Be an old Chinese poet or talk to or about one. Go anywhere you want with this. The old Chinese poets were engaged with an immense wilderness. Theirs was a calm spirituality of wildness.
They had Buddhist and/or Taoist acceptance of “everything burgeoning from the emptiness through transformations and back into emptiness.” (Hinton)
Translated by David Hinton
You ask why I have settled in these emerald mountains:
I smile, mind of itself perfectly idle, and say nothing.
Peach blossoms drift streamwater away deep in mystery
here another heaven and earth, nowhere people know.
From Cold Mountain Poems
In a tangle of cliffs I chose a place—
Bird-paths but no trails for men.
What’s beyond the yard?
White clouds clinging to vague rocks.
Now I’ve lived here — how many years —
Again and again, spring and winter pass.
Go tell families with silverware and cars
“What’s the use of all that noise and money?”
Thoughts on a Night Journey
Trans: Arthur Sze
A slight wind stirs grasses along the bank.
A lone boat sails with a mast in the night.
The stars are pulled down to the vast plain,
And the moon bobs in the river’s flow.
My name will never be famous in literature:
I have resigned office from sickness and age.
Drifting and drifting, what am I
But a solitary gull between earth and heaven?
Translated by David Hinton
A thousand peaks: no more birds in flight.
Ten thousand paths: all traces of people gone.
In a lone boat, rain cloak and hat of reeds,
an old man’s fishing the cold river snow.
As I sit here
in my little boat
tied to the shore
of the passing river
in a time of ruin,
I think of you,
and wish you well.
The Old Poets of China
Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
A Simple Form with Candor
Write a poem in the simple form of the poem below. The trick is to make it meaningful, not merely simplistic. The form has four-syllable lines and four-line stanzas. Try one with only four stanzas.
The poem below has a funny/serious flickering of candor/condor in the content as well as lots of playing with sound.
Save the Candor
knows it never
nests on urban
fences set its
head askew, its
Few have got it
on their lists and
fewer still have
caught it singing,
of the done in
Big Sur tremor-
Tenor — only
ten or twenty
hang glide over
(as their days are)
for us crazy
crown- and throat – and
Any niche as
fragile as a
certain. We can
half a laugh or
worth of candors
off their branches,
soon are little
more than snarking-
grounds for minor
birds, the common
snipe, the yellow-
More Starting Places
Bounce off these, incorporate several, use one as an epigraph, work from them any way you choose to arrive at your poem.
Talking too much about yourself is like
wearing your clothes inside out.
….even our names are made of fire
and we feed on night.
The house shakes with the rumble of trains.
The root of all that dazzles you is in your heart.
Nancy Willard (translating Francis Ponge)
When my heart falls out of my pocket,
It cracks like an egg on the sidewalk
If you think you hear somebody knocking
On the other side of the words pay
Night comes so people can sleep like fish
in black water.
Take the tiny pieces and see if you
Can make a life from them, I mean
One you could love.
I hear I’ve been made the match vendor
of the great dark night of the soul.
Late birds rowing home across bright spaces
…I have woven a parachute out of
everything broken: my scars
are my shield.
What a war must be fought for
Poems are paperweights
Ballast to keep our words
From floating away.
One must have a mind of many breezes
to fly a kite…
Let one by one things come alive like fish
And swim away into their future waves.
Just because we have birds inside us,
we don’t have to be cages.
Something is always tumbling
Down the steps in my chest
Carrying a birthday cake.
I want what I get.
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