemplative Poetics, an investigation of perception, mind, body and speech to join heaven and earth, is the foundation for discovering the true nature of being: open space (Trungpa). The practice of meditation and poetry, along with teachings by Buddhist and literary scholars, illustrates spaciousness, to remind the practitioner, “Are you breathing?” As Allen Ginsberg wrote in “Meditation and Poetics,” “real poetry practitioners are practitioners of mind awareness, or practitioners of reality, expressing their fascination with a phenomenal universe and trying to penetrate to the heart of it” (262). Mind awareness begins with understanding the nature of reality and the mind. In order to glimpse our true nature, or bodhicitta mind (enlightened mind), contemplative practices (e.g. poetry, sitting meditation, yoga, dance) enable equanimity as one begins to practice non-dualism and non-judgment. Contemplative Poetics also introduces the notion of human existence as pertaining to three gates: body, speech, and mind (Thrangu Rinpoche 19). Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s “The Six Collections of Consciousness” questions, “What is a body for?” and “What are the limits of the body?” While the elements of the body, speech, and mind differ, they cannot be separated from the whole and lead to an awareness of the roots of attachment and aversion. This understanding is our capacity for a stable mind, happiness and the ability to live in open space.

As we begin to recognize our ultimate state of being, slowly-slowly, dancing to the quality of our breath, writing what we notice: dust dance, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings in “The Development of Ego,” further defines this ultimate awareness. “Fundamentally there is just open space, the basic ground, what we really are.  Our most fundamental state of mind, before the creation of ego is such that there is basic openness, basic freedom, a spacious quality; and we have now and have always had this openness”(74). Ultimately, contemplative practice can allow one to understand the poisonous emotions that rule the mind, and eventually opens the heart to truth.

Poet-Bodhisattva

Allen Ginsberg’s “Meditation and Poetics” bravely calls the poet to take up a position, to explore consciousness and garner awareness of the “nature of reality and the nature of the mind” (262).  Poetry becomes a “probe,” a tool to purify the mind and eventually one is free to “let go” of thoughts. This practice of shedding the ego is an on-going practice that may begin in stillness; the body becomes the vessel in which one can begin to cultivate awareness, instead of solely being in the mind. Trungpa taught the importance of synchronizing the mind and body in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, as “connected with how we synchronize or connect with the world…looking and seeing directly beyond language” (52). Thus, the poet may discover a vision that is beyond conventional language; cultivating space to wake up, to aid in the cessation of suffering. In this way, poets might live as bodhisattvas, those who are awakened and vow to live and work to awaken others who suffer. With the innovation of poetic forms, the poet begins to illustrate the three- interdependent gates of humanity: speech, body, and mind.

Birth of the Kerouac School

Awareness of open space containing human experience sparked the meeting of Trungpa and Ginsberg, and as a result, established the Jack Kerouac School, a ground for exploring humanity, including the five skandhas, or “heaps:” form, feeling, perception, concept and consciousness, which make up the ego, the gate of the mind and intellect (Trungpa 73). As poetry is a craft, a work of art that artists may attach a sense of self to, sentient beings can become overwhelmed with perception, “fascinated by our own creation, the static colors and the static energies. We want to relate to them, and so we begin gradually to explore our creation” (Trungpa 77). And yet as we engage in creation, Trungpa also wrote in “Joining Heaven and Earth” the absurdity of labeling oneself an “artist.” “We have to recognize how much neurosis comes out in works of art” (149). This identification as artist “prevents us from reaching beyond that particular scope” (149). “We begin to realize that the principle of dharma exists within us…relaxation can happen because such trust has become a part of our existence. Therefore, we feel we can afford to open our eyes and all our sense perceptions fully” (152). Since sentient beings have innate “basic wakefulness,” or “basic goodness,” a term Trungpa uses to describe our fundamental state of being that often becomes clouded by the ego, we have the capacity to end suffering by recognizing egolessness, through the renunciation of ego fascination. As we take up our pen to communicate our inner peace, we begin to bridge the gap between the inner and outer self, self and other, and realize interconnection.

Return to Open Space

When we realize open space, we realize the five elements: Vajra (white water) Ratna (yellow earth), Padma (red fire), Karma (green wind), and Buddha (blue space/sky). Contemplative Poetics investigates how the body, mind, and speech return to the elements, in life and death. With life and death staring me in the face, my body aches, my heart hurts, other organs feel tense, and yet, I find the means to breathe this tension into the earth, releasing the sensations from my grief. I can write to heal, I can sing, tone to move the energy through my body, to pay homage to life and death. James Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life” illustrates life as a delicate balance between suffering and awareness: “And someone/ you know well is suffering… I misunderstood silence for disapproval, see now it was/ Sympathy. Thank you, May, for these warm stirrings” (155-156). As I see my local and global community struggling with open space, the challenges it brings, the suffering, I look for the fine cutting edge that all at once illustrates the vastness and depth of reality. As we sit with these intense emotions, and study the dharma, through contemplative practices we return to the fundamental mind… bodhicitta mind.

-april joseph

Reflecting_Reed_Bye_Works_Cited

Please support the journal in which you want your work published. Bombay Gin can be purchased through SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTION, on our website, or by sending a check for $12.00, made out to BOMBAY GIN. Thank you for your interest in our magazine.

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Letter from the Editor: Bombay Gin 39.1

When Art and Layout Editor Brenna Lee gave CAConrad a choice between fertility, transgression, and contemplative poetics, CA choose “transgression” and “contemplative poetics.” And so the theme of issue 39.1 is “The Contemplative as Transgressive.” Actually, the idea originally occurred as I considered a contemplative writing course I was set to teach this fall for the Jack Kerouac School’s low-residency MFA program. At the beginning of the summer, I posed it to the 2012-13 Bombay Gin board, and, as a thought will, it became spirit and then body.

All themed issues are a mix of constraint and spontaneity; the result is a rich interpretation of Bombay Gin’s unique contemplative heritage. Naropa University was founded in 1974 as the Naropa Institute by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a lineage holder of both the Kagyü and Nyingma Buddhist traditions. To this day, Naropa identifies itself as a Buddhist-inspired university, committed to integrating the active life of scholarship and activism with the contemplative life of study and meditative practices. In the Jack Kerouac School in particular, we grapple with how to articulate the synergy between contemplative practice and “radical exploration and experimentation” (as our website boasts).

I think part of this difficulty lies in the necessity to (meta)articulate what is obvious: writing is already a contemplative practice, and, in this way, to write contemplatively requires both innovation and a conscious return to origin, whether this be self or intuition. As Marketing Editor Sally Smith brought to my attention, “radical” is one of those curious terms that contains in its definition the full range of extremes. Its Latin etymology means, “having roots,” while its more recent definition jettisons the term toward “extreme change from accepted or traditional forms.” I find this mongrel term especially fitting as a modifier not only because of its inclusion of the whole linear iteration of “exploration and experimentation,” but also because of the way that path becomes event, rupturing and redoubling (to use Derrida’s description of structuralism).

I suppose I originally proposed “transgressive” to mean something like “radical exertion”— transgression is what happens when the soul heaps “itself on that ridge” of “a self-evolving circle” and then “tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansion,” as Emerson writes in the essay, “Circles.” Western culture often understands the contemplative life as hermetic and isolated, bound, but this issue of Bombay Gin indicates that transgression is the inevitable trajectory of awareness. In the introduction to his five poems included in this issue, Reed Bye writes of  contemplative poetics, “What is ‘transgressed’ in such a contemplative approach are all the conceptual reflexes and boundaries mind encounters, beginning with biases toward oneself and extending out to judgments or ideas felt or perceived in the world.” Like the term “radical,” Reed’s insight both introduces and directs this issue of Bombay Gin, which, in ways we could have never predicted, follows the mind’s emergence from its backgrounds, its conditioning, its habitual responses.

One pattern of note is resonance with existentialism’s pour-soi or the conscious process of estranging the self from ideology and reification. In addition to CAConrad’s insightful interview with Brenna Lee, “(Soma)tic Disobedience,” I want to highlight Rebecca Brown’s “Transgressive Meditation”; Anna Joy Springer’s “Identity as Encounter: I as Thou in Discontinuous Memoir,” which directly references the existentialist theologian Martin Buber; Erik Anderson’s excerpt from Estranger; and Michele Auerbach’s essay on kari edwards, “Can I Do This Spiritual Drag.” Interfaith and interdisciplinary, these prose pieces push at boundaries of self, gender, and animal and suggest that while only the individual can do the work of revealing the reality of herself, she cannot access the truth of the self without also seeing herself in context of others.

The lovely “lyric” pieces (both prose and poetry) collected here also evidence this dialectic of self and other, even as that other fades into context of the poetic utterance. Barbara Henning, Mg Roberts, HR Hegnauer, Chris Martin, and Matthew Cooperman, to name only a few, express “a practice of active attention and direct engagement with things as they arise in perception, thought, or emotion, based in open curiosity and appreciation for experience as a whole,” to quote again from Reed Bye. In this same vein, we are also proud to curate two portfolios with art from Olivia Locher (whose photographs are on our cover), Debbie Carlos, and Ian Rummell. In a departure from our typical design, in which the image shares the page with its title and the artist’s name, we’ve allowed these images to saturate their space on the page, to be fully present lyric spaces.

Finally, we close the issue with several “experiments,” including CAConrad’s “(Soma)tic Exercise: Grave a Hole as Dream a Hole,” Angela Stubbs’ “Blue Ritual,” and Richard Cohen’s “Play the Platypus Game.” These exercises, rituals, games appropriately close the issue by opening a space for you, reader, to enter. To again, quote Reed Bye, “For the creative aspect of making (poetics), anything and everything happens from there.”

-J’Lyn Chapman

Please support the journal in which you want your work published. Bombay Gin can be purchased through SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTION, on our website, or by sending a check for $12.00, made out to BOMBAY GIN. Thank you for your interest in our magazine.

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR BOMBAY GIN 39.2

Bombay Gin is taking submissions from February 1, 2013 through April 1, 2013.

In her introduction to the she said dialogues: flesh memory, Akilah Oliver offers the following definition of “flesh memory”: “the body’s truths and realities… everything that we’ve ever experienced or known, whether we know it directly or through some type of genetic memory, osmosis or environment.” Recognizing “the multiplicity of languages and realities” the bones hold, we can begin to identify the “demons” that haunts us. Grounded in dance and performance art, flesh memory becomes an embodied practice, an expression of culture and ancestral memory, as when Akilah writes, “this text is situated in the on-going work I’ve been doing in performance with the concept of flesh memory as it relates to a critical interrogation of the African American literary/performative tradition.”

With the late Akilah Oliver’s spirit and thought in mind, Bombay Gin invites submissions for issue 39.2 that explore “flesh memory.” We encourage contributors to extend Akilah’s “flesh memory.” Consider the following:

…what the body knows that the mind can’t hold, the DNA-memory of 500,000 years of human experience and 4 billion years of life on Earth, thinking is one way of knowing the world, the other is being…

…the memory of trauma, through repetition and the reinforcement of patterns, the body learns loneliness, self-destruction, body memory is paved into neural and muscular pathways….

… neuroplasticity—through consistent, positive action, dance, body work, we can heal the mind’s trauma that lies trapped in the body; like everything else, it is a matter of practice and patience, trial and error, repetition…

…how has the world impressed itself upon the body, how does the body hold its experiences? what does the body know? how do we return to the body? what does it mean to write from the body? how might flesh memory access the feral space below and beyond reason, the animal instinct and animal body?

We welcome manuscripts of fiction, essays, poetry, and cross-genre work. Poetry submissions should be comprised of 3-5 poems; prose and cross-genre manuscripts should generally consist of no more than 15 pages. Accompany each manuscript with a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply, and mail it to the following address:

BOMBAY GIN
NAROPA UNIVERSITY
JACK KEROUAC SCHOOL
2130 ARAPAHOE AVE.
BOULDER, CO 80302

Please support the journal in which you want your work published.  Bombay Gin can be purchased through SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTION, on our website, or by sending a check for $12.00, made out to BOMBAY GIN. Thank you for your interest in our magazine.

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