Me and Japanese Poetry – 4
I’m going to backtrack on the timeline I’ve been following. I’m going back to the mid-60’s. I don’t remember the exact year, but sometime in the mid-60’s an album, a vinyl album, was released called “A Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. The music was performed by Goro Yamaguchi and was the first shakuhachi music I heard. It was music from the small Fuke Sect of the Zen tradition; a tradition which plays a special kind of music, using an odd pentatonic scale. I was entranced. I played the album over and over. In looking back I think of this album as my introduction to Japanese culture. The hearing of this music planted seeds that included an interest in Zen and Japan in general. Many years later when I was in Kyoto I made a special effort to visit Meianji, the Head Temple of the Fuke Sect. I was successful and had a fine afternoon there talking to one of the Komuso, as members call themselves, who lived at the Temple.
One of the intriguing things about my relationship to Japanese poetry is that I never tried to actually write any poetry in Japanese forms until the mid-80’s. My main interest in the arts was music; that was my main focus. Though I was aware of connections made between Haiku and Zen, I was also aware that most Zen practitioners were not poets and most poets were not Zen practitioners. Even then I felt that the connection between Haiku and Zen was tenuous; kind of like saying that the Sonnet is a Christian form of poetry because of Donne’s famous theologically oriented Sonnets or Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets. Poetic forms are agreeable to be used for specific religious purposes, but they are not intrinsically affiliated with a particular religion or spiritual practice. At least that’s how I see it.
This interest in Shakuhachi continued through my life. In the mid-70’s I would briefly study the shakuhachi in New York. I wasn’t very good at it. Also during this time I studied Urasenke Tea Ceremony in New York, which I deeply appreciated. Still, poetry had not been brought into my awareness as something I could actually do myself. It would take another full decade for that to happen.