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.”
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