Sunday, December 5, 2010



Adamantine by Shin Yu Pai
(White Pine, Buffalo, N.Y., 2010)

Timothy Morton, the UC Davis professor of literature and the environment, is the author of the recent book The Ecological Thought. Vince Carducci writes that, “picking up where his most obvious predecessors, Gregory Bateson and Felix Guattari, left off, Morton understands mental ecology as the ground zero of ecological thinking, as that which must be redressed before anything else and above all.” Morton, who is a practicing Buddhist, and a recent “convert” to Object-Oriented Ontology, has been blogging recently about Buddhism and OOO (which is the common acronym for Object-Oriented Ontology, and not a long wind- or ghost-whistling sound). In his post of 29 September 2010, “Object-Oriented Buddhism 8”, Morton writes
… the Theravadins developed a theory of interdependence they called pratityasamutpada.

In this view Buddha gives a teaching that says “This is like this, therefore that is like that.” So even on this level there is a “this” distinct from a “that.” It reminds me a little of some things Graham Harman says about tool-being constituting a vast horizonless “world.” [JBR note: Harman is one of the main proponents and theorists of OOO]

Then the Mahayana crew showed up with their teachings on emptiness. They have some interesting arguments about this precise area. One of them is known as “the tiny vajra” because it's so cute and small and devastating. One aspect of the tiny vajra's fourfold argument is that if things are indeed reducible to other things, nothing would exist, which is absurd on the face of it.

This reminds me of a story John Cage told about D T Suzuki. I’ll paraphrase. Suzuki was at a conference; a seminar was being held. He and the other participants were sitting around a table. Someone asked, “Dr Suzuki, does this table exist?”

“Yes”, he replied.

“In what sense?”

“Why, in every sense.”

There are thisses and thats. They may be empty, but they exist. Or, I should say, they pass into existence, change continuously, and pass away. And they count. At all stages, they count. To quote the title of a Wolfgang Tillmans book that has always resonated with me, if one thing matters, everything matters.

Which brings me to Shin Yu Pai’s Adamantine. This is a book of poems written from deep within her Boddhisattva practice-mind, practice-heart, where everything does matter, everything, everything.

But this doesn’t mean the poems are made of some sort of sentimental mush. They are rock solid. And naked as a stone in the desert.
Stone Face

In Yehlio, a jagged scar
runs across the neck

of Queen’s Head Rock,
a vandal’s foiled plot

to fence the ancient land-
mark on the art market

scarred stone hardly bears
her royal profile,

years from now to fall like

Franconia’s Great Stone
Face, the Old Man

collapsing, overnight
in a slip of rock

No fuss, no muss, no tricks: just exactly what needs saying just the way it needs to be said. It takes a certain kind of fearlessness. A certain kind of refusal to be clever. A refusal to look good or bad. A certain kind of not caring whether what is made is art in the art-market sense. In these poems it’s more important to be real than anything:
The Diamond Path

the stone of my engagement
ring escapes from its setting
somewhere between

deboarding the plane
at midnight in the Inland
Empire & arriving

at my girlhood home
where the local saying is still
homicide, suicide, Riverside

when I wake on the first
day of my stopover,
a yawning loss where light

once winked, the attachments
I’ve fixed upon in my
misreading of the dharma: …

One of the poems that most impresses me is “Watching My Father Crush a Black Widow on My Last Day in California”. This could easily have become an exercise in a kind of self-righteous pseudo-“compassion for all living things” smarminess. After all, the author’s’s a Buddhist, daughters often get a little Plath-like when writing about fathers, etc etc. But none of this happens. Yes, she does chant silent mantras over the spider, she does care about its death. But.
… around us, life
grows wild, algae
blooms in the swimming pool

weeds sprout
through concrete,
mold colonizes a roof

dried lilies in the sunburnt
koi pond, gophers tearing
up the lawn …

I think of

the stump that
is my older brother,
the mother that

escaped w/her life,
the girl that grew up
dreading spiders

learning that
either we kill
or be killed

That’s an ending that could be read as purely ironic. But that’s not the way I read it. This is a tough-minded kind of compassion, no wimp’s Buddhism.

The spider counts. Everything counts. We do what we do. We live how we live. We are HERE. Which is THERE, too, maybe. Like, gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha. Or, as Phil Whalen had it, “Gone, gone, really gone, into the cool, oh, Mama!” Yes. I am grateful for this book.


John Bloomberg-Rissman is the author of No Sounds of My Own Making (2007) and Flux, Clot & Froth, which he’s currently beating into “camera-ready” shape. His two most recent chapbooks are World Zero (2007) and the collaboration with Ernesto Priego, Inheritance (2008). He edited the international anthology 1000 Views of ‘Girl Singing’ (2009), curated, with Eileen R. Tabios, Ernesto Priego and Ivy Alvarez, The Chained Hay(na)ku Project (2010) and is responsible for the publication of 2nd NOTICE OF MODIFICATIONS TO TEXT OF PROPOSED REGULATIONS (2010) His work has appeared in numerous journals and in several anthologies. He is co-editor of Leafe Press. His ongoing efforts can be seen at Zeitgeist Spam.

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