Category Archives: poetry


Mom laugh Pic Monkey Flowers

Years have past and still you are gone,

Yet in my heart,  you linger on.

My mind plays tricks: your phone is dead,

Mail got lost, your car repossessed.

You took a trip, forgot to call.

You got amnesia from a fall.

That’s not your name engraved on stone.

There must be more to you than bone.

On Mother’s Day I buy your card,

But don’t know where you really are.

I’m in heaven, I think I hear.

I’m all around you, very near.

Look closely in your mirrored eye,

For there you’ll see my soul sublime.

“I miss your hands, your laugh,” I say.

“I’d rather have you here to play.”

And just when all is doom and gloom,

A louder voice speaks in the room.

“Mom, I’m home, Happy Mother’s Day!”

And there you are…in my child’s face.

Mom and Me


The Mother Tree of Life – Kihei, HI

I am a tree–felled by ax, thunder storms or bad ideas.

Mainly boys, carve into my bark. Ouch!

Don’t they know I bleed?

The uncut tree numbers are less each year,

leaving no bark to carve.

The shade is disappearing.

So, plant me in a well-stocked sub or pod

with all the tress I love and we will float away.


Like a lotus–opening….


It seems the 8.8 earthquake which rocked Chile in the early AM hours is offshore near the Maule Region where Noble Prize winner and one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), was born.

My heart is saddened for the region and the lives lost.

How many poets or bright souls have been lost due to this tragedy?

In honor of Neruda and his country of birth, I post the following brilliant example of his particular genius.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, “The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.”
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

(En Español)

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Escribir, por ejemplo : ‘La noche esta estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos’.
El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.

Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.
En las noches como esta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La beso tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.

Ella me quiso, a veces yo tambien la quera.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.

Oir la noche immensa, más inmensa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío.
Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guardarla.
La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo.

Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.

La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos arboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.

De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.

Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido.

Porque en noches como Ésta la tuve entre mis brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Aunque ésta sea el áltimo dolor que ella me causa,
y éstos sean los áltimos versos que yo le escribo.

By Pablo Neruda

Tonight I can write read by Andy Garcia


The ghost line flickers in the new dawn.
The blue-tipped flame melts
the wax edge, and the goo of myself
oozes into a pool of a dream
that one, like me can

dream of that one cooling the heat
of blood boiling in my veins of cooked sorrow,
healing seared love burned by arteries of hate.
The lines are long. The lines snake
around the y + x. The spiral crow
flies through airwaves of primordial mud,
spitting, sputtering, spewing, birthing
lines and lines of descent, ions in the making.

I dream of genes flowing from body to body;
nights of kisses, nights of release,
nights of smelly, smouldering sex.
The apple in the eye of
millions of fathers and millions of mothers
survives eyes of storms, shifting
sands, whirlwind seas, epic ghost stories

that one after another all suffer, bleed, orgasm,
die one after another. The lines do not
end. The lines eat and grow and
travel across seas, over mountains
dodging bullets, and germs and rabid
ideas that consume energy, resources,
and good news. That one ghostly
sense of lively purpose lingers, thrives.

Myself, I live in the snake-eee line of descent.
Righteous Mumbo and Holy Jumbo
now back where they belong, next to
that one singular thought: We,
and the ghosts who live

are that one, the one
and the same,
and only one.


* In Homage to Barack H. Obama & His Family. Pictured with Barack is his maternal Grandparents, Stanley & Madelyn Dunham.


IN A CALIFORNIA SPEECH titled, “Tedium and Integrity,” Moore discusses Sze’s two books, The Tao of Painting and The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting.

One of her major points is that “painting is not a profession, but an extension of the art of living” (qtd. in Qian 226). For Moore, who viewed her poetry as her canvas, the word “painting” and “poetry” are interchangeable. Moore reverently extols Mai-Mai Sze, the artist/translator of the two ancient texts, as being “an angel to me and friend of the dragon-symbol” (Qian 181). For Moore, “the manual is to me a world of romance – the romance of words” (qtd. in Stamy 157).

Moore embarked on a lifelong love affair with words that “cluster like chromosomes” (Stamy 44). The Dao infused Chinese art was a catalyst for Moore’s inquisitive imagination, and in investigating the nature of this art she found, “A Chinese ‘understands/ the spirit of the wilderness’/and the nectarine-loving kylin” (CP 30). Being an inquisitive person with the formal training of a biologist, her investigation into why this art seemed to “breathe” life led her straight to it’s source, the philosophy of the Dao, the spiritual resource that fuels much of Chinese and Japanese art, especially that which portrays Nature-related themes.

Chan Buddhist or Zen painting technique is relentless in detail. “Each detail has its reason” (Sze 536). In Dao teaching, the student-artist is taught not only that “birds with long tails should be drawn with short beaks,” but also equally important is for the artist to know, “they sing beautifully and fly high” (ibid). Only if the details are drawn in this way (a communion with Nature from direct observation) will the results be lasting.

Modernist leaning writers like Moore, who searched for meaning, not only to survive, but to live a life of inspired imagination, found passion and joy in this thinking. Knowledge of the material sort is the direct result of a science that utilizes close observation, but Western science does not even try to answer that forever question; why are we here? Dao gave artists then and now a path to experience peace and explore that question in a useful, productive way, a way that creates breathable art, a pictorial representation of this invisible relationship between consciousness and flesh.

Moore found the Chinese recognition of how the individual should function in perfect harmony with landscape and animals defensible and “illuminating” (Qian 174). Moore treated Nature with respect in her poems about the jerboa, the basilisk, the jelly-fish, the elephant, and so forth. She does not embrace the Judeo-Christian idea of “man’s dominion over Nature” found canonized in the book of Genesis. As anyone knows who has lived in an urban environment, the city has toxic affects on the human body. Moore lived most of her life in urban New York. This parallel reality she lived in through her study of Chinese Nature artifacts, and in her poetry by analyzing it, kept Nature near and alive in her thoughts. Her relative good health and longevity is a testament to the healing power of this approach.

Moore, like everyone, needed help in dealing with her own struggles, and she found acceptance in society from her wit of words at an early age. “So I smile, (as if I had found a penny) when people tell me how they like them (poems) and talk about writing poetry and so on as if it were gymnastics or piano practice” (SL 63). Her invisible Father’s shadow and her station in life was ever present. Moore worked hard lest anyone doubt she was a woman of integrity. She would never lose her balance, such as her Father had.

In fact, she had dismissed her Father’s chromosome that made her female, and consistently referred to herself as male, and gave herself (and was given) a male pronoun in correspondence with her brother and mother (SL 4). Moore maintained her internal consistency. At a discussion at a Bryn Mawr Friends Meeting, Friend being the other name for Quaker, the discussion turned to “Progress and Women.” Moore made a point of saying, and then writing it down to her mother and brother, “we (women) are provoked with people for calling us unprogressive when often we fall short ourselves and fail in realizing our individual (her italics) ideals and just stop – comfortable – inventing all manner of excuses for our faint-heartedness and laziness” (SL 30).

Moore would later find solace in Sze’s canon regarding Chinese art to allay any “faint-heartedness,” a canon replete with tangible artifacts created by artists who displayed what Moore called “integrity,” a display of internal consistency, or a quality of being honest and using strong moral principals. In this Way of Daoism, she found a corroboration for dismissing the ego. In her “Tedium and Integrity” speech, Moore feels “very strongly what Juan Ramon Jiménez said in referring to something else – to what is not poetry – ‘there is a profounder profundity’ than obsession with the self” (qtd. in Qian 226). To give up egotism, which Moore renamed, “tedium,” what the “Buddhists call ignorance” (Qian 173), was not a problem for Moore, especially if it kept her from coming near the “ragged brink” (SL 63). She had consistently removed her self, her narrative, from her poems, a hallmark of Modernism. Skipping past her immediate heritage, Moore aligned herself with a sturdier, more reliable anchor, the “tao of the ancients” (Qian 177).

Born several generations before the confessional poetry of Plath, Hughes, Lowell, and others came into vogue, (Pictured Moore & Plath 1955) Moore didn’t indulge her readers with any details of her sexual relationships, nor did any potential partner of hers come forward (I doubt she had any, unless her niece, the executor of her estate, has information she’s not sharing). Linda Leavell has put forward a theory of an early crush on Peggy James (William James’ daughter), but without proof of a consummated relationship, it is mere speculation. Human nature being what it is, rumors swirl, and theories abound. Was she molested? Did she have an encounter that horrified her to celibacy? Moore’s mother wrote of her daughter’s “grim ‘sternness” and “Monk-like severity” (SL 118) Was she a lesbian? Moore supported the Woman’s Suffrage movement, but deferred to her brother’s wishes not to march in public and avoid “such public display” (SL 77). However much Moore wished to step out of her skin, the social and emotional restraints remained boundaries.

Not being Chinese, she didn’t carry the emotional baggage of Eastern misogyny. Was it only a coincidence that an intellectual like Mai-mai Sze, the Chinese artist who Moore described as an “angel,” had chosen her own alternative lifestyle, by choosing a lesbian relationship? Many of Moore’s intimates were homosexuals, such as Bryher and fellow imagist, H.D.; two of her biggest champions and editors of her first book, Poems.

(Bryher in Picture circa 1938)

There is some evidence that her mother, who never remarried after her separation from her husband before Moore was born, had an affair with the family friend, Mary Norcross. Yet, Moore gave no clues regarding her love life, and resisted the entire “homo/heterosexual binary itself” (Leavell). Moore seems to have found romance in the act of writing her poetry, a poetry infused with romance: romance with the Dao.

Next Week: Marianne Moore’s Romance with the Dao Part 3

See Part 1 for Works Cited Page.

Winnifred Bryher in Picture circa 1938


I’VE ALWAYS ADMIRED THE TENACITY and word-skills of the poet Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972). Grouped into the Modernist Movement with Pound, Williams, Stein, Stevens, T.S. Eliot and others, Moore carefully sculpted a life by nurturing a razor sharp wit. She also found a balance for her sensibilities about relationships, and crafted ideas of how she wanted to present and even propagate her “insight and sympathetic ways” (Moore, SL 35) to the world at large. She worked hard at her writing, producing over 30,000 letters, which doesn’t include her articles and poems extant. At the age of twenty she came to the conclusion, “I want to write,” and “shortly I will have something to say” (SL 40). In part, Moore found sustenance for her balanced wit, and much of her “insight” in the aesthetic of The Dao.

The Dao, also called The Tao, The Way, The Path, or Zen (in Japan), encourages the artist to develop a “wide and keen observation, eventually to find in enrichment of the spirit, the secret of the rhythm of nature” (Sze 18). This was a perfect marriage for Moore’s burgeoning sensitivities that grew out of her early desire to “scrape sparks from the ground, from the mere excess of animal spirits” (SL 39). The Dao offered another framework, not necessarily to replace, but to enhance her American/Western tradition.

Born into a society where women didn’t vote, or legally own their own bodies
, Moore reached out to the Eastern tradition to feed her meditative spirit. Like the virgin Queen, Moore remained single, yet celibate—married to her art.
Moore & Mother: Zorach Painting 1919

Her mother was her mate for life (Leavell).

Moore sensed in China, “a cultural superiority to Europe itself,” and justified this as many Westerners did, and still do, “because of China’s historical longevity” (Stamy 5). Like her predecessor, Emerson, Moore moved the “struggle for American definition to another and, for her, a superior site” (Stamy 5). At Bryn Mawr, a Quaker school, Moore was encouraged to meditate on her inner light and the beauty of God’s creation: Nature. These sensibilities did not discourage Moore from investigating likewise philosophies.

Some of her early successes as a writer were a direct result of her investigations into Chinese artifacts. One of her early poems published in her book, Poems (The Egoist Press 1921), was about a Chinese scroll or screen (Willis). As Professor Zhaoming Qian explained in a graduate lecture for a Modernist Workshop at the University of New Orleans, early Moore used “Chinese motifs on the surface level,” and later Moore treated “Western motifs with Chinese perspectives.”

In “He Made This Screen,” Moore experimented with her imagist ekphrasis. In lieu of a narrative, she described a piece of art. It’s as if she were circling the dragon, trying to free her style of writing. Her Modernist leanings were apparent—the image is the thing, but she fell back on meter and rhyme.

“Nine Dragons” Chen Rong 1244 Boston Museum of Modern Art

He Made This Screen

not of silver nor of coral,
but of weather beaten laurel.

Here, he introduced a sea
uniform like tapestry;

here, a fig-tree; there, a face;
there, a dragon circling space —

designating here, a bower;
there, a pointed passion-flower.

In her poem written almost forty years later, “O To Be A Dragon” (CP 177), Moore was still circling the space, but had switched gears. Moore wanted to not just circle, but become the Modernist Dao Dragon, which for her was the “symbol of the power of heaven.” She wanted to become one with the space now enlarged to the “totality of heaven and earth” (Qian 182).

The Dao invigorated Moore’s mind throughout her life. In her late 60s, after receiving her book set of The Tao of Painting and The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, ancient texts by Chieh Tzu Yuan Hua Chuan, and translated by Mai-Mai Sze, Moore wrote to the publisher, John Barrett, “You cannot imagine my excitement in possessing these books […] it “is pleasure enough for a lifetime” (qtd. in Qian 168).

(Sze 320) Her romance goes further into the realm of passion in describing how she “passionately admires […] – an insect-and-frog picture,” even suggesting that if she were in a mental decline, “Volume I of the Tao would, I think, help me to regain tone” (qtd. in Qian 169).

Not an idle statement for someone who never met her father because he was institutionalized for a “nervous breakdown” before she was born (SL 3). Moore identified a space in which she could live and create, but most importantly, feel good about life, as if the Dao kept her sane.

Always a good thing in troubled times: Sanity.

Next week. Marianne Moore’s Romance With The Dao Part 2

Works Cited

Leavell, Linda. Marianne Moore, the James Family and the Politics of Celibacy.
     Twentieth Century Literature. vol 49: 2. Hofstra U, 2003. 219. 10 Oct 2008

Moore, Marianne. Complete Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

—. Marianne Moore: Selected Letters. Bonnie Costello (ed) New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Pollak, Vivian. Moore, Plath, Hughes, and “The Literary Life. American Literary
     History 17.1. USA: Oxford UP, 2005.   18 Nov 2006.

Qian, Zhaoming. The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stephens.
     USA, U of Virginia P, 2003.

Stamy, Cynthia. Marianne Moore and China. USA: Oxford UP, 1999.

Sze, Mai-mai. trans. The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Chieh Tzu Yuan
     Hua Chuan, 1679-1701. New York: Princeton Univ. P, 1977.

White, Heather. Moral, Manners, and Marriage: Marianne’s Art of Conversation.
      Twentieth Century Literature. Hofstra U, 1999. 10 Oct 2008

Willis, Patricia C. (curator) Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University,
     1997 10 Oct 2008.

Picture of Moore with Book: 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

WALLACE STEVENS: West Imagining East

WALLACE STEVENS took to heart Kakuzo Okakura’s question, “When will the West understand, or try to understand, the East?” Okakura’s 1906 treatise on the Chan Buddhist and/or Zen infused tea ceremony, “The Book of Tea,” fell into Stevens’ hands by way of his Harvard acquaintances, Walter Bynner and Arther D. Ficke (Willis). His first national recognition as a poet was winning Poetry magazine’s 1916 contest, and a $100 for his play, “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise,” a story woven around three Chinamen fixing tea in the Pennsylvania woods (Murphy 132). This was a direct result of Stevens’ brush with Tao, The Way, or The Path, that which encourages the artist to develop a “wide and keen observation, eventually to find in enrichment of the spirit, the secret of the rhythm of nature.” (Sze 18)

Maureen Kravec noted, the play evinces “the early modernist fascination with chinoiserie.” (Kravec 310) The layout of the play on the page is interesting, in that it presents an amalgamated version of a play and a poem. For example, the line breaks would not be such in the dialogue for the usual play format. The form is sometimes referred to as verse drama, but Stevens reworked it a bit after his win “to have the play a play and not merely a poem” (Murphy 132).

As a playwright in the UNO graduate MFA program, I find this quite intriguing, although not a total surprise. At the turn of the last century, Stevens and other poets were enthusiastic about the literary possibilities in the new art theatres popping up all over the East coast, emulating the independent theatres of Europe. Stevens shared the bill at Provincetown Players with fellow poets, Alfred Kreymborg and Lawrence Langner, but unfortunately before “Three Travelers” was produced, Stevens was intimately involved with the production of his second play, “Carlos Among the Candles,” and had a harrowing experience. The lead actor forgot three of the twelve pages of dialogue, and the whole production was a huge disappointment. After one opening night, the show was shut down, and Stevens fled the theatre, referring to the entire affair of producing theatre as “the horrors.” (Murphy 132)

I couldn’t find the original pear-shaped vase Professor Qian mentions as a possible inspiration for this play (Qian 39), but I did find this motif, which captures the spirit of the three Chinamen in the story, that of the first being “short, fat, quizzical, and of middle age. The second is of middle height, thin and turning gray; a man of sense and sympathy. The third is a young man, intent, detached.” (Loving 494)

The play incorporates the aesthetics of Chan/Zen to guide the audience through the horror of suicide and lynching, “the invasion” of humanity, and in my opinion to give people an alternative to despair, or as the Third Chinese says, (the one likened to Stevens’ personae), “The candle of the sun/ will shine soon/ On this hermit earth” (Loving 499).

After the American Civil War came a plague of black lynchings, mostly instigated by the Ku Klux Klan. In Stevens’s own Pennsylvania locale occurred an infamous lynching in nearby Coatesville circa 1911. Although the black actors in “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise” don’t speak, their actions and body language signify this major theme, and by juxtaposing black actors with a body hanging from a tree “the invasion of humanity,” albeit a suicide, the audience is forced to think about this tragic topic of lynching. Stevens incorporated this Taoist idea illustrated as the “[…] value of suggestion. In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistible rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.” (Okakura 46)

This play may not be regarded as Stephens’ “greatest masterpiece,” and it was a flop, due mainly to the poor production, i.e. the sun did not “rise”–a light bulb flashed on instantly (Murphy 138). Stevens used the vacuum of Taoist space in and around a bottle to invoke an aesthetic emotion. The story begins with the Second Chinese saying, “All you need/ To find poetry/ Is to look for it with a lantern” (Loving 494), and if that doesn’t work then, “There is seclusion of porcelain,” the same porcelain with “[…] the three figures/ Painted on porcelain/ As we sit here,/ That we are painted on this very bottle” (Loving 499). The bottle represents the very earth we stand on, illuminated by the lantern, held by the old hermit that holds the light of imagination.

What made Stevens’ psyche so receptive to the “rhythm of nature” art produced by the Oriental Taoist? For one thing, Stevens inherited the influences of the New England transcendental movement voiced in the monumental writings of Emerson, an earlier Harvard graduate, and the likewise Emersonian naturalist, Walt Whitman (Bloom 10). Stevens embraced Emerson’s transcendental message for students to observe that “all things in Nature, the animals, the mountain, the river, the seasons, wood, iron, stone, vapor, have a mysterious relation to his thoughts and his life; their growths, decays, quality and use so curiously resemble himself, in parts and in wholes, that he is compelled to speak by means of them. (Emerson) The world is a “picture-book” of every passage in human life, and in every object of Nature is where the poet will find the essence of man.

Emerson himself studied the Oriental nature of Buddhism, as received through the sages of India, and wrote extensively on the matter. (Gordon) The magazine, The Dial, in which Stevens would later be published, was initially formed as a transcendental publication with Emerson as one of its early editors. Stevens was influenced by his Harvard philosophy professor, George Santayana, in whose honor he wrote, “To An Old Philosopher in Rome.” (CP 508) An avowed atheist who aesthetically mirrored much of Emerson’s Naturalism, and later called himself an “aesthetic Catholic,” Santayana fostered in Stevens a creative imagination, and offered a “sensitive account of the spiritual life without being a religious believer (Saatkamp). Santanyan died in Rome under the care of nuns–interesting in that Stevens allegedly converted to Catholicism on his own deathbed.

Steven’s disillusionment with Christianity was made public in his published and first critically acclaimed poem written in 1915, “Sunday Morning” (Bloom 22). Instead of going to the obligatory church service (that is, for Christians who want to go to the Heaven in the King James Bible), Stevens’ character chooses instead, “Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,/And the green freedom of a cockatoo/ Upon a rug mingle to dissipate/ The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.” (CP 66-7) Note the lower case “h.”

By this time the Christianity Stevens grew up with in his Dutch/German Pennsylvania home had “dissipated” in his face. His father experienced a mental and spiritual breakdown, as well as a bankruptcy, which must have affected Stevens enormously, and he wasn’t speaking to his father at the time of the latter’s death in 1911. It would seem the Christian home where his mother read the Bible every night couldn’t sustain familial devotion in negotiating a riff triggered by Stevens’ choice of Elsie for his wife. Never recovering from her grief, his mother died soon thereafter. (Peiu)

Only after these events did Stevens find a voice that appealed to a wider audience. Stevens found comfort in writing to assuage these real life tragedies, and his exposure to the active tranquility of Chan Buddhism helped him fill the void where a dogmatic religion had been. The “awakening” first seen in his “nothing that is” poem, “The Snowman,” (1921) sustained him in the years to come, and so, despite the lukewarm relationship with his wife, Elsie (Voices & Visions), Stevens found in his imagination “The loneliest air, not less was I myself” (CP 65). Other than a short break after the release of Harmonium in 1923-30, he never stopped writing.

Professor Qian has eloquently presented a thorough investigation regarding Stevens’ reading habits on Buddhism, and Stevens’ exposure to Chinese Landscape Art and Oriental ancient artifacts at the MFA in Boston and exhibits in New York, specifically those which flowered from the Southern Sung school, fueled by the Tao of Chan Buddhism, which in turn inspired the Zen school of Japan (Qian). It seems only natural that a sensitive, individualistic hardhead like the Dutch-German Stevens (I should know, my mother was a Stevens, and both of my parents came from Puritan/Quaker stock) would be receptive to the “awakened state” of Chan Buddhism.

Stevens’ birth place of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn–a haven for Quakers, who fashion their belief around meditating on the “internal light,” and southeastern Pennsylvania is full of quiet vistas for contemplation, but not many 19-year-olds would question, “why people took books into the woods to read in summertime when there was so much else to be read there that one could not find in books.” (Qian 96) Stevens’ bent for the philosophical started at an early age.

Maybe one way to analyze how Stevens felt about Chinese art is to show an example of the “orientalism” he loathed. The following is a painting by Eugéne Fromentin, an artist who thought “a painting should be neither eastern nor western, but a conglomeration of both […] I [Stevens] can only say that I detest orientalism: the sort of thing that Fromentin did […] although I like it well enough the way Matisse does it“ (Qian 200).

Let’s compare the aspects of Chan Buddhist Chinese landscape to this painting. Is there a state of “active tranquility? Is the figure in harmony with nature? Does the water flow? Can you see the water’s source? Does the wind “breathe” a rhythm throughout the picture? Do the mountains in the distance evoke a “quality of spirit” (Sze 21)? I agree with Stevens. The man (I think it’s a man) is in the center, not off to one side in contemplation. There is activity on the man’s part, that of riding a horse. This is about a journey, not contemplation of the “rhythm of nature.”

The man riding the horse may be in an awakened state, but there are no clues to this. The image is a manipulation of Nature, not a transforming moment of clarity in awe of Nature. The road cuts through the heart of the meadow and the water has no visible source. There is no flow. Is it a lake or a bay? The grasses do not move with the “breath” of the wind. The scene is probably proportional to reality, but where is the, “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (CP 10).

Stevens found many things to his liking in one of his favorite books on Chinese art, “Painting in the Far East,” by Laurence Binyon (Qian 27), and Binyon touches a Western nerve when speaking of Turkestan where “we touch three great civilizations at once: India, China, and Greece,” where “Apollo transforms himself into Buddha” (Binyon 28). For me, that is one more key to the thinking of Wallace Stevens and his interest in Chan Buddhism. Steeped as we Westerners are in our dogmatic religions (and we’re not the only ones), it might be beneficial for us all in the East and West to pause and contemplate that we all share a common ancestry from an earlier time.

Recent blood DNA studies are pointing to one small group in Africa that populated the entire human race starting around 100,000 years ago, a blink in the evolutionary timeline. (Sykes 277) If anything, Stevens may have found a cultural inheritance in the “quietism” infused into Chan Buddhist art that had been lost somewhere along the way. In “Six Significant Landscapes” (1916) “An old man sits/ In the shadow of a pine tree/ In China” (CP73). So many of them do. “Viewing the Moon under a Pine Tree” in Ma Yuan style (Qian 104) is an example of this type of old man Stevens got inside of to “breathe” and “awaken” not only to read about in his poem, but as a way for himself to physically experience this “breathe.”

Through the years, Stevens collected many Chinese artifacts, but one of his favorites, a carved wooden figure of “the most benevolent old god you ever saw,” was shipped back to him from Peking by the sister of Harriet Monroe, the editor of “Poetry” magazine. The old man carried a staff, and a lotus bud. For Stevens, this old man, a Shouxing, “is so humane that the study of him is as good as a jovial psalm” (Qian 157-8).

The implication here is obvious. Stevens filled his spiritual and mental cup, in part, by reading about, viewing at museums, and surrounding himself with Tao-infused artifacts, especially of the Chan Buddhist type, because they stimulated his imagination, and infused his poetry with an “awakened” awareness. This was his way as a Westerner to experience the gifts of the East. He continued to study this phenomena to the very end and invented his own rhythmic dance with the river of life that continues to flow East to West and back round again. Imagine that. “Surrounded by its choral rings,” in the Buddhist breath, Stevens discovered “A new knowledge of reality” (CP 534) and shared it with us with his words.

Now. Everyone take a deep breath.

Works Cited

Binyon, Laurence. Painting in the Far East: An Introduction to the History of Pictorial Art in Asia, Especially China and Japan. London: Arnold, 1908. 4th ed. rev., 1934. Reprint New York: Dover, 1959.

Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate. New York, Cornell University Press. 1977

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essay “Poetry & Imagination” (1872) 9 Nov 2006

Gordon, Robert. “Emerson’s Earliest Interest In India.” 11 Nov 2006

Loving, Pierre. Shay, Rank. Fifty Contemporary One-Act Plays. Cincinnati, Ohio. Stewart & Kidd. 1920. 494-500

Okakura Kakuzo. The Book of Tea Classic Edition. USA: Tuttle P, 1989 46th ed.

Peiu, Anca. “After the final no: The World of Wallace Stevens” 11 Nov 2006

Qian, Zhaoming. The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stephens. USA, U of Virginia P, 2003.

Saatkamp, Herman. “George Santayana”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) 10 Nov 2006

Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York, Vintage Books 1990.

Sykes, Bryan. The Seven Daughters of Eve. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001.

Sze, Mai-mai.( trans). The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Chieh Tzu Yuan Hua Chuan, 1679-1701. New York, Princeton University Press 1977.

Willis, Patricia C. (curator) Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, 1997 11 Nov 2006


“Wallace Stevens – Man Made Out Of Words.” Dir. Richard P. Rogers. Sr. Consultant Helen Vendler. Voices & Visions Series. Natl. Endowment for the Humanities. Wash. D.C. 1988.

Poetry has dedicated a slide show of the original copy of Stevens’ playbook, “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise” here:

“Three Chinamen on Porcelein” –

(This was a class presentation for Professor Zhaoming Qian’s graduate class Modernism & the Visual Arts November 2006 at the University of New Orleans)


Gust – the whipping wind
wraps lovingly around dieing limbs,


life from the bondage of
limbo, a pale place between
alive and not quite dead.

Others not ready
to die – die anyway
cracked in two.

The splintered shards stab
at the free air.
The radar rumblings kick

dogs in the rear, lift
spirits out of a deep slumber.
Taken sand swirls in a twister

of wished potential – a
howling black melody skips over
cracks. A door bangs

to remind me the experience is shared.
The banging owns no
rhythm or rhyme.

The sound defies prediction.
Upper air balloons
fail to warn the

very people who set their
sails, while they sail away
to parts unkown conditions

deteriorate quickly.
The people, at this moment
in time, forget to care.

Like me, the people are
hiding in their safe room,
that place of phantom noises.

Fear breaks down the door;
the belching engine blows.
The Western Train Wall wails

and rolls over me.
Twitching, the grey squirrel
pauses briefly

at the unboarded window
to scrunch his teeny nose
as he scurries by for shelter.

To know what he knows
in his parallel world,
that would be something to know.

The Anima is a-walking
on a walk about,
cleaning house as she goes.

My sister calls to check.
“You’re alright?”
I think no – and say yes.

I’m not alright – but
I’m not all wrong either.
Two worriers fix naught.

And so I pray –
Once upon a time the wind stops.
The banging ends.


© October 24, 2005


Last night’s moon was tremendous, casting veiny limb shadows on fresh snows. Eerie. A spider web of images projected on untouched canvas. Sweet sleep happened. Cozy as the brew of nectared gods. Barely had time for a dream that night. Didn’t mind at all. Fermented, cemented. River boy (©sjm)

Steve Matty is dead. Writing those words sends a chill up my spine. His birth name has some ‘ski’ on the end of it, but he was always Matty.

I sit here dumb, and wonder what’s to be done. Matty was one of those lone wolf types with arms in constant motion. His ‘from the hip’ journals are legendary among friends, of which I feel honored to have been for twenty-five eventful years. How do I replace someone who reminded me of who I really am? Impossible.

Jim Harrison (one of Matty’s favorites) describes him to a T. I’m a poet and we tend to err on the side that life is more than it appears rather than less.

(Excerpt from For The Life Of Me, I Just Can’t Make Her Fart)

...I lived off the 101 between Laurel & Coldwater on Moorpark. Vitellos (where Blake’s wife was murdered) was a great place for clams and linguini. Sometimes me and some boys would have some tables full of pizza there, although, Mary’s down on Lankershim served up a good pie. It wasn’t far from Beverly Garland’s Ho-Jo where us music types would bunk up on many occasions.

But I liked the Sportman’s Lodge much better. Not better than the Westwood Marquis where Jim Harrison and I slept and drank, unbeknownst to the other. They had a good pool there tucked away in the foliage out back with chaise-side phones…where Dustin Hoffman ranted in a tirade to his agent one afternoon and all participants gave the little talented squirt a standing ovation. He bought a poolside round for all clappers. If I’d been thinking more clearly I would’ve insisted that we hoisted glass in toast to say, “…here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…” But I forgot. It would’ve been a decent chorus.

I enjoyed staying in Neil Diamond’s guest house just down the street from the Playboy Mansion (never been there) in Holmby Hills a couple blocks off Sunset. I may have been the only pick-up truck driver in LA then, certainly in that neighborhood. Cops pulled me over for a swerve on the Strip once, but let me go when I said I was bunkin’ at Neil’s. Name dropper.

We’d smoke fat honkin’ joints by his pool and talk about French poets a lot, then ring up Dylan to check and see if we were on the right track. Bob would just say, “Quit askin me stuff like that. And, do you guys know anything about peacocks???” Why Bob?? Is NBC buggin’ you?? He’d laugh at that one. But later on when he found out that Hunter had a brood of birds, he sheepishly asked, “He doesn’t let em in the house, does he??” Which meant, Bob did. tee hee…

Everyone should know a pal like Glen d Hardin: The President of the Pacific. Barney and I named him that along with his den called the Shipwreck Lounge….lots of stuff happened there on the corner of Ethel & Sara. Gram Parsons hung there often. Wish I could’ve known him, but then he had to die for some reason known only to him. Phil Kaufman stole the body and burned it in a pyre in the Joshua Tree desert, it was a fulfilled request of Gram’s, I guess. All charges were dropped.

Phil later owned Douglas Corner in Nashville, a hang. Funny how the connections keep connecting the dots. Gary Vincent and the Swamp Honkies played good music there. That goofball Vincent sometimes played in pajamas. We’d go fishing out to JI’s driving in his pink Porsche. Nice visual... ©sjm

Matty loved to bate people and watch em squirm.

Exhibit A.

Tues Jun 28, 2005 3:20 PM ...they never let me testify in your DUI case. I was ready. Had my rap ready. love, steven

Wed Jun 29, 2005 12:19 PMNot guilty!!!! Video doesn’t lie!   F**k it, it’s’ all a dream anyway.  C

Anyway, you get the idea, lots of history, good times and bad. In light of recent events, I think his thoughts on the great beyond are appropriate.

(excerpt from River Mix)
…I’ve been spewed on recently about…rapture. None of my beeswax, choose yer own gods and leave me alone about that stuff. Figure out your predestination and then think that the god who loves you will destroy you. Go ahead. I can’t subscribe to Armageddon. I’ve got bigger things on my mind. Ain’t that right, Jesus?? ©sjm

For some reason known only to him,(to steal his phrase) Matty wrecked his truck coming down the road from his cabin in Wisconsin on the Peshtigo River, dying instantly. In the absence of toxicity, the general consensus is heart attack, based on recent complaints about his arm being numb. In human years he was 54, but Matty said he was really 14. He never told me why he settled on 14, but I can guess. I do know this means I’ll spend the rest of my life missing him.

Don’t know how to end this, so I’ll hand it over to Matty.
“Peaceful sleep within the eyes of Great Spirit is insisted. I hope so…and then to revisit as a peregrine falcon in a steep high dive towards a spinning Earth.” (excerpt from Red Topped Maples ©sjm)

Steve Matty – Poet