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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

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Success

Hi, J’Lyn Chapman here. I’ll be with you for the next couple of weeks. On the agenda:

Christina Mengert
Gérard Gavarry
Omar Pérez
Margaret Randall
And another book giveaway: Kristen Kaschock’s Sleight.

But first off: our release party for issue 38.1 was a success. The Dark Horse is indeed an amazing space, and the men’s bathroom, which I guess I was using, looks just like a women’s bathroom; we invented a very pink and tasty drink called the Gin-s-berg* (alternatively, the Gin-sberg); we wrote an exquisite-corpse poem that got a lot of laughs when Eric Fischman read it and, if I didn’t throw it away, will be posted here; we had 11 readers, some rocks, rose petals, and sparkles; and we sold a bunch of the new issue. Which is no big surprise. The issue is fantastic and so are the people who bought it.

Which leads me to add that you can currently buy it from us by emailing bgin@naropa.edu. It will also soon be for sale at SPD.

Are you going to the AWP this year in Chicago? We’ll have a small table there, so please stop by and get a copy of the newest issue as well as some back issues.

If you attended the release party last night: Thank you. We appreciate your support.

* gin, seven-up, grenadine. We want it to be famous, so please ask your local bartender for it by name.

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Electric Guitar Poet: Interviewing My Teacher Thurston Moore

by Katie Ingegneri

When I came to Boulder last January to start my MFA at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, I didn’t know…anything. Even though I had been writing since I was a small child in Concord, Massachusetts (a trip to the Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott and her family, inspired my first ghost story when I was a student at Alcott Elementary School), and spent most of my only-child life devouring books, the desire to become a writer only hit me sometime around the end of my third year of undergrad. After a highly academic, theory-intensive college experience, and given my love of deceased writers like Kerouac, Vonnegut, and Ginsberg, I thought I knew writers and writing. I knew names, I knew concepts. But I didn’t know what the scene was going to look like in the world I was placing myself into at Naropa.

I was only a few months into my first semester when we had to sign up for our workshops for Naropa’s 2011 Summer Writing Program. Some of my classmates had eagerly spoken of the fact Thurston Moore was coming – and I had no idea who he was. I discovered quickly that he is a founder of Sonic Youth, a band I had definitely heard of but never really listened to, apart from the cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’m Not There” that they did for the Todd Haynes movie of the same name. But never one to miss an opportunity to come in contact with music legends, I signed up for his workshop – along with many other hopeful students – and got in.

The research commenced. I downloaded his solo album that had just come out at the time, Demolished Thoughts, and marveled at the fact he was performing it on shows like “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” right before he was to come to Naropa. The gorgeous guitar chords, cello and harp in the background, and poetic lyrics were beautiful, but didn’t provide me with a full picture of what to expect from this Thurston. People told me to download Daydream Nation, apparently Sonic Youth’s best-known album, but at first, it was easier to get into their famous cover of The Carpenters’ “Superstar” (another cover I was aware of through the movies, this time in Juno) than shrieking guitars and unconventional song structure. I would soon discover that those shrieking guitars were in the lineage of musicians that I had grown up adoring, like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

As I had just become an associate editor of Bombay Gin for the next school year, and my fellow editors were planning interviews with writers I had no awareness of at the time, I latched on to the fact that I would be in a class taught by an underground music legend and decided to ask him for an interview after our first class. I had been cautioned to be careful of making demands on the time of a legend, to be respectful and not necessarily expect too much.

But when Thurston first came into our classroom, appropriately held in the largest space in Naropa, the Performing Arts Center where all of our readings are held, he did not have the demeanor of a diva rock star who kept the world at bay. For all intents and purposes, he could have been another student in the class, wearing Converse sneakers and carrying a beat-up guitar case, and I would never have guessed that he was closer in age to my parents’ generation than mine.

As he started talking during our first class, I quickly realized we would have lots to talk about in this interview (that I had not yet asked him for). Yes, he was a musician, known for being a musician, but he was also a poet, who had devoted much of his energy over the years to not only writing but archiving the writing culture of underground and small-press poets. He showed us examples of his own journal that he had started, the Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal, created in the tradition of hand-written and photocopied, stapled zines. The students all received folders of editions of these journals, plus sheets of notebook photocopies where Thurston had written his poetry and various ideas for what we would do in the class.

Here’s a scan of what would we would be doing as our class project that week: writing poetry, reading it into a tape recorder as he improvised music on his 12-string guitar, and re-recording cassettes until the result was a new “hybrid” as only the founder of Sonic Youth can produce: a new experience of words, music, and feedback that defied categorization.

We ended up meeting for an interview on the one day we didn’t have our workshop during the week. Thurston is an incredibly laid back, down-to-earth individual for someone occupying a position in our cultural realm that would otherwise entitle him to be a standoffish rock star, and conversation flowed easily as we walked from Naropa to a local coffee shop and back again, before we sat down in a quiet conference room, the only air-conditioned room I could find to escape the sweltering Boulder summer heat.

During the three hours we talked, we discussed a wealth of subjects tracking how he came to be so knowledgeable about the counterculture, from his teenage years driving from Connecticut to New York to see the first punk bands, to his realization that many of the musicians he admired, like Patti Smith and Lou Reed, had artistic origins in their admiration and emulation of Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. His stories of documenting the culture of small presses and underground publications that exist below the awareness of the cultural mainstream reveal an expert level of understanding and engagement with a facet of American literary culture that few are truly aware of. And the fact he was there, hanging out with Burroughs in Kansas or seeing Ted Berrigan walking around the Lower East Side, makes him a figure with remarkably unique knowledge that would be nearly impossible to duplicate.

Like my fellow associate editor Heather Goodrich and her interview with Vanessa Place, I have a 26-page Word document of the transcription from our  interview. There was not a minute during those hours when I was not fascinated, and there was so much more I wanted to include in my published version. But I had to keep the interview in Bombay Gin focused on what was strictly relevant to the interests I had set out to investigate on behalf of the Jack Kerouac School: the importance of the archive, how writers and writing functions in other fields like music, and how someone like Thurston Moore fits into the lineage of Naropa through his association with our legendary founders and teachers of the Beat Generation, and conversely, how Naropa fits into the lineage of underground experimental art and culture that extends beyond the realms of writing and our little campus in Boulder.

Later on, after the interview and on our last day of class, the students indulged our inner fans and asked for autographs and pictures, and Thurston was an excellent sport about it.

The Interviewee and The Interviewer

I spent the rest of the summer downloading every Sonic Youth and Thurston solo album I could find, and they became my new writing music of choice, as I find guitar distortion oddly soothing in many ways (and always have, so perhaps this was all inevitable). A few months after our class, Thurston announced to the world that he would be starting a new poetry imprint called Flowers + Cream Press. I like to think that his time at Naropa this past summer might have contributed to his decision to embrace writing and publishing more, given how well-versed he is on the subject. I also look forward to seeing him with his new press at the upcoming AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference in Chicago at the end of this month, where some of the other editors and I will be with our new issue. (He is also slated to return to Naropa for the 2012 Summer Writing Program, which is very exciting.)

See our new issue of Bombay Gin for two of Thurston’s poems and our (highly-condensed) interview. Perhaps I will cobble together a more music-centric version of it for another publication. The most interesting thing about him and this whole process was not, ultimately, his extensive knowledge of the counter-culture of the past 50 years, or his discussion of his vast archive of that culture; it was the fact that he, himself, Thurston Moore, is the most interesting object of the archive, containing a wealth of knowledge and experience interacting and collaborating with everyone from Ginsberg and Burroughs to Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain. But if we can’t put him in a punk-rock museum, giving lectures on Lester Bangs and d.a. levy, then we’ll just have to give thanks that the underground is still alive and well, because, as he told me, “the underground is where all the foxes are.”

Here is Ambrose Bye’s video of the poetry reading Thurston gave during the 2011 Summer Writing Program.

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Bombay Gin 38.1 Release Party: The Threshold Has Arrived

The latest issue of Bombay Gin, Issue 38.1 – “Threshold: Tenuous Proposition Of“, has arrived! You are invited to our release party in honor of this fantastic issue, so save the date:

When: Sunday, February 12, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Where: The Dark Horse Bar, 2922 Baseline Road, Boulder, Colorado – our party is in the bar upstairs!

Why: Because it’s an amazing issue, and writers know how to party. Enough said.

Since the issue was created with the idea of “companion” pieces in mind, navigating the threshold between writers and their poetry, prints, fiction, and interviews, and since the party is occuring so close to what editor-in-chief J’Lyn Chapman has amusingly dubbed “the national holiday of companionship,” we are hosting a special open mic reading for “companions”. So grab another writer, dancer, musician, etc. and email agoldberg@naropa.edu to sign up for a 5-minute slot at the reading! Bonus points if you wear red or pink.

We will also be featuring drink deals on a special concoction, the “Gin-sberg,” named by yours truly, in honor of our beloved Jack Kerouac School co-founder Allen Ginsberg and the name of our journal, whose origins are still a mystery to me. (If you can provide me with concrete evidence as to who named “Bombay Gin,” I will give you a free copy of the new issue.)

Don’t forget your ID, as the Dark Horse is a 21+ bar. And don’t forget some cash to get your hands on this extremely special issue, featuring rock star interviews, rock star prints, and rock star writing from Naropa’s own core and Summer Writing Program faculty.

Can’t wait to see you there!

– Katie

Bombay Gin 38.1

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