Friday, December 19, 2014

POEMS ~ The Half Hearing of Small Voices

Another retreat, another set of poems. This time from my recent retreat The Gods Will Offer You Chances, led by Paramananda & Mandarava at Rivendell.  I tend to write one every day, pretty much off the top of my head. Sometimes these poems indicate the effect a retreat is having upon me, sometimes they seem to come from somewhere, half heard and mistranslated. So here they are seven poems from a seven day retreat.


Tiny specks of diamonds
glittering pin pricks, perched
on the tips of grass shards
in a winter lawn, lit up
by unearthly powers
fired by lightening, solar flares
or elfin LED.


is thrown up
comes down
at some point

Probes and rockets
investigate space
data falling
in a digital rain.

Heartfelt aspirations
when they drop to earth
form impact crators
where else is the hurt?

Our pain is ours
and can't be discarded
like a boomerang
it keeps coming back.


The sun broke behind the church
over an hour ago
now its carousing
with the crowns of trees
and cloud tufts
each its own breaking beauty
that is let go of,
to make space
for the next
whilst I am still as
drowsy and grumpy now
as I was earlier.


All the days
rolling into one another
with the consistency
of pastry
roughly compacted
in a ball, or
pressed, stretched and eased out
like a glutenous dishcloth
some might say
these people look like
they're bored with life
they're indulging in childish whims
of being meaningful
of spiritual playacting
there are times
when it is all of these things
jumbled up and wrongheaded
despite appearences
everyday life is like this too
this is just a time
and the space
where the soul gets
a bit of tlc.


Here is an unlived face
eyes that function
but do not perceive
a mind operating
but does not reflect
the body is
an empty vessel
with utilitarian uses
yet his actions
are unoccupied
as though walking has lost
all sense of direction
other than foot steps

Its a face unoccupied
by terrors, by joys, by loves
by interests, by engagement
it looks out on the world
and receives nothing
via the mirror
a face not even distressed
by its predicament
too passive
to feel indifferent
all expression
is conserved, is
unredeemed by calling
this blandness
the result of hard years
of spiritual practice

This is a face
that has misconceived
the whole purpose of life.


The heart
as a muscle
flutters and flinches
its fist
when the shadow
of its metaphorical twin
is shaken into life
by the pulse of mystical blood
alchemy is snatched
as though a current of electric
zapped through and
stars expanded their spectrum
pouring down
a new colour
a shape shifting medicine
into the arteries and veins
and the heart purred
like a bedraggled familiar
being offered
pure white milk.


In the room
of the shrine
I was to
just sit with myself
listening, quietly
preparing the senses
to be more
all encompassing
in the opening and closing
opening and closing
opening and closing
of the door
half hearing a small voice
singing the opening phrase
of an unrecollected song
moarnfully mordant
think Morrissey, sung by Cohen
incanted over and over
as if the repetition
would serve up
the rest of it
this moment though
was left unresolved
when close by, a mobile vibrating
muffled beneath layers
of clothing or blankets
sounded as though
young calves
calls for their mother
were being
left unanswered

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW ~ The Unknown Craftsman

The Unknown Craftsman  by Soetsu Yanagi

The Unknown Craftsman is a compendium of articles given by SoetsuYanagi over a pivotal period in Japanese culture from 1939 to 1962. Through these Yanagi became the pre-eminent figure in a revival in the appreciation and practice of Japanese folk crafts after the end of the Second World War. Eventualy he Founded the Japan Folk Craft Museum in Tokyo. Yanagi was a close friend, mentor and profound influence upon the English potter Bernard Leach, who helped translate and compile this book and provides useful background context via his introduction. Most of what we in the West understand of Japanese pottery and aesthetics, such as wabi sabi etc comes in large part from Yanagi's work.

Yanagi's route to becoming a pottery obsessive, arose as a result of his rediscovery of 16th century Korean pottery of the Yi dynasty. These simple, often crudely executed pots became for him, not just the aesthetic benchmark by which he measured all other work, but a sort of spiritual talisman for the creative attitude that a potter or artist should endeavour to cultivate. It is this latter aspect; the creative process being shadowed by spiritual practice, that I found the most inspiring thing about this book. I have read no other book that so clearly and imaginatively explains how creative work can become a spiritual practice.

Those Yi dynasty pots are in themselves the key. Technically those pots are poorly made, with misshapen bases, glazes blobby,irregular, and riddled with cracks and surface imperfections. Churned out by local craftsman with no thought to aesthetic appeal, beauty or there being perfect objects. They were simply made to meet a practical requirement. These pots became highly sought after by Japanese masters of Tea Ceremonies, often paying huge sums for them. They also become the models for Japanese versions of this pottery, where imperfections became highly valued, however self-consciously created.

Yanagi is quite dismissive about this artistic contrivance, particularly when these potters later on began to sign their pots. This declaration of creative ownership was anathema to the ideal relationship he thought one should have with what is being created. Part of the aesthetic appeal of Yi pottery is the anonymity of their creators, the men and women who made them are all unknown. There probably was no one person involved in their creation, being collectively and unselfconsciously formed. It isn't just what was created, but how they were created that makes them important. He is particularly good at teasing out that this absence of an individual creator is what makes them the epitome of beauty and the role model for Buddhist artists desiring to make their work a spiritual practice. Here are a few representative quotations:~

' The deepest beauty is suggestive of infinite potential rather than being merely explanatory.... All works of art, it may be said, are more beautiful when they suggest something beyond themselves than when they end up being merely what they are.'

'Truly beautiful objects usually contain in them some element of irregularity......Beauty dislikes being captive to perfection. That which is profound never lends itself to logical explanation;it involves endless mystery.'

'Would it not be possible to say that all beautiful work is done by the work itself? When an artist creates a work, he and the work are two different things. Only when he becomes the work itself and creates the work (in other words, when the work alone is creating the whole work) does true work become possible. Not the artist but the work should say "I am" : when this state is reached, a work of art deserving the name has been produced.'

'So long as the man who strikes the drum and drum that is struck are two different beings, true music can never be born.

'As soon as the principle becomes formalised, death approches'

I could go on and on quoting, as the book is packed full of such pithy and inspiring aphoristic sentences. Though written over sixty years ago The Unknown Craftsman, is still quite relevant to modern day artistic and Buddhist practice. Some of Yanagi's hopes for a craft revival have petered out in our high tech world of the internet. His analysis of the role of Individualism on the creative process is still particularly prescient to today's art market.

'They did not see the extraordinary in the extraordinary...They did not draw their cherished treasures out of the valuable, the expensive, the luxurious, the elaborate or the exceptional. They selected them from the plain, the natural, the homely, the simple, and the normal. They explored the uneventful, normal world for the most unusual beauty  Can anything be more uncommon than to see the uncommon in the commonplace....Most of us today have grown so commonplace that we cannot see the extraordinary save in the exceptional.'

The Unknown Craftsman is for me a very significant book, one that inevitably will roll out changes in the wake of my having read it.

Friday, December 05, 2014

FEATURE ~ The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski


Your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is a light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.

Charles Bukowski

DIARY 127 ~ This is the time and this is the record of the time

Recent months, if not this whole year, has been challenging.  Somewhat dominated by concerns and efforts at work to contribute towards reversing Windhorse's economic woes and precarious position, and with my own aspirations to develop the artwork I do, being to some extent sidelined because of these circumstances. The balance between the personal and the practical has never been more finely or painfully drawn.

Windhorse's future is still in the balance after a year of ideas,creative solutions and optimistic efforts to turn things around. At the moment I feel a bit out of optimism and wondering if throwing in the towel gracefully would not make a cleaner break, rather than floundering on trying to survive like a half dead fish already out of the water. I sense a tide of war weariness rising particularly in myself, but also in the overall atmosphere at work. I doubt there is much energy left for many more battles. There's a sense of confidence being withdrawn, painfully reminding me of the end of my own business.

Creatively I've been focusing on my artwork, largely in terms of the process, style and finish of it. I'm still quite enthusiastic for where I can take this. I can see a gradual loosening up in its design and structure as I push into new areas, trying not to let what I've done before set false limits on what I can do now. Though it remains clearly still my work, as some of the aesthetic interests I have never appear to alter.  The evolution of my working process, is increasingly more 'lets see where it goes when I do this' than 'I have this idea lets carry it out meticulously to the bitter end'  I've become much more relaxed and confident within this evolving process and rarely get the anxiety I used to about it all 'going wrong.' Things never do 'go wrong', they just go places different to what I originally thought.  Paradoxically this is more satisfying, and enjoyable.

I've had to let go, for now, of ideas to sell my work via galleries or the web. I just don't have the personal resources of time or energy to bring these into being at the moment. This feels a more difficult thing to let go of. For not doing anything about it produces its own tension, as if I'm trying to keep hold of an aspiration that will slowly slip from my grasp if I let it. But life like my artwork, is all the better for not being held too tightly to a specific course. What life has so far thrown at me has rarely accorded to any vision I had for it. This has never been easy territory for me to be in. I've been endeavouring lately to see life itself as being a constantly evolving process too. One to an extent you must ride along with, rather than continually put yourself in opposition to, or try directing.

So if Windhorse does close, and I'm unemployed, then I''ll have to deal with whatever that leads to, both the positive and the negative consequences. I'm not saying that's going to be easy, probably not. Today I'm about to go on retreat to Rivendell, on a retreat called 'The Gods will offer you chances' a title that seems somehow prescient.  Seizing and following through on such chances when they arise seems to be more in keeping with how life is actually lived.