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Walt Whitman: Make no puns


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Make no puns
funny remarks
Double entendres
“witty” remarks
ironies
Sarcasms
Only that which
is simply earnest
meant, —harmless
to anyone’s feelings
—unadorned
unvarnished
nothing to
excite a
laugh
silence
silence
silence
silence
laconic
taciturn.

–Walt Whitman instructs himself in an 1855-56 notebook about the Second Edition of Leaves of Grass.

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The Most Shocking Ending in All Literature


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“How oddly situated a man is apt to find himself at the age of thirty-eight! His youth belongs to the distant past. Yet the period of memory beginning with the end of youth and extending to the present has left him not a single vivid impression. And therefore he persists in feeling that nothing more than a fragile barrier separates him from his youth. He is forever hearing with the utmost clarity the sounds of this neighboring domain, but there is no way to penetrate the barrier.”
–Yukio  Mishima

A Biography of Author Yukio Mishima

Three times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Yukio Mishima is considered the most important Japanese novelist of the twentieth century, and until the arrival in more recent times of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana, was the writer with the largest readership outside Japan.

Extremely prolific despite a comparatively short life, he produced forty novels, at least twenty books of essays, poetry, eighteen plays—including modern Kabuki and Noh dramas, some of which he also acted in—and one libretto. He was an astute critic—his talent rated higher by some than his fiction—and appeared in four films as an actor of some ability, one of which he also directed and produced. Mishima was considered to be the only author of his time talented enough to write Kabuki plays in the traditional manner; a professor from Kyoto University described him as a man of “frightening talent.”

Born Kimitaké Hiraoka, he was seized from his parents and raised by his Grandmother, the only one of the family of samurai descent, who both instilled in her grandson a love of literature, and according to some biographers, sickness and neuroses. Many trace his literary themes and later actions to these early, difficult beginnings.

At sixteen he assumed the pen name Yukio Mishima, a move alternatively explained as hiding his writing from an anti-literary father and hiding his true age. Yukio comes from the word yuki, which means snow, and Mishima is a town known for its view of the snowy peaks of Mt. Fuji.

Mishima avoided being conscripted by the army during World War II after being falsely diagnosed with pleurisy. While a student of law at Tokyo Imperial University he published his first collection of short stories, and the following year in 1944 published his first major work, The Forest in Full Bloom, a great achievement for any Japanese writer as few books were being published during the war. The first edition of 4000 copies sold out within a week.

All of his novels contain paradoxes: beauty contrasted with violence and death; the yearning for love and its rejection when offered; the dichotomy between traditional Japanese values and the spiritual barrenness of contemporary life; paradoxes he himself embodied—his writing was in all cases semi-autobigraphical, sometimes fully.

Mishima’s best known works include the autobiographical Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, regarded by many as his most lasting achievement—he sent the final volume to his publisher on the day of his suicide.

At the end of The Decay of the Angel, the last volume of The Sea of Fertility, Mishima turned the entire series upside down, a single, blinding burst of prose undermining the very foundation of all that has gone before, a stunning plot-twist that the author pulled off brilliantly. Some reviewers suggest that committing seppuku immediately following writing such a passage is understandable—how could one continue living after writing something so brilliant?

The ending to The Decay of the Angel has been called possibly the most shocking ending in all of literature; it was followed by one of the most shocking endings of all real life—an author who vehemently didn’t want grow old or decline bowed out at the very top of his game, aged 45; following an elaborately planned yet guaranteed to fail coup attempt aimed at restoring traditional values to a Japanese society he deigned bereft of them, he committed ritual suicide, 25 November 1970.

“The whole of Japan was under a curse. Everyone ran after money. The old spiritual tradition had vanished: materialism was the order of the day. Modern Japan is ugly.”

Toshiro Mayuzumi, close friend of Mishima’s for twenty years, explained: “He was a man of action. His suicide death was an attempt to change the world, at least to spur it by alerting the sensible population to the inconsistencies surrounding postwar Japan, the Constitution, the Self-Defense Forces, education, moral decay.”

Friend, former follower and fellow novelist Yasunari Kawabata honored Mishima with the statement “a writer of [Mishima’s] calibre appears only once every 200 to 300 years.” Ironically Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years earlier in 1968, the first Japanese to receive an award long expected to be Mishima’s.

His funeral was attended by 10,000, the largest of its kind ever held in Japan, and his commentary on the Hagakure—the moral code taught to samurai—immediately became a best-seller.

Mishima wrote in his diary “All I desire is beauty.” A dedicated body-builder, practitioner of karate and kendo master, he sought throughout his life to make himself more beautiful, and strong. He saw beauty as a form of purity which could also be realised through noble action, and death.

“If we value so highly the dignity of life, how can we not also value the dignity of death? No death may be called futile.”

Video of Yukio Mishima conducting the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra

Recommended books about Yukio Mishima

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Poetic Realism: the film genre a director died to make


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More a tendency than a genre in its own right, Poetic Realism was a highly influential yet short-lived movement in French cinema of the 1930s, a brief outbreak of lyricism sandwiched between the bludgeoning horrors of two world wars. Unlike Soviet montage or French impressionism, poetic realism was never a unified movement or ideology, rather a loosely conceived feeling and evocation: poetic, otherworldly at times, yet committed to showing reality “as it was”—a cinema of life and of heart.

Despite the fact that he only lived to make four films, director Jean Vigo is credited with founding poetic realism, first with Zéro de conduite (1933), an unusually realistic evocation of an unhappy childhood that was banned by censors, and his masterpiece, L’Atalante (1934).

Namesake of a Greek Goddess, L’Atalante was originally a simplistic story assigned to the director by distributors Gaumont, but Vigo transformed it completely, employing the dreamlike cinematography of Russian-born Boris Kaufman—who would later work in Hollywood—and a surreal, poetic style never before seen in cinema.

On the surface a straightforward romantic tale—two newly weds on a river barge cruise who fight, separate and then are reunited—L’Atalante is a masterpiece, for as New Wave director François Truffaut describes, in filming prosaic words and acts, Vigo effortlessly achieved poetry.

Separated from his wife, the distraught husband imagines her reflected in the water. Simultaneously, departed wife encounters horror after horror on the streets of Depression-era Paris; beggars and thieves are everywhere, men make unwanted approaches and her handbag is stolen—persons and actions all evocative of a broken and unhappy inner state. In deep regret she forlornly but fruitlessly searches for husband and barge—shots of her longing for him in silence. By chance a crew member discovers her and the couple are reunited.

Although highly poetic, L’Atalante is also grounded in reality, the director alternating the bitter-sweet narrative of separation and reconciliation with unflinching images of the grit and ugliness of everyday life, a practise never before seen in contemporary cinema—usually located in the artificial and fantastic—and rare even today. The film is evocative of the Japanese conception of beauty, mono no aware (a sensitivity to things), in which beauty is said to exist even in its opposite; that which is ugly as reminder of beauty absent.

Critic Hal Hinson goes so far as to suggest Vigo’s poetic realism is other-world inspired:

“There’s such innocence and invention in Vigo’s style here that the film seems less a consciously constructed work of art than an emanation.”

He continues: “The mood Vigo creates here is a kind of enchanted melancholy, and we feel submerged in it… The effect is almost narcotic. The picture seems to drift, and though almost nothing appears to be happening, our senses are set at a heightened level, as if we were asleep and fully awake at the same time. Vigo moves the story forward by poetic association; there’s a logic to the way in which it’s ordered, but the links are imperceptible. They’re organised by feeling, not intellect.”

Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo

While making L’Atalante Vigo was so ill that he constantly risked collapse, and even directed some scenes from a stretcher. Remarking on the director’s state of mind during this period, Truffaut suggests that “It is easy to conclude that he was in a kind of fever while he worked,” and when a friend advised Vigo to guard his health, the director replied that “he lacked the time and had to give everything right away.”

Due to the high degree of realism employed in his films—often to unflattering effect—Jean Vigo was accused of being unpatriotic, his work heavily censored by the French Government. L’Atalante has never been fully restored from the butchering it received from distributors, who attempted to increase its popularity by reducing the running time and changing the title to Le Chaland Qui Passe (The Passing Barge)—the name of a popular song inserted like an axe into the film. L’Atalante was advertised as “a film inspired by the celebrated sung so admirably song by Lys Gauty.”

Jean Vigo died of complications from tuberculosis in 1934 aged just 29, only a few days after the first disappointing cinematic run of L’Atalante. His beloved wife Lydou, lying beside him as he died, got up from the bed and ran down a long corridor to a room at the end. Friends caught her as she was about to jump out a window.

Vigo has been described as the epitome of the radical, passionate film-maker who fights every step of the way against lesser imagination and sensibility, and he is perhaps lucky not to have lived to see his masterpiece so barbarically hacked to pieces. History has viewed Vigo’s work more favourably, with L’Atalante being ranked as the 10th greatest film of all time in a 1962 Sight & Sound poll, rising to 6th best in 1992.

L’Atalante, together with similar works of poetic realism by contemporaries Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné, significantly changed the course of French and world cinema, leading directly to the Italian Neorealist movement of the late 1940s, and the French New Wave (la Nouvelle Vague) of the 1950s and 60s, which in turn inspired an increasing sense of realism in Hollywood cinema. Many of the Neorealist and Nouvelle Vague directors worked upon the sets of poetic realist films before beginning their own careers, and allusions to Jean Vigo and L’Atalante can be found in many of their works.

The Restoration of L’Atalante by Jean Vigo

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What Matter Age?


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What goes around, comes aroundThere’s a funny saying about things that go around coming around. Usually it’s karma, an eye for an eye and a sow for a reap—the great spiritual law of the universe that dictates bad things for things done badly, good for that done gladly.

But inspiration goes around as well, and more like a fire than the predictable arc of an arrow—leaping, dancing, taking light as it spreads; a force that creates and multiplies rather than destroys.

A blog comment by a reader inspired me to write an entire post in return, a list of childhood memories which beget and became My First Meme, a charming, illumining anecdote on age, meditation and self-transcendence at Sumangali.org:

Age does not matter. Until his passing at age 76, Sri Chinmoy proved that to me. Through his life of meditation and self-transcendence he showed me that perhaps I am not as limited as I think. I hope to continue forgetting how old I really am. I hope to feel amused, rather than bound, if I do happen to remember, and grateful to Sri Chinmoy, especially if others find it funny too.

The torch is passed, the wheel turned. And so it goes

What Matter Age?

I can relate to the sentiments above in so many ways.

At age thirteen, and in my first year in High School, I would at times be mistaken for sixteen or older, not because of my size, but my attitude and demeanour. I was overly serious and “adult,” something of an grown up trapped in a child’s body, and for the most part related to my elders better than my peers. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it is making you miserable. It was and then some.

Now twenty years on and thirty-three, I find age to be a bit of a joke. I have reached a kind of dim, twilight zone, like a purgatory between youth and senility, where I have to stop and think to remember my age. I still can not believe I am in my thirties, and for that matter during my twenties I could not believe I was not a teen.

This is only because of meditation.

With the regular practise of meditation—in which I am certainly no expert, but hopefully an advertisement for: a poster-child for meditation’s slow-dawning felicitation to experience life in the ever present, ever lasting now—I again feel as I did before those forgettable, teen-aged years.

Like a child. Like myself once more.

Musing upon the inevitable forward march of age, I am reminded of learning to drive recently—several years ago in fact—in which getting over the insistent feeling that I was an impostor acting as a grown-up—driving seeming like such a grown-up thing to be doing—was far harder than getting a handle on the rules, firm grip of the wheel.

John Gillespie, postmanLikewise my career. After years striding the streets as a postman—a card-carrying job for loners, introverts and others who wish to drop out of the ‘nine to five,’ or in my case, approximate a wandering, meditating monk, composing poetry while roaming up to thirteen kilometres a day, I exchanged hair shirt for one starched, press-ganged into a pre-press job with a design company, and rejoined my last seen at university, career-making peers on the cusp of their thirties, threshold or over of marriage, mortgages and children.

What a joke it all was. Feeling like a child trapped in a far too big body I had to get head around idea of being an “adult,” or at least its outer appearance; joining serious colleagues in serious decisions about heavy responsibilities and pressing problems—not to mention getting in line for performance appraisals and promotion, a necessary evil when regular, expensive overseas trips to supply my meditation habit—or self-enlightenment sanity excursions as I subtitle them—were a necessity.

Throughout my extended tour of the five-days-a-week world of adult duty, I was always keenly conscious of the illusory nature of it all, of its secondary status to the pursuit of my ageless, real identity.

Funnily enough, and this is a very real letter of recommendation for meditation, I find that people value a person who can bring a child’s touch to a serious situation, a person able to laugh and to joke, remain good-natured and even-tempered when others do not. I was genuinely moved by the extent my colleagues showed their appreciation when it was time to move on from that job—their sincere, heart-felt sentiment running to pages on hand-made leaving card. Not to mention all of the hugs I had to dodge.

In feeling like a child still, I in truth should be grateful to my mother, whose raising of me was anything but conventional—I am “old” enough, or at least wise enough to appreciate this now. Now sixty-five and looking barely fifty, she is a guileless, child-like woman, and as far away from adult politics and game-playing as is possible; it is I her child who has to point out the alternative interpretation of occasional, unintentional faux pas. Her youth-like, light of heart qualities I once mistakenly sought to uproot in myself, leave behind in a wrong-headed, head-strong rush to “grow up”—early, regrettable attempts at self-transformation with a labourer’s pitchfork, rather than the meditation’s gentle pruning.

Sri Chinmoy by Pavitrata TaylorBut most of all, I can relate to Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence—transcendence of mind, belief, achievement and of age. In this respect alone I have so much to be grateful to my meditation teacher for.

Initially self-taught in meditation—I am something of an autodidact in most things; a good quality when one remembers to be humble, or the much that one does not know—I have come to learn that meditation is so much more than a moment of peace, or a silent mind only in a silent room. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of the child-like heart, of living as a child rather than living childishly, has re-invented my life in the most remarkable ways, transformed me in a fashion I once could not imagine.

Compared to my former self, you could say I am re-born.

Photo Credits

  1. Teh Google
  2. Mail model John Gillespie, Post News, Dec 2003
  3. Pavitrata Taylor

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The poetry of death


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Akashi GidayuMostly unheard of in Western culture, where the document most commonly associated with death is a will—a binding legal document descriptive of property but little poetry, jisei, or death poetry, is a poem completed near the time of death; a profound, personal epitaph for a once in a lifetime event—suitably fitting farewell to one’s life.

While death as a theme in poetry is not uncommon; witness death as one of the main themes of Emily Dickinson:

More than the Grave is closed to me
More than the Grave is closed to me —
The Grave and that Eternity
To which the Grave adheres —
I cling to nowhere till I fall —
The Crash of nothing, yet of all —
How similar appears —

Emily Dickinson

or as sublime meditation on the nature of reality:

I and Death
My body saw death
Without fear.
My heart conquered death
With love.
My soul embraced death
With compassion.
I employ death
With no hesitation.

Sri Chinmoy

—a poem written to mark one’s own death, or more accurately, to uniquely commemorate a life lived, is a practise that reached its eventual refinement in Japan, in Zen Buddhism in particular. It was also common in China until the twentieth century.

Jisei by convention are written in a graceful, natural manner, and never mention death explicitly, using instead metaphoric references to nature, often in the form of sunsets, autumn or falling cherry blossoms:

When autumn winds blow
not one leaf remains
the way it was.

Togyu

As elsewhere in Japanese art, feelings of bitter-sweetness and impermanence dominate, a feature of the Zen Buddhist informed aesthetic mono no aware (a sensitivity to things), a conception of beauty virtually part of the national character.

While the popular image of jisei is as a part of ceremonial seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide), death poems were also written by Zen monks, haiku poets, and from ancient times literate people on their deathbed.

Poems were not always composed the moment before death; respected poets would sometimes be consulted well in advance for their assistance, and even after death one’s poem could be polished or even rewritten by others—a deed never mentioned lest the deceased’s legacy be tarnished.

Had I not known
that I was dead
already
I would have mourned
the loss of my life.

Ota Dokan

Yukio MishimaNormally highly poetic and somewhat oblique, jisei could also contain elements of a traditional will; not the mundane affairs of an estate to be settled, but for example reconciling differences between estranged relatives.

Prominent exponents of jisei include the famous haiku poet Basho; Asano Naganori, the daimyo (fuedal leader) whose forced suicide was avenged by the forty-seven ronin—now almost a national myth; and Yukio Mishima, prominent Japanese writer of the mid-twentieth century who inexplicably committed traditional seppuku in 1970:

Yukio Mishima’s Death Poem
A small night storm blows
Saying ‘falling is the essence of a flower’
Preceding those who hesitate

Yukio Mishima

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Beautiful Moments in Film #2: Charlie Wilson’s War


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Charlie Wilson's War: Story of the Zen master and the little boy

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) by Mike Nichols

CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman): Listen, not for nothing, but do you know the story about the Zen master and the little boy?

Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks): Oh is this something from Nitsa the Greek witch of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania?1

Gust: Yeah as a matter of fact it is.

There’s a little boy. Now on his 14th birthday he gets a horse, and everybody in the village says “How wonderful the boy got a horse,” and the Zen master says “We’ll see.”

Two years later the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everybody in the village says “How terrible,” and the Zen master says “We’ll see.”

Then a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight, except the boy can’t cause his leg’s all messed up, and everybody in the village says “How wonderful”…

Charlie: Now the Zen master says “We’ll see.”

Gust: So you get it?

Charlie: No. No, cause I’m stupid…

Gust: You’re not stupid, you’re just in Congress.

Shimura’s “Cherry Blossom Storm” (1953)Impermanence is at the heart of Japanese culture, and the Zen tradition with which it is intrinsically bound. In Japan, appreciation of art and life itself is informed with an implicit understanding of the true impermanence of reality, that we each are here today, gone tomorrow—we and everything else in this world.

Such an appreciation of impermanence sees a half clouded moon as more beautiful than one full, fallen cherry blossoms upon the ground more so than spring’s first bloom. As symbols, the clouded moon and decaying cherry blossoms both capture the truth at reality’s heart, and truth is infinitely more beautiful in Zen—and spirituality in general for that matter—than illusion or untruth.

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819

John KeatsIt is a pre-modern take on the Law of Entropy informed by millennia of inward reflection, no less valid because empirically verified by the experience of heart and soul. We don’t need a particle reactor to know that everything in this universe comes to an end.

“All men think all men mortal, but themselves.”
Edward Young

In the context of Charlie Wilson’s War, this parable of the fleeting nature of reality is used to illustrate that today’s victory may be tomorrow’s loss, today’s loss tomorrow’s victory. It is 1989, and real life congressman Charlie Wilson has just seen has seen himself vindicated, his policy of arming the Afghani Mudjahadeen paying off spectacularly in the defeat and withdrawal of the Soviet army, a pivotal turning point in the Cold War. Yes it is a victory says CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos, but where will today’s success take us tomorrow?

Spirituality sees success and failure as obverse and reverse sides of the same coin, the coin of human experience which leads gradually, steadily and unerringly to the experience of true reality—the experience of truth with a capital ‘T’—the infinity, immortality and eternity of the human soul.

If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time;
I press God’s lamp
Close to my breast;
its splendor soon or late
Will pierce the gloom;
I shall emerge one day.
Robert Browning

Poet Robert BrowningFrom a spiritual point of view to live only for success is as mistaken as to avoid failure at all costs; both represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the true nature of reality.

Understanding life from a deeper perspective, a perspective grounded upon truth requires a longer, broader point of view than the present moment alone, with its ups and downs, victories and losses, happiness and sadness, for success and failure all are equally valid, greater and lesser steps towards the self-same goal—realisation of the ultimate truth.

No Failure
No failure, no failure.
Failure is the shadow
Of success.

No failure, no failure.
Failure is the changing body
Of success.

No failure, no failure.
Failure is the fast approaching train
Of the greatest success.
Sri Chinmoy, The Dance of Life, Part 13, Agni Press, 1973.

With parables by meditation teachers in film rarer than actual masters of meditation in real life, the quoting of a Zen koan in Charlie Wilson’s War alone makes it eligible as a “Beautiful Moment in Film”—whatever the quality (and it is by no means inconsequential) of the cinematography, acting or directing. How often are the words of the wisest listened to as avidly as those of the shallow? How often do we even make the distinction?

All too frequently the sayings of celebrity, beauty and power are writ larger in this world than their words alone justify; not frequently enough the words of the wisest listened to as avidly as those of the shallow.

One day the words of wise people may actually be worth more than the wisdom of ‘fools.’ I can’t wait to see the films made when that day arrives.

“Human life is limited, but I want to live for ever.”
Yukio Mishima, final written words.

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Footnote

  1. “After Gust Avrakotos’s outburst against the head of the Clandestine Services, he was unemployable in the CIA. Stung, Gust went home to Aliquippa and asked a family friend (the town witch) to create a curse against his boss Graver. Had any of the teams in the CIA found out about the curse, they would have sent Gust away for psychiatric evaluation, but the curse was a private affair.”
    Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile.

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Search Engine Haiku


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Found poetry is the rearrangement of words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages that are taken from other sources and reframed as poetry by changes in spacing and/or lines (and consequently meaning), or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions. The resulting poem can be defined as “treated” (changed in a profound and systematic manner) or “untreated” (conserving virtually the same order, syntax and meaning as in the original).
Wikipedia on Found Poetry

Basho’s Crow by Marie TaylorI am not new to search engine serendipity—Through the Google Glass and Follow the rainbow both exercises in found poetry and random prose, and among the most read articles on this site—but Sumangali.org has gone one better and invented “Keyword Haiku,” the random, zen-esque art of creating poetry from Google-generated keywords.

Poets of yesteryear took words out of the ether or dictated disembodied voices in their heads. In this 21st century approach to inspiration, the creative process is aided by the random chatter of a million computers. With chance and serendipity the goals, surely both approaches are equally valid.

The rules to Keyword Haiku are simple—take your top 25 keywords and arrange them in any order to create a poem:

A Sensitivity to Things Keyword Haiku

the smallest of you knew
how interesting
in world and weight

things sensitivity to
o being needs
a meditation sun

supergiants
are much light me

Keyword haiku yes, but is the above really haiku?

Technically no. While haiku is conventionally termed as poetry comprised of 17 syllables arranged in 5-7-5 form—length and structure somewhat different from the rules of keyword haiku—when written in Japanese haiku uses not syllables but rather ‘on’ or sounds—a unit of language close to but not exactly the same as a syllable.

This fact combined with words in Japanese being polysyllabic—that is composed of multiple, very short sounds (like ‘radio’ in English)—means that haiku should more accurately be written with 10-14 syllables in English.

Whatever.

Haiku or not, it is probably safe to say that poet and father of the 17 syllable form Matsuo Basho, who wrote, shortly before his death and with spirit heavy, “disturbed by others, I have no peace of mind,” would find little peace still in this search-engine spawned derivative…

now then, let’s go out
to enjoy the snow… until
I slip and fall!
Basho (1688)

Keyword haiku elsewhere

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Make your writing effortless


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jackkerouac-ny-1953.jpgHaving written all of half a dozen blog posts in a handful of months, it might seem likely a less than timely time to write about how to make one’s writing effortless, but maybe this is a kind of reverse serendipity—for right now effortless writing is just what I need.

Read on—where these seven ideas are concerned, I for one will definitely be taking my own advice…

7 ideas to make your writing effortless

Writing doesn’t have to be hard; in fact it can be as easy and natural as spoken conversation. All writers struggle in the beginning to develop creativity and flow; use the following seven tips to sharpen your talent and reach your goals.

1. Carry a notebook

Carry a notebook with you at all times; when inspiration hits, seize it and your notebook with both hands. All writers recommend carrying a notebook; use it for the surreptitious jotting of thoughts when and where ever they might appear.

Jack Kerouac, foremost writer of the Beat movement of the 50’s and ’60s—a moniker and eminence he was deeply uncomfortable with—carried one everywhere, forever sketching poetry and novels to be in the most unlikely of places—”Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy” in his words. Likewise Walt Whitman, 19th Century ‘Father of American Poetry’ and inspiration to Kerouac, who went one step further and carried an entire manuscript, a paperweight sized bundle that would one day be his Leaves of Grass.

2. But use it in the right place

walt whitmanFunnily enough, this oft revised and reworked masterpiece was the cause of Whitman’s dismissal from at least one job—fired from the Department of the Interior by an enraged employer upon closer inspection of the ‘paperwork’ on his desk. Which suggests that some places are better to write in than others, although in Whitman’s defence, most writers can relate to the truth that inspiration may strike in the most unexpected places.

3. Make writing a good habit

Writing is a good habit which can benefit from a little encouragement. To this ends, many writers recommend a specific place to write, almost like a meditation shrine, dedicated to this solo, inspirational practise. For some a specific time of day is conducive—a daily regimen just like eating, sleeping and exercise. Creativity can wax and wane like the passage of the moon; take time and place of writing as two aids to assist obstructing clouds to part.

4. Regularity builds the muscles of writing

Make an attempt to write every day, without thought or judgment for the quality you produce. Writing is like a creative flow; it will not begin if you do not turn on the tap. One method is to write like a river bursting its dam, words spilling over onto the paper before you. Follow the rivers’ flow as far as you can, and in time the distance you travel will grow. Look not at this metaphorical river’s banks or rocks ahead of you; flow forth like water, always moving.

5. Writing is like meditation

Writing can be like the act of meditation itself, a secret known to centuries of haiku poets who were also meditators, and practised it as such. Write regularly, in silence and with one-pointed focus to achieve your goal. Furthermore, the discipline of regular practise, as in meditation, encourages an ever deepening flow of creativity, and a more fruitful, productive experience.

6. Suspend critical thought

Suspend judgment during a first draft, even if your mind screams that you are writing poorly. More important is to write, write, write; regardless of quality let the words pour upon the page—revising and polishing are for a later date. The editing process is a different mindset from that of writing, which requires creativity to flow directed but unimpeded; for the sake of creativity leave this more critical part of your being to one side. It is not without reason that professional writing seldom sees the occupations of writer and editor in a single person.

7. Exercise your body, not your mind

Running, and exercise in general, will actually help your writing. Meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy calls running meditation for the body; it clears the mind and purifies the emotions in the manner of a breath of fresh air, dispersing anger and depression as though clouds in the sky. Negative qualities are an anathema to creativity—it’s total polar opposite; take physical exercise as a simple tool to clear the road ahead when you are writing. It also makes a good time out.

Writing is like running in a sense; the hardest part is getting under way, but once started a momentum is built which will carry you along. Surrender to this and your writing may one day become effortless.

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The Seeker-Writer, and expressing God in words


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Sumangali Morhall of Sumangali.org recently wrote a fine play in rhyming verse, The Seeker-Writer, based on a short story of the same name by meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy—“a humorous story with a spiritual lesson behind it” as she describes it. Despite my being a few days late in responding—not to mention several months late in updating what was once a regularly tended web diary—late is better than never in the case of this particular talented author, whose small, divine army of writing, poems and plays are worthy all of further attention and readership—Krishna’s Supreme Love and Music and Religion among them.

In Sumangali’s play come masterpiece, one rhyming couplet come brilliantly crafted jewel stood out for me from many:

“God told you to your face your words were all perfection.
You became disgusted, but you missed His true Inflection!”

To me, this line says much about the art of writing, the art of poetry, and even reading.

Some may claim a writer’s greatness is as readily apparent as the page their words appear upon—as though a book, page or poem is itself a finished product, and while of course they are correct in one sense, such a conception misses the fact that writing is meaningless, even useless if it is not read, understood or appreciated by a second and third party. If it is not appreciated by a reader.

And here begins something of a philosophical treatise. Forgive me if I have been doing too much thinking…

To me, a writer’s greatness is, just like God himself, mostly hidden from ordinary human sight. Like casting pearls among swine, to partially quote a famous carpenter’s son, the art of great writing is only able to be properly, truly appreciated by those with a trained, refined eye—an eye for correct, true “inflection”—the depth, meaning and intention of the author, the breath behind their written word.

Understanding great writing, just like the foolish writer protagonist of The Seeker-Writer—a vain, foolish sycophant who completely misses the truths, true context of the appreciation much sought for his efforts—is a matter of “inflection”—a matter of being able to appreciate what are often ordinary, lifeless garments—words—in the true context and depth which they were written—wear them as they were intended by their author to be worn.

Here I am reminded about a point, more personal anecdote about Sri Chinmoy’s poetry and writing.

I must, somewhat red-faced, admit that when I first began to practice meditation as a student of Sri Chinmoy, I was overburdened with intellectual knowledge, in the midst as I was of a university degree, and while I hope it is to my credit that I immediately recognised this state of being, in the face of true knowledge, knowledge of the Eternal, Immortal and Infinite, for the weakness and (spiritual) deficiency that it is, and took (long, sometimes arduous) steps to rectify it, I did find the apparent simplicity of Sri Chinmoy’s words—in poetry or in writing—initially hard to fathom.

But not any longer.

The longer I have been meditating, the wiser I grow (which is just a little I do hope), and the deeper Sri Chinmoy’s words appear; even a single sentence enough now to transport this little mind to a vast place of wisdom and understanding—a place where the mind is truly no longer needed.

But Sri Chinmoy’s words haven’t changed—rather I have changed. I am reading and re-reading the same books I read when I was a new member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, some twelve years ago now, only now I am seeing new depths, new “inflections” in them, like an echo or resonance within that I never could have imagined then.

Inflection, hidden meaning, hidden depth is what writing and poetry are all about for me. Not obliqueness, willful obscurantism, plain sophistry or outright confusion, but meaning larger, grander, deeper and more beautiful than words themselves.

True writing and poetry, ultimately, is about expressing God in words.

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ABC News on the passing of Sri Chinmoy


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A video and news story from ABC on the passing of Sri Chinmoy on Thursday, 11th October, 2007.

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Oct 12, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy, a peace activist who inspired his followers to feats of extreme physical endurance, has died at the age of 76 at his home in New York, a statement from his organization said on Friday.

Chinmoy, who suffered a heart attack, died on Thursday.

Chinmoy was born in India and in 1964 immigrated to New York, working in the Indian Consulate. He later started a meditation center that eventually spread around the world.

A statement issued on behalf of Chinmoy’s followers said he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Friday. He was a strong supporter of the United Nations and his charities sent food and medicine around the world.

Chinmoy’s followers were said to take on a regimen of vegetarianism, humanitarian service and extreme physical challenges as a way to inner peace. He set an example by running ultra-marathons before switching to weightlifting. Acolytes said he was capable of lifting airplanes and had written more than 1,600 books of prose and poetry in his quest for world peace.

Read more: ABC News: Peace activist Sri Chinmoy dead at 76.

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