Friday, August 10, 2007

Review: Between Two Souls

Conversations with Ryokan by Mary Lou Kownacki. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004. In this lovely collection of poems the Benedictine monk Mary Lou Kownacki pairs her poems with those of the nineteen century Buddhist monk Ryokan. Ryokan lived from 1758 to 1831. As a monk he lived in solitude in the forest surrounding Mt. Kugami in Japan. He wrote thousands of poems but never had them published. Kownacki is a Benedictine nun living in the inner city. She used Ryokan's poems as daily meditation every morning for two years and wrote her own poems in response. In the introduction Joan D. Chittister says,
"The mystifying - perhaps more to the point, the mystical - thing about this book is, indeed, its center. How do we account for the link between these far separated poets? What can possibly be the bridge between them? How is it that they understand one another so well across so many boundaries, despite so many barriers of time and space? The answer, I am convinced, lies in the common well from which they drink. Both these poets are monks, monastics, a man and a woman, devoted to finding the One Thing Necessary in Life. The word "monk" itself comes from the Greek, monos, the single-minded one, the one who seeks the One thing worth having. The one who lives to become one with the One."

In keeping with my own obsessions lately (butterflies and writing) I want to quote two poems for you today. Ryokan writes:
"The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind,
The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind,
The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
I don't know others,
Others don't know me.
By not-knowing we follow nature's course."

I can't help but think of the way I read blogs after reading this poem. You know how you follow one link after another and pretty soon you are reading an amazing new-to-you blog that exactly fits your current life? Flowers finding butterflies.

Kownacki writes back:
"Hours of shooting hoops
In the park just
To shoot hoops
No game no goal
No thought
Only faith that I become
An instinct

Hours of sitting
Before the icon just
To sit
No breath no word
No one
Only faith that I become
An emptiness

Hours of writing
On blue lined paper just
To write
No plot no plan
No purpose
Only faith that I become
A poem."

I am stunned at how well these two poems come together this morning with what I read in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones last night:
"Let go of everything when you write, and try at a simple beginning with simple words to express what you have inside. You are stripping yourself. You are exposing your life, not how your ego would like to see you represented, but how you are as a human being. and it is because of this that I think writing is religious. It splits you open and softens your heart toward the homely world."
All these words of wisdom come together for me while I am sitting at the computer early in the morning before the sun comes up. I am searching for something to say. My fingers fly across the keyboard. I am searching for someone else to ring the bell that resonates in the still air around me. Ryokan was in the forest, Kownacki was in the city, Goldberg was in the desert of New Mexico. I am huddled in a corner of a crowded bedroom with children clamoring for breakfast. Where are you?

The Friday Poetry round up is at Big A, Little a today. Go enjoy more poetry!


Left-handed Trees... said...

You and I are in similar places--in so many ways. I loved your review here, have read that "Conversations" book myself and found the point/counter-point fascinating. Thank you for sharing it...

Gentle Reader said...

I'm a big fan of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, and was happy to see you quote it!