Monday 6 October 2008


A confession: Two non-writing projects of mine are going awry at the moment and it is difficult to write while this is happening. The 3 hours of writing should come first, but the compulsion is strong to try and get things moving on those fronts, and once the phoning and talking about them starts, whatever peacefulness there was is replaced - for a while at least - by agitation and a churning stomach.

Months ago, someone lent us a DVD of a film about Leonard Cohen and his songs, entitled I'm Your Man. It was almost lost, then found again, then about to be returned unseen, and finally last night, when there was nothing else to do, we watched it, transfixed. When it ended we re-watched the songs we liked most, it was after midnight when we said, This is madness. The songs are still going through my head. They were not sung by LC who is in his seventies, but by other people, wonderfully. Rufus W. sang the Halleluyah which is well know, but that was not the best, the best was Anthony, singing If it be your will - straight to the heart. Wonderful words all along. Good interviews with LC himself. They showed some footage of him and his Roshi, very fat and old, and neither of them at ease, a surprising thing to notice about a Zen master.

The DVD is also at Wellington's Central Library. The lovely library.

That was my most recent enthusiasm. There was another before that - two in two days - a book I spent the entire Saturday reading: Portrait of the Artist's Wife, by Barbara Anderson (1992, VUW). My original perception of her as a writer was formed by a play she wrote entitled Gorillas, which was put on by the local amateur theatrical group. That group can do a decent job, but the play was ghastly - and does not feature in the list of her publications on the Book Council website, so something must have happened to it (maybe it became something else?)

The Portrait was gripping: as if a dear friend were telling a story about something that has happened to her, that has changed her. The story progresses naturally in time, a relief after bumpy flashbacks encountered elsewhere.

In particular - and this is a personal view - to the point of tears, I was touched by the loving portrayal of the elderly refugee couple from Vienna, Olga and Otto, who tutor and mentor the main character. That generation has all but vanished now, but the portrait is true, true.

Reading Elizabeth Smithers' Professor Musgrove's Canary. Reading aloud has its rewards - the smell of stone, I wondered? Ah yes, stoned...

Struggling with a new Robert Hass book bought extravagantly new - it includes a ten-page essay on Rilke, which I am trying to complete the reading of, have tried twice so far, admittedly before going to sleep. From a second hand bookshop: Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney's for my own bookshelf, to keep. No CK Williams anywhere, yet.
Also CL Stead's My Name was Judas. That will have to wait till I have written more and read more poetry.

And constant companions, read for the calm and the wisdom: Charlotte Joko Beck's classic Everyday Zen (S. Smith, ed., 1989, Thorsons), and the quarterly fascicles of Mountain Record, from Zen Mountain Monastery. Daido Roshi included a lovely sci fi story by Terry Bison in one of his talks - here is just a small excerpt:

“They are made out of meat.”
“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet and took them aboard our recon vessels and probed them all the way through, and they are completely meat.”
“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals, the message to the stars?”
“They use radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them, the signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”
“They made the machines. That’s what I am trying to tell you—meat made the machines.
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You are asking me to believe in sentient meat?”
“I am not asking you, I am telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they are made out of meat.”

If you want the rest of the story, and the rest of Daido Roshi's dharma discourse, which is entitled Perfection Revealed, you can find it here. (The sci fi story is in italics half-way through).

No comments: